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Would acupuncture help with osteoarthritis in the knees?

Q: I have osteoarthritis in my knees. I don't get pain, but get swelling, stiffness and a burning feeling. One knee gives way at times. Would acupuncture help with any of this?

A: As you can imagine we have been asked this question on a number of occasions, and a recent answer contained the following extracts:

 If there is serious osteooarthritic degeneration of the joint, probably the best that one could do with acupuncture treatment is to reduce some of the inflammation. With the underlying condition in severe deterioration unlikely to change, the only issue is how much relief the treatment can offer and how sustainable it may be. This may come down to a question of finances; if the cost of regular treatment is outweighed by the benefits it gives, then it may well be worth pursuing. The chances are, however, that only replacement surgery will make a great difference.

There was a huge trial in Germany some years ago, called the GERAC trial, which involved an assessment of hundreds of thousands of treatments.

The outcomes for osteoarthritis of the knee were particularly impressive, and it was a source of deep annoyance to our medical colleagues that acupuncture was not included in the NICE guidelines because the placebo control scored nearly as well as the real acupuncture. In their view, both were so much better than the conventional treatment that it would still make sense to use acupuncture even as a placebo, but that is not the way of modern healthcare policy.

The best advice that we can give is that you visit a BAcC member local to you and see what they make of the specific presentation you have. It may, for example, that there are lifestyle issues like work which keeps you on your feet all day which might adversely impact on treatment outcomes, or it may be that there are specific reasons for the pain like injury or accident which would have to be factored in to their assessment.

Clearly in your case the inflammation is quite severe to bring about a burning feeling, and while we have extracted parts of the answer which dealt with pain relief they may still have been relevant; one person's burning feeling is another person's pain.

 Such is the unique nature of each presentation of osteoarthritis of the knee it really is best to have someone have a look at the specific nature of the problem and the context in which it sits. Chinese medicine is premised on the treatment of the person, not the condition, and this is one of its great strengths. Treating symptoms alone can sometimes be successful but treatment of then person as a whole is more likely to keep the symptoms at bay. We are not alone in taking this view. The great Canadian physician William Osler often said 'The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.'

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