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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2006 Nov;45(11):1331-7. Epub 2006 Aug 27.

Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

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  • 1Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, 25 Victoria Park Road, Exeter EX2 4NT, UK.



To evaluate the evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture in peripheral joint osteoarthritis (OA).


Systematic searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, AMED, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, British Nursing Index, PsychINFO and CAMPAIN until July 2005. Hand-searches included conference proceedings and our own files. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. All randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture for patients with peripheral joint OA were considered for inclusion. Trials assessing needle acupuncture with or without electrical stimulation were considered if sham- or placebo-controlled or controlled against a comparator intervention. Trials testing other forms of acupuncture were excluded. Methodological quality was assessed and, where possible, meta-analyses were performed.


Thirty-one possibly relevant studies were identified and 18 RCTs were included. Ten trials tested manual acupuncture and eight trials tested electro-acupuncture. Overall, ten studies demonstrated greater pain reduction in acupuncture groups compared with controls. The meta-analysis of homogeneous data showed a significant effect of manual acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture (standardized mean difference 0.24, 95% confidence interval 0.01-0.47, P = 0.04, n = 329), which is supported by data for knee OA. The extent of heterogeneity in trials of electro-acupuncture prevented a meaningful meta-analysis.


Sham-controlled RCTs suggest specific effects of acupuncture for pain control in patients with peripheral joint OA. Considering its favourable safety profile acupuncture seems an option worthy of consideration particularly for knee OA. Further studies are required particularly for manual or electro-acupuncture in hip OA.

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