Acupuncture doesn’t offer any benefit for moderate or severe chronic knee pain in people over 50, according to a recent clinical trial.

Researchers randomly assigned 282 patients with chronic knee pain to needle acupuncture, laser acupuncture, no acupuncture, or sham (inactive) laser treatment administered by general practitioners.

Treatments lasted for 12 weeks and neither the participants nor the acupuncturists knew whether laser or sham laser acupuncture was taking place.

There were no significant differences in measures of knee pain and physical function-between active and sham acupuncture at 12 weeks or at one year, says researcher professor Kim Bennell from the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine at the University of Melbourne.

Results Fleeting

“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,” says Bennell.

“Needle acupuncture improved physical function at 12 weeks compared with the control but was not different from sham acupuncture and was not maintained at one year,” she says.

Other secondary outcomes, such as quality of life or general change, showed no difference in feeling. Needle acupuncture improved pain during walking at 12 weeks but this improvement did not last one year.

Chronic knee pain affects many people older than 50 years and is the most common pain concern among older people who consult general practitioners.

Drug-free approaches such as physical activity and exercise are important in managing chronic knee pain and many patients also use complementary and alternative medicine.

Acupuncture is the most popular of alternative medical systems. Although traditionally administered with needles, laser acupuncture (low-intensity laser therapy to acupuncture points) is a non-invasive alternative with evidence of benefit in some pain conditions.

Hinman RS, McCrory P, Pirotta M, et al Acupuncture for Chronic Knee Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial JAMA. 2014;312(13):1313-1322. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.12660.

Photo: “acupuncture” via Shutterstock

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