Washington: Knee osteoarthritis patients who were treated with acupuncture had clinically significant improvements in pain levels, stiffness, and functional capacity after one month of treatment, researchers have found.
This suggests that acupuncture could be a low cost alternative to expensive knee surgery for osteoarthritis patients.
Their findings are based on 90 patients with knee osteoarthritis, who were referred for group acupuncture to two knee pain clinics in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 2008 and subsequently monitored for two years.
The clinics were set up in 2008 for NHS patients, and run in two GP practices by specially trained acupuncture nurses, to see whether this could improve care, while reducing costs, and offer a viable alternative to referrals for expensive knee replacement surgery
Knee replacement surgery works well, but it is not suitable for everyone, and as many as one in seven patients experience severe pain a few years after the procedure, say the researchers.
It also costs 5,000 pounds a pop, they add.
Out of 114 patients who were offered acupuncture for osteoarthritic knee pain in 2008, 90 accepted and were treated in the clinics. Their average age was 71. All the patients referred to the clinics had severe symptoms - constant pain, including at night, and inability to walk far - and would have been eligible for surgery.
They were given acupuncture once a week for a month after which the frequency was reduced to a session every six weeks.
Forty one patients were still attending the clinics after a year, and 31 were still receiving treatment after two years. Each patient received an average of 16.5 treatments.
A validated score (MYMOP), used to measure symptom control, functional capacity, and wellbeing, showed clinically significant improvements in pain levels, stiffness, and functional capacity after one month of treatment.
These improvements continued throughout the two year monitoring period, as assessed by MYMOP at six monthly intervals.
Based on the assumption that only two thirds of patients would take up an offer of acupuncture, the researchers calculated that the service could save the NHS around 100,000 pounds a year.
Each treatment costs the NHS 20 pounds.