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Acupuncture did not Improve Chronic Knee Pain, Study Reports

Update Date: Sep 30, 2014 04:21 PM EDT

Acupuncture is a form of eastern medicine that inserts needles into specific parts of the body. This type of therapy is usually done to relieve pain and restore the body's inner balance, called chi or qi. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of laser and needle acupuncture for older people and found that these forms of therapies did not improve the patients' pain or function when compared to fake laser acupuncture.

For this study, the research team headed by Rana S. Hinman, Ph.D., of the University of Melbourne, Australia, recruited 282 patients aged 50 and older and randomly assigned them to one of four groups. 71 went to the control group, 70 received needle acupuncture, 71 had laser acupuncture and 70 underwent sham laser acupuncture. The therapies lasted for 12 weeks.

At 12 weeks, the researchers did not find any significant difference in knee pain and physical function between the three acupuncture groups. These findings remained the same at the one-year mark. When compared to the control group, needle and laser acupuncture was tied to modest improvements in pain after 12 weeks. However, these improvements were not maintained at the one-year point. Needle and sham acupuncture improved physical function in comparison to the control group. These results were also not maintained at one year.

The researchers measured other outcomes, such as life quality and global change. They found no differences between real and sham acupuncture at 12 weeks or at the one-year follow-up.

"In our study, benefits of acupuncture were exclusively attributed to incidental effects, given the lack of significant differences between active acupuncture and sham treatment. Continuous subjective measures, such as pain and self-reported physical function, as used in our study, are particularly subject to placebo responses," the authors concluded according to the press release. "In patients older than 50 years with moderate or severe chronic knee pain, neither laser nor needle acupuncture conferred benefit over sham for pain or function. Our findings do not support acupuncture for these patients."

The study was published in JAMA.

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