Is Acupuncture a Valid Treatment for Osteoarthritis?

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For some patients, treatment for osteoarthritis alternates between modern scientific practice, as is employed by all doctors and therapists at the US Knee Center, and traditional methods such as home remedies, massages and acupuncture. While home remedies and massages are acknowledged by the scientific community to have some effects on improving symptoms, acupuncture however holds a somewhat controversial position. But before we explore the debates surrounding acupuncture, it’s best to first understand it.


Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which focuses on healing by re-establishing balance in one’s qi, or flow of energy. This might all seem confusing and it’s understandably so - the principles behind TCM has its roots spread across philosophy and spirituality. As qi is considered responsible for governing one’s health, disruption in the flow is what causes the body to deteriorate and experience illness. In acupuncture, fine sterilised steel needles are inserted into the skin at specific areas which stimulate one’s energy pathways (or meridians as they are called) to restore the flow of qi, and hence improve health.


Given this explanation, it's no wonder why Western medicine doesn’t acknowledge acupuncture as a treatment for osteoarthritis as well as other ailments, among most forms of traditional medicine, as viable treatments. Where medical science is grounded in treating tangible, physiological aspects of the body, qi is too abstract a concept to be recognised by the field. But where there have been reports from patients confirming an improvement in joint soreness and stiffness after acupuncture, doctors and scientists have offered other alternative reasons for why it works for some.


Insertion of the needles triggers physiological mechanisms - puncturing the right spot sends signals to the brain, which then prompts the release of endorphins that dull out one’s sensations of pain, aching and soreness. Moreover, it may induce certain pain-relieving hormones and chemicals in the body, leading to positive reports of improved health.


But how far does this improvement go? Some studies have shown that acupuncture was only effective for patients of mild osteoarthritis, especially if the affected area was the spine or knee. And even then, the improvement was minimal in certain sets of cases as opposed to those who did not receive any treatment at all. As such, acupuncture had no effect on those suffering from chronic pain.


Other studies have been highly critical where results confirmed no improvement in patients’ arthritic pain. The occasional confirmation has been linked to a placebo effect of sorts where the patients had been led to believe that the treatment worked. In general, these experiments discard acupuncture completely, relegating it to sham treatment.


This begs the question: is acupuncture a valid treatment or not? Of course, there’s no consensus among the scientific community either proving or disproving healing through qi, but so far as it stands, acupuncture is recognised as a treatment for around 30 health problems including pain by the World Health Organisation.


In the end, there’s very little harm in trying - after all, acupuncture has no side-effects unlike most medicines. However, one shouldn’t take it as an alternative to viable and highly effective medical treatment that poses long-lasting results. At the US Knee Center, your care is our priority. Our qualified unit of specialists are trained in providing unmatched medical treatment so that you can continue to enjoy life with family and friends. Contact us today for an appointment.