Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis of the Knee (knee arthritis)

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of chronic arthritis. It affects the day to day activities of more than 1.7 million Australians. Osteoarthritis of the knee can make it painful and difficult to perform simple daily tasks such as walking up stairs or walking around the local grocery store. Osteoarthritis of the knee is also commonly known as knee arthritis and so that is how i refer to it for the rest of this article.

There is no cure for knee arthritis, but the condition can be managed by maximising the health of the remaining joint cartilage and maintaining joint movement. For many this can be achieved with appropriate use of analgesics, exercise, nutritional supplementation and Acupuncture.

Knee arthritis is a condition where the normally smooth, shock absorbing joint surfaces inside the knee erode or wear down leaving the ends of the bones unprotected. It is a degenerative form of arthritis and for many people there is no clear cause. There are however a number of  risk factors such as being overweight, having a history of knee injury or working in an occupation that involves kneeling, climbing and squatting. Even though osteoarthritis mainly affects people over the age of 45, it can develop in younger people. Knee arthritis tends to come on gradually, over months or years with the most common symptoms of pain and stiffness becoming worse after resting or not moving the joint for a while. These symptoms often then escalate in severity and can eventually affect your ability to do normal daily activities, such as walking or climbing stairs.

Pain free exercise is one of the best ways to manage knee arthritis Regular exercise works because, when performed correctly, it increases muscle strength, joint range of motion, balance and stamina. Exercise also plays a major part in weight management, reducing the stress of excessweight on affected joints. The most important consideration when starting a routine of daily exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee is to choose an activity which is not going to aggravate your symptoms. Exercises should be low-impact so as to not place undue stress on your knees. Suitable activities may include walking, cycling, water exercises or Tai Chi. Whatever activity you choose, remember not to undertake activities which aggravate your symptoms.

Increasing your intake of omega-3 fats may decrease the pain associated with knee arthritis by reducing the inflammation involved. Whilst Omega-3 fats are generally found in oily fish and certain nuts and seeds, increasing your dietary intake of omega-3 is unlikely to have the desired effect. High doses of a concentrated fish oil supplement are required. A typical dose for osteoarthritis of the knee would be one teaspoon of the concentred liquid or six of the concentrated capsules.  This dose is equivalent to 10 regular capsules or a tablespoon of regular fish oil. It is important not to confuse fish oils with fish liver oils. Fish liver oils contain vitamin A and when taken in high doses can exceed your recommended daily allowance and become toxic. People taking blood thinning medications or with bleeding disorders should always seek professional advice before taking high doses of fish oils due to its blood thinning effect.

Glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin are also popular nutritional supplements for reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. There is some evidence that both glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin can slow the progress of cartilage breakdown in the knee and that chondroitin may repair damaged cartilage. It is important to note that many manufacturers derive glucosamine sulphate from shellfish and is not suitable for those with a seafood allergy.

Acupuncture can provide pain relief and improves function for people with knee arthritis. The results of a recent study showed that after 8 weeks of treatment, pain and joint function are improved more with acupuncture than in either of the control groups in the study. A more recent study supports these claims.

The acupuncture used to treat osteoarthritis of the knee is typically very gentle. The needles used are very fine, and when inserted skilfully do not hurt. As a pleasant side effect to the treatment it is typical for clients to feel very relaxed to the point where many fall asleep.


Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, Lee WL, Gilpin AMK, Hochberg MC. Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004; 141(12):901–910.

Saudi Med J. 2012 May;33(5):526-32. Needle acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee. A systematic review and updated meta-analysis. Cao L, Zhang XL, Gao YS, Jiang Y. Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China.

About Ian Murray

Ian is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioner at Kenmore Centre for Health. This website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such.
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