The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis: An overview of systematic reviews

Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Jul;98(28):e16301. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000016301.


Background: Knee osteoarthritis (KOA), known as severe degenerative arthritis, commonly occurs in middle-aged and elderly people all over the world. Acupuncture as traditional oriental intervention is getting widely used and several systematic reviews (SRs) have reported the effectiveness of acupuncture on pain relief and functional recovery in patients with KOA.

Objective: Conducting an overview of SRs to provide more reliable evidence-based medical references for clinical practitioners and researchers of the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for KOA.

Data sources: EMBASE, Medline, Web of science, the Cochrane library, China National Knowledge Infrastructure, the Chinese Science and Technology Periodical Database, China Biology Medicine, Wan Fang Digital Journals, and PROSPERO databases from inception to December 2018, magazines, websites, and unpublished sources.

Selection criteria: Potential SRs were independently selected by 2 reviewers following a predetermined protocol.

Data extraction: Data information of included SRs were independently extracted by 2 reviewers following a predetermined standardized data extraction form.

Review appraisal: The risk of bias and reporting quality of included SRs were evaluated by the Risk of Bias in Systematic reviews (ROBIS) tool and the Preferred Reporting Item for Systematic Review and Meta-analysis (PRISMA) statement. The quality of evidence of outcomes was evaluated by the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE).

Results: A total of 12 SRs were included. All the SRs were published in recent 12 years, ranging from 2006 to 2017. According to ROBIS, 4 SRs were in low risk in domain 1 and 7 in domain 3 of phase 2, and 2 SRs were low risk in phase 3. Among 27 items of PRISMA, 19 items were reported over 70% of compliance. Using GRADE assessment, of 34 outcomes, high quality of evidence was found in 5 outcomes, 17 outcomes were rated moderate quality, and 11 outcomes were low quality. According to high-quality outcomes, acupuncture had more total effective rate, short-term effective rate, and less adverse reactions than western medicine in treating KOA. In terms of Lequesne index and Lysholm knee score scale score, the effectiveness of electroacupuncture was better than that of western medicine.

Limitations: There might be missing information. There may be duplicated clinical trials included by each SR that might have impact on the synthetic findings.

Conclusions: According to the high-quality evidence, we concluded that acupuncture may have some advantages in treating KOA. However, there are some risk of bias and reporting deficiencies still needed to be improved.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Arthralgia / etiology
  • Arthralgia / therapy
  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / complications
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / therapy*
  • Patient Safety
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic