Nonoperative Knee-Pain Treatments: Acupuncture—No, Bracing—Yes

Two recent studies revealed that valgus bracing may be more effective than acupuncture for treating knee osteoarthritis.

A JAMA study of nearly 300 people 50 and older with chronic knee pain and morning stiffness found that 12 weeks of acupuncture, delivered via both needles and laser,  provided no substantial pain or function benefits at 12 weeks or one year, relative to no acupuncture or a sham laser procedure. One interesting aspect of this study was its so-called Zelen design; participants were consented after randomization, and those randomized to receive no acupuncture were unaware that they were in an acupuncture trial. According to the authors, “Zelen designs can reduce the risk of bias in a treatment trial in which knowledge of the intervention may influence recruitment…and outcomes.”

Conversely, a meta-analysis of six randomized studies totaling more than 400 patients in Arthritis Care and Research found that a valgus knee brace can improve pain and function in people with medial knee osteoarthritis. The analysis examined trials that compared valgus bracing with no orthosis and with other types of orthoses, such as neoprene sleeves. In the former comparison, the valgus brace yielded improvements in both pain and function; in the latter comparison, valgus bracing improved pain but not function. An editorialist commenting on the findings opined that the clinical goal going forward should be to identify those patients who are most likely to benefit from this type of bracing and who will comply with instructions for use.

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