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Acupuncture Repairs Knee Arthritis Cartilage Damage

Acupuncture stimulates cartilage repair for patients with knee osteoarthritis. Using MRIs, researchers have quantified the therapeutic effects of acupuncture. Within four weeks, acupuncture successfully improves the condition of cartilage in the anterior medial and lateral tibial regions of the knee. In addition, Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) scores document that acupuncture reduces pain and stiffness levels while simultaneously improving physical function. 

In a controlled trial (Zhang et al.), acupuncture was compared with the therapeutic benefits of physical therapy. The MRIs demonstrate that acupuncture improves cartilage in the knee region. Physical therapy did not stimulate cartilage repair. Pain, stiffness, and physical functioning improved with both therapies. However, acupuncture significantly outperformed physical therapy across all three WOMAC indices (pain, stiffness, and physical functioning).

MRI Results The researchers used T2 MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) to measure changes in knee cartilage integrity. The researchers selected T2 (transverse relaxation time) imaging because T2 pulses enhance visibility of fat, water content, and other anatomical structures in the body. The researchers note, “In the earliest stage of OA [osteoarthritis], collagen matrix of cartilage breaks down and cannot immobilize water protons, resulting in an elevation in T2 relaxation time.” The researchers confirmed the findings with “Sagittal T2 Mapping images for the medial and lateral tibiofemoral joints.” The T2 MRIs produced quality resolution documentation that acupuncture “improves medial tibial sub-region (MTa) and anterior lateral tibial sub-region (LTa)” cartilage.

Acupuncture One group received physical therapy and another study group received acupuncture. For the acupuncture group, electroacupuncture was administered by licensed acupuncturists with a practice experience in excess of twenty years. Acupuncture was applied once, every other day, for a total of four weeks. Needle retention time per acupuncture session was 20 minutes.

The needles used in the study were Hanyi brand disposable stainless steel filiform needles, size 0.30 × 40 mm. The depth of insertion ranged from 0.8–3.5 cm. Manual needle stimulation was applied to elicit a deqi response for each needle. Additionally, medial and lateral Xiyan received 20 Hz electroacupuncture stimulation to patient tolerance levels. The acupoints used in the study were the following:

  • MN-LE16 Neixiyan (medial Xiyan)

  • ST35 Dubi (lateral Xiyan, Waixiyan)

  • EX-LE2 Heding

  • SP10 Xuehai

  • SP11 Jimen

  • ST34 Liangqiu

  • ST36 Zusanli