Melbourne study finds acupuncture does not improve chronic knee pain

10 October 2014

Acupuncture did not provide any benefit in patients older than 50 years with moderate or severe chronic knee pain, according to a new research study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne randomly assigned 282 patients with chronic knee pain to needle acupuncture, laser acupuncture, no acupuncture or sham (inactive) laser treatment administered by general practitioners.

University of Melbourne Physiotherapy School
Study physiotherapy at the Melbourne Physiotherapy School

Treatments were delivered for 12 weeks with participants and acupuncturists blinded to whether laser or sham laser acupuncture was administered.
Researcher Professor Kim Bennell from the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine (CHESM) said there were no significant differences in measures of knee pain and physical function-between active and sham acupuncture at 12 weeks or at one year.
“Both needle and laser acupuncture resulted in modest improvements in pain compared with the control group who had no treatment at twelve weeks; however, these results were not maintained at one year,” said Professor Bennell. “Needle acupuncture improved physical function at twelve weeks compared with the control but was not different from sham acupuncture and was not maintained at one year,” she said.
Other secondary outcomes such as quality of life or general change, showed no difference in feeling. Needle acupuncture improved pain on walking at 12 weeks but this improvement did not last one year.
Chronic knee pain affects many people older than 50 years and is the most common pain concern among older people consulting general practitioners. Drug-free approaches such as physical activity and exercise are important in managing chronic knee pain with many patients also using complementary and alternative medicine.
Acupuncture is the most popular of alternative medical systems. Although traditionally administered with needles, laser acupuncture (low-intensity laser therapy to acupuncture points) is a non-invasive alternative with evidence of benefit in some pain conditions.

Musculoskeletal and sports research network at the Melbourne Physiotherapy School

Musculoskeletal disease is a major cause of pain and disability across the lifespan and is one of the government’s priority health areas. Research  within the network focuses on osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and knee and hip injuries with the aim being to reduce the burden of these conditions through conservative, non-drug therapies. Much of it is conducted within the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine in the Department of Physiotherapy.
The research spans basic research through to applied clinical research and translation. It aims to understand biomechanical, neuromuscular and psychological factors contributing to the onset and progression of musculoskeletal disorders; develop and evaluate conservative interventions for these disorders, investigate mechanisms that underlie treatment efficacy; and examine means of translating research evidence into clinical practice. The University of Melbourne has an expert multidisciplinary team of researchers with outstanding success in publications, grant funding and student supervision. Extensive national and international collaborations with leaders in their field bring breadth and depth to the research. They have excellent facilities including a state-of-the-art human movement laboratory for sophisticated biomechanical and neurophysiological measures.

Curious about studying physiotherapy at the Melbourne Physiotherapy School? Email OzTREKK’s Australian Physiotherapy Schools Admissions Officer Sarah Bridson at or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.