Safety and Efficacy of Acupuncture for Knee Arthritis Pain

Ling Zhao Ph. D. Associate Professor College of Acupuncture-Tuina, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Interview with:
Ling Zhao Ph. D.
Associate Professor
College of Acupuncture-Tuina,
Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine,

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Zhao: In our study, we found that a 6-week course of moxibustion treatment (i.e., a modality of traditional acupuncture using burning moxa to warm and stimulate the acupoint) significantly reduced pain and improved function in patients with knee osteoarthritis compared to a credible placebo control. Our findings suggest that this ancient modality might be a useful adjunctive treatment for knee osteoarthritis. We also found that our sham device is credible for a double-blind randomized clinical trial assessing this traditional treatment modality.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Zhao: Yes, there were several unexpected findings:

  • First of all, we were pleased that the dropout rate in our trial was relatively low (10% by the end of the trial) and the patient compliance to the treatment was high. This was probably due to the fact that the study was conducted in the local communities which were close to the patients’ residence.
  • Secondly, we thought most of Chinese had experience with moxibustion and worried that they might be able to tell the difference between the real vs sham moxibustion. To our surprise, these patients were successfully blinded to the group assignment and were not able to tell which group they were assigned to. This might be due to the fact that the sham moxi device not only appears identical to the real device, it also actually produces heat sensation (40.9°C, vs 49.8°C from real device),
  • and finally, we noticed that the pain and function had further improved after the end of 6-week treatment indicating the moxibustion may have a long lasting effect for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis..

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Zhao: Our findings suggest that traditional moxibustion is a safe, effective, easy-to-use therapy that can be a useful adjunct to conventional medicine for alleviating pain and improving function in patients with knee osteoarthritis.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Zhao: Although positive, our study was a small scaled clinical trial. The findings of our study provided us useful information for designing a future larger trial. Based on the results of this trial, a larger randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, multi-centered clinical trial is warranted to confirm and generalize our findings.


Effectiveness of moxibustion treatment as adjunctive therapy in osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial

Ling Zhao, Ke Cheng, Lizhen Wang, Fan Wu, Haiping Deng, Ming Tan, Lixing Lao and Xueyong Shen1

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:R133  doi:10.1186/ar4590


Last Updated on July 20, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD