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Electro-acupuncture May Aid in Easing Knee Pain

Posted: January 29, 2010

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Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years in Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. According to traditional medicine, specific acupuncture points on the skin are connected to internal pathways that conduct energy, or qi ("chee"), and stimulating these points with a fine needle promotes the healthy flow of qi. Modern research has suggested that acupuncture may help ease pain by altering signals among nerve cells or affecting the release of various chemicals of the central nervous system, such as pain-killing endorphins.

In their study, Ahsin and colleagues found that electro-acupuncture appeared to raise patients' blood levels of endorphins and lower their levels of the hormone cortisol, which tends to rise during physical or mental stress. So it's possible that these changes explain the greater pain relief, according to the researchers.

Larger, longer-term studies are still needed to see whether electro-acupuncture can have lasting benefits—and to find out how often patients would need treatment to gain those benefits. For now, Ahsin's team writes, the current findings suggest that, for people who are interested in trying it, electro-acupuncture can be added to conventional treatment for knee arthritis.

Acupuncture and electro-acupuncture are generally regarded as low-risk therapies. Among patients in this study, there were no major side effects apart from bruising at the needle site in three patients, the researchers note.

Source: Pain, online December 15, 2009.