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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2011 Apr;19(4):366-74. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2011.01.021. Epub 2011 Feb 13.

Osteoarthritis year 2010 in review: non-pharmacologic therapy.

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  • 1Canadian Osteoarthritis Research Program, Women's College Research Institute, Women's College Hospital, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 1B2, Canada.



To highlight seminal publications in the past year on the topic of non-pharmacologic management of osteoarthritis (OA).


A systematic search of the PUBMED and Cochrane databases from September 2009 to September 2010 was conducted to identify articles reporting on studies examining the safety or efficacy of non-pharmacologic therapies in the management of OA. Non-pharmacologic therapies were those considered in the 2008 OARSI OA guidelines. Identified articles were reviewed for quality; those of highest quality and deemed to have greatest potential impact on the management of OA were summarized.


The search identified 117 unique articles. Of these, four studies were chosen to highlight. A nested two-stage trial found that traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA) was not superior to sham acupuncture, but that the providers' style affected both pain reduction and satisfaction with treatment, suggesting that the analgesic benefits of acupuncture may be partially mediated by the acupuncturists' behavior. A systematic review found little evidence of a significant effect for electrostimulation vs sham or no intervention on pain in knee OA. A single-blinded trial of Tai Chi vs attention controls found that 12 weeks of Tai Chi was associated with improvements in symptoms and disability in patients with knee OA. A randomized trial of early ACL reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation vs structured rehabilitation alone in subjects with acute anterior cruciate ligament tears found that, at 24 months following randomization, all study participants had improved, suggesting that a strategy of structured rehabilitation followed acute ACL injury may preclude the need for surgical reconstruction.


High quality studies of the safety and efficacy of non-pharmacologic agents in the management of OA remain challenging due to difficulties with adequate blinding and appropriate selection of attention controls. High quality studies suggest modest, if any, benefit of many non-pharmacologic therapies over attention control or placebo, but a significant impact of both over no intervention at all.

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