Acupuncture for joint pain: Does it work?

Acupuncture, a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, involves the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body and is most commonly used to treat pain. In this video, Enoch Ho discusses how acupuncture is thought to work, the potential risks of treatment, and the research evidence to support the use of acupuncture to complement traditional approaches to pain relief treatment.


Learn the answers to the following questions: 

  • 1:30 - What is acupuncture and what does it do?
  • 2:54 - Are there any risks to getting acupuncture treatment and who might be at risk of complications? 
  • 5:35 - How are practitioners certified and who performs it?
  • 7:05 - What is the research evidence to support acupuncture as a possible pain relief treatment?
  • 12:11 - What advice would you give a patient with chronic knee pain?

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  1. McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. Painful knees? What about acupuncture? (2019 May 28). Accessed April 6, 2022. Available from:
  2. Vickers AJ, Vertosick EA, Lewith G, et al. Acupuncture for chronic pain: Update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. Pain. 2018; 19(5):455-474.
  3. Lin X, Huang K, Zhu G, et al. The effects of acupuncture on chronic knee pain due to osteoarthritis: A meta-analysis. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2016; 98(18):1578-1586.
  4. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Acupuncture: In Depth. (2016 Jan). Accessed April 6, 2022. Available from:
  5. Patil S, Sen S, Bral M, Reddy S, Bradley KK, Cornett EM, Fox CJ, Kaye AD. The Role of Acupuncture in Pain Management. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2016 Apr;20(4):22.
  6. Manheimer E, Cheng K, Linde K, Lao L, Yoo J, Wieland S, van der Windt DA, Berman BM, Bouter LM. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Jan 20;(1):CD001977.
  7. Corbett MS, Rice SJ, Madurasinghe V, et al. Acupuncture and other physical treatments for the relief of pain due to osteoarthritis of the knee: Network meta-analysis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2013;21(9):1290–1298.
  8. Chen N, Wang J, Mucelli A, et al. Electro-acupuncture is beneficial for knee osteoarthritis: the evidence from meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Chin Med. 2017;45(5):965–985.
  9. Woods B, Manca A, Weatherly H, et al. Cost-effectiveness of adjunct non-pharmacological interventions for osteoarthritis of the knee. PLoS One. 2017;12(3):e0172749.


This work is supported through the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging and funds provided by the Dean and Vice-President, Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

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