A new study suggests that interaction with acupuncturists and patient expectations may do more to relieve knee osteoarthritis pain than the procedure itself.
The two-prong study was conducted by Dr. Maria Suarez-Almazor of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and funded by the NIH’s Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, according to the Aug. 30 edition of e-newsletter NIH Research Matters. Suarez-Almazor and her colleagues both Traditional Chinese Acupuncture (TCA) and simulated acupuncture, as well as the communication style of the acupuncturists.
The study, described in this month’s issue of Arthritis Care and Research, randomly assigned 527 people to 3 different groups: a control group placed on a wait list, a group receiving electroacupuncture (traditional acupuncture with mild electric stimulation via the needles), and a group receiving simulated acupuncture (needles inserted in non-meridian points and given little stimulation).
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, although in the United States practitioners often integrate traditions from other countries. In TCM, disease is caused when the body’s yin and yang become unbalanced, resulting in a blockage of qi, or life force. Inserting needles into certain points on the body, called meridians, is believed to unblock qi flow.
Patients in the experimental group received one of two communications styles: high-expectation or neutral expectation. NIH Research Matters defines these as “I think this will work for you” and “It really depends on the patient”, respectively.
“TCA was not superior to sham acupuncture,” the study’s abstract reports. “However, acupuncturists’ styles had significant effects on pain reduction and satisfaction, suggesting that the analgesic benefits of acupuncture can be partially mediated through placebo effects related to the acupuncturist’s behavior.”
Osteoarthritis is also called “everyday” or “wear and tear” arthritis, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Estimated to affect at least 21 million Americans, osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in a joint breaks down, causing the bones to grate against each other. Symptoms include pain, stiffness and swelling.
According to the Indiana Arthritis Initiative, more than 29 percent of Hoosier adults reported a diagnosis of arthritis in 2005. More than $610 million was spent in arthritis-related hospital admissions that year. Since this statistic did not include doctor visits, medication, rehabilitation and other expenses, the real cost is probably much higher.