Acupuncture is a popular alternative treatment for a variety of conditions and these days it can be administered with needles or with low-intensity lasers.
A new study in Australia examines its effectiveness in treating patients with moderate or severe chronic knee pain.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne randomly assigned 282 patients with chronic knee pain to needle acupuncture, laser acupuncture, no acupuncture or sham (inactive) laser treatment.
Participants, all of whom were over the age of 50, followed a treatment programme lasting 12 weeks. Among those receiving laser therapy the patients and acupuncturists did not know whether laser or sham laser acupuncture was used.
Primary outcomes measured in the study were average knee pain and physical function, and results suggest that acupuncture did not provide any benefit.
Comparing the active and sham acupuncture, there were no significant differences in measures of knee pain and physical function at 12 weeks or at one year, according to researcher Professor Kim Bennell from the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine.
“Both needle and laser acupuncture resulted in modest improvements in pain compared with the control group who had no treatment at 12 weeks. However, these results were not maintained at one year,” Professor Bennell added.
While the patients who received needle acupuncture saw improved physical function at 12 weeks compared with the control, their results were similar to those of the sham acupuncture patients and this improvement was not maintained at one year, the professor pointed out.
There were no differences for most secondary outcomes, such as quality of life or general change.
The researchers concluded that, in patients older than 50 years with moderate or severe chronic knee pain, neither laser nor needle acupuncture offers a benefit over sham treatment in terms of pain or function.
“Our findings do not support acupuncture for these patients,” they said.
The study was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.