Superficial Needling Acupuncture vs Sham Acupuncture for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Wing Chung Lam, Kwok Yin Au, Zongshi Qin, Fung Man Wu, Chiu On Chong, Fei Jiang, Yue He, Bacon Fung Leung Ng, Wing Fai Yeung, Lixing Lao, Haiyong Chen (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Acupuncture has been an alternative approach for pain management, but trial evidence is conflicting. Methods: Eighty-six patients with knee osteoarthritis were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio from June 14, 2017, to January 20, 2019, to receive either superficial needling acupuncture treatment or sham acupuncture for 10 sessions over a 4-week treatment period, followed by a 6-week follow-up period. The primary outcome was the change of pain intensity at week 4 measured using a 100-mm visual analogue scale. Secondary outcomes included the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index and 36-Item Short Form Health Survey. Results: At the end of the 4-week treatment period, mean changes in the visual analogue scale were −30.8 (95% confidence interval [CI], −38.2 to −23.0; p <.001) in the acupuncture group and −26.7 (95% CI, −34.4 to −18.8; P <.001) in the sham group. The difference between the acupuncture group and the sham group was −4.1 (95% CI, −14.4 to 6.2; P = 0.431). At week 10, the difference between the groups was −2.2 (95% CI, −13.1 to 8.8; P =0.699). There was no statistically significant difference in Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index subscores (pain, stiffness, and physical function) and 36-Item Short Form Health Survey-related outcomes across groups from weeks 2 to 10. The incidence of treatment-related adverse events was 4.4% in the acupuncture group and 0.8% in the sham acupuncture group. All adverse events were classified as mild. Conclusion: Acupuncture for 4 weeks is not superior to non-penetrating sham acupuncture. The current study cannot confirm that superficial acupuncture has efficacy for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1286-1294.e2
JournalAmerican Journal of Medicine
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sep 2021


  • Acupuncture
  • knee osteoarthritis
  • randomized controlled trial
  • sham control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

Cite this