About 50 million people in the US suffer from some form of arthritis.  About 20 million people suffering from arthritis have symptoms severe enough to seek medical attention.  There is about 100 forms of arthritis.  The most common forms are:

  • Osteoarthritis, known as degenerative arthritis or wear-and-tear-arthritis.  This refers to the pain and inflammation resulting from loss of bone tissue in the joints. It is the most common form of arthritis especially in the elderly.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis, also known as rheumatism or synovitis, tends to affect people over 40. Women are more frequently effected by this form of arthritis than men by 2:1  The key area effected are inflammation and pain in the hands, especially the knuckles and second joints. The   arms, legs and feet can also be effected and there is a general malaise, fatigue and difficulty with sleep.
  • Gout is caused by the elevated blood levels of uric acid, which forms crystals in the joints. This usually happens in adults (mostly men) over 40 years of age. The immune system reacts to these crystals as if to a foreign invader. The joint, as a result, becomes inflamed and painful.

The article below discusses the effectiveness of acupuncture on osteoarthritis of the knee in a randomized trial.  A very common problem for which acupuncture has shown to treat effectively.

Elyse Josephs, L.Ac., Dipl.OM

Acupuncture in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomised trial.

Witt C, Brinkhaus B, Jena S, Linde K, Streng A, Wagenpfeil S, Hummelsberger J, Walther HU, Melchart D, Willich SN.
Institute of Social Medicine, Epidemiology, and Health Economics, Charité University Medical Centre, Berlin, Germany.

BACKGROUND: Acupuncture is widely used by patients with chronic pain although there is little evidence of its effectiveness. We investigated the efficacy of acupuncture compared with minimal acupuncture and with no acupuncture in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. METHODS: Patients with chronic osteoarthritis of the knee (Kellgren grade < or =2) were randomly assigned to acupuncture (n=150), minimal acupuncture (superficial needling at non-acupuncture points; n=76), or a waiting list control (n=74). Specialised physicians, in 28 outpatient centres, administered acupuncture and minimal acupuncture in 12 sessions over 8 weeks. Patients completed standard questionnaires at baseline and after 8 weeks, 26 weeks, and 52 weeks. The primary outcome was the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis (WOMAC) index at the end of week 8 (adjusted for baseline score). All main analyses were by intention to treat. RESULTS: 294 patients were enrolled from March 6, 2002, to January 17, 2003; eight patients were lost to follow-up after randomisation, but were included in the final analysis. The mean baseline-adjusted WOMAC index at week 8 was 26.9 (SE 1.4) in the acupuncture group, 35.8 (1.9) in the minimal acupuncture group, and 49.6 (2.0) in the waiting list group (treatment difference acupuncture vs minimal acupuncture -8.8, [95% CI -13.5 to -4.2], p=0.0002; acupuncture vs waiting list -22.7 [-27.5 to -17.9], p<0.0001). After 52 weeks the difference between the acupuncture and minimal acupuncture groups was no longer significant (p=0.08). INTERPRETATION: After 8 weeks of treatment, pain and joint function are improved more with acupuncture than with minimal acupuncture or no acupuncture in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. However, this benefit decreases over time.

PMID: 16005336 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE
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Acupuncture Improves Osteoarthritis, Trial Shows

Mon Dec 20, 5:32 PM ET
By Karla Gale

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Acupuncture added to conventional therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee improves function and reduces pain, according to a clinical trial conducted at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“We now have a result that suggests, in the largest, longest and most rigorously conducted study of acupuncture ever, that we have a new (add-on) therapy for millions of patients with degenerative arthritis,” Dr. Stephen E. Straus, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, said at a press conference.

The study, led by Dr. Brian M. Berman and reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine (news – web sites), involved 570 patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis, all of whom continued with their prescription treatments.

They were also assigned to 23 sessions of traditional Chinese acupuncture or sham non-piercing acupuncture over the course of 26 weeks, or to a control group that received 6 two-hour education sessions over 12 weeks.

After eight weeks, participants in the true acupuncture group had a 10.77-point improvement in a standard osteoarthritis function score, significantly greater than those in sham acupuncture group (7.84-point improvement) or the education-only group (5.30 points).

After 26 weeks, both pain and function scores were significantly more improved in the true acupuncture group than in the sham group.

At the press conference, researcher Dr. Marc C. Hochberg said that “the maximum improvement in the sham group was about 30 percent in terms of calculated pain score and also the calculated score on functional impairment.” In the true acupuncture group, the improvement was “between 40 percent and 45 percent in both pain and function scores.”

Moreover, added Dr. Berman — particularly in light of recent news about arthritis drugs — “there were very few adverse events reported, none on which was thought to be treatment related.”

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, December 21, 2004.

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