Traditional Chinese medicine for knee osteoarthritis: An overview of systematic review

PLoS One. 2017 Dec 21;12(12):e0189884. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189884. eCollection 2017.


Background: Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been accepted as a complementary therapy for knee osteoarthritis. However, the efficacy and safety of the intervention were still conflicting and uncertain. Meanwhile, the quality of methodology and evidence in the field was unknown.

Objective: To summarize the characteristics and critically evaluate the quality of methodology, as well as the evidence of systematic reviews (SRs) on TCM for knee osteoarthritis.

Methods: Five electronic databases were searched from inception to April 2016. The methodological quality of the included studies was assessed by AMSTAR and ROBIS. The quality of the evidence was determined using the GRADE approach.

Results: Ten SRs were included. The conclusions suggest that TCM provides potential benefits for patients with knee osteoarthritis. These benefits include pain relief, functional improvement, and presence of few adverse events. Limitations of the methodological quality mainly included the lack of a-priori protocol or protocol registration and incomprehensive literature search. A list of excluded studies was also not provided. The overall quality of evidence in the SRs was poor, ranging from "very low" to "low," mainly because of the serious risk of bias of original trials, inconsistencies, and imprecision in the outcomes.

Conclusions: TCM generally appears to be effective for knee osteoarthritis treatment. However, the evidence is not robust enough because of the methodological flaws in SRs. Hence, these conclusions on available SRs should be treated with caution for clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / therapy*

Grants and funding

This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81473791).