The study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, looked at 712 patients split into two groups; one group of 357 were given immediate acupuncture treatment and the remaining 355 started treatment three months later. The benefits were measured on the widely used WOMAC osteoarthritis index, which measures the severity of pain, stiffness and joint performance. Traditional arthritis treatments consisting of anti-inflammatory drugs were continued alongside the acupuncture in all cases.
All patients scored about 50 on the scale at the beginning of the treatment. At the three-month stage, the group that had undergone 15 acupuncture sessions scored about 30 -- a 36 percent improvement after other factors were considered -- while the untreated group's scores remained around 50. Six months later, the formerly untreated group showed the same level of improvement after a three-month treatment.
The study did have some issues that may nullify the results in the eyes of some skeptics. It was not double-blind, and the inexperienced acupuncturists were found to be just as effective as experienced practitioners, even though an accompanying editorial by Jiln University Chinese medicine teachers Tao Liu and Chen Liu stated experience was the most important factor.
Still, the scientists maintain the study results evidenced the usefulness of acupuncture, justifying its use as a pain treatment, although the actual mechanism by which it works has not yet been scientifically explained.
The German Ministry of Health is now considering a recommendation from a federal committee of doctors and health insurers to include acupuncture in medical coverage, a move partly inspired by the study results.