NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – New research suggests that the reduction in arthritis pain provided by exercise-based physiotherapy is not enhanced by adding acupuncture.

Various groups have advocated the use of acupuncture alongside conventional arthritis therapy, but data supporting its benefits are limited and the topic remains controversial, lead author Dr. Nadine E. Foster, from Keele University in Stafford, UK, and colleagues note in the August 15th Online First issue of the British Medical Journal.

In their study, the researchers assessed pain-related outcomes in 352 adult patients with knee osteoarthritis who were randomized to receive standard physiotherapy alone or in combination with true acupuncture or non-penetrating acupuncture.

Pain was assessed using the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities osteoarthritis index. Six-month follow-up data was available for 94% of subjects.

The mean baseline pain score was 9.2. All three groups experienced similar reductions in pain scores, in the range 2.28 to 2.53, the researchers report.

Compared with the physiotherapy-only group, the other groups did show slight improvements in pain intensity and unpleasantness. However, these benefits were short-lived and unlikely to be clinically relevant. Moreover, since the improvement was also seen in the sham acupuncture group, the benefit was probably not due to acupuncture needling effects.

"Our trial failed to show that acupuncture is a useful adjunct to a course of individualized, exercise-based physiotherapy for adults with knee osteoarthritis," the investigators conclude.

"This adds to the existing body of evidence as acupuncture was compared with an effective comparison treatment," they state.

BMJ 2007.

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