Knee osteoarthritis is a painful condition that occurs when the cartilage at the knee joint — meant to provide “cushion” between the bones — wears away, causing pain and stiffness. The condition is also quite common, affecting nearly one in two people by the time they reach age 85, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While there’s no cure for the condition, it’s often treated with drugs, therapy and sometimes even surgery. But a small new study shows that acupuncture could be a viable option to relieve symptoms, too.
The study, published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine , included 90 people with an average age of 71 who had knee pain because of osteoarthritis.
Their osteoarthritis was severe enough to merit surgery, but only a little more than half — 50 of them — said that they would actually be prepared for surgery. Twenty-nine of them said they would not have surgery, and four of them said that they would have surgery, but only as a final option.
The study participants received weekly acupuncture treatments for a month, and then once every six weeks thereafter.
Not all the study participants received acupuncture for the same amount of time — by the time a year had passed, 41 of them were still receiving it; by the time two years had passed 31 were still receiving it. However, the average number of sessions each study participant had gone through was 16.5.
The British researchers found that undergoing acupuncture treatments for one month seemed to decrease pain and stiffness that comes with osteoarthritis. Plus, the benefits continued over the two-year period.
This is not the first time acupuncture has been identified as a possible treatment for osteoarthritis symptoms. A 2004 study in the same journal also showed that pain symptoms were decreased when study participants either only received acupuncture, or acupuncture plus medications.
So what exactly is it about acupuncture that seems to provide its healing effects? Experts still aren’t totally sure.
“We know it works, we just don’t know why,” Dr. Leena Mathew, an attending physician in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, told The Atlantic last year. “It’s very hard to translate into Western language.”
If you’re interested in trying acupuncture but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve rounded up some tips on what to expect at your first session from wellness editor Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald and acupuncturist Christina Moores, M.S., L.Ac., who works in Long Island: It can be tough knowing where to start when beginning any new kind of treatment. First things first: know what to look for in your practitioner.
Moores says “you should always check that [your acupuncturist is] licensed and in good standing.”
Visit www.nccaom.org to find someone reputable. He or she should be licensed in your state and also nationally by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine).
If you are turning to acupuncture to treat a specific condition, mention it ahead of time to your practitioner. Moores says to ask if he or she has any specific experience in treating that ailment. “Usually hearing the answer will give you a good idea of whether or not you can trust him or her,” she points out.
Since you will be working intimately with your acupuncturist, it is imperative to ensure you’re comfortable together. Even if the acupuncturist is well-regarded, if you don’t feel at ease, then Moores says “you are cutting yourself and your healthcare short.”