Acupuncture for osteoarthritis

People who are affected by the joint disease osteoarthritis should primarily treat the symptoms with guided and customized exercises. Those who want to try alternative treatments beyond this typically turn to different types of natural remedies or nutritional supplements. There are also those who consider acupuncture for osteoarthritis. This is a type of treatment where an acupuncturist uses thin needles that stimulate specific points. This is supposed to help relieve various types of pain.

Read more about the different stages of treating osteoarthritis.

What is acupuncture?

Most people have heard about traditional Chinese acupuncture. In Sweden, a similar form of acupuncture is practiced – Western acupuncture – where a number of thin needles are inserted into the connective tissue, muscles or tendons that are causing pain. These are so-called acupuncture points. When the person performing the treatment twists the needles, the points are stimulated. You can then experience a tingling sensation around the area. As a general rule, 5 to 12 needles are used for each treatment.

The needles remain in place for 20-30 minutes, and the treatment is repeated 2-3 times per week. The effect of the treatment can be felt immediately, but usually after several treatments. Treatment often occurs in combination with other types of treatment, such as physical therapy or pain-relieving medications. However, there are side effects with acupuncture. These can involve fatigue, thirst and dizziness. Small bruises may also appear where the needles have been.

Research results

The research on using acupuncture to treat osteoarthritis shows varying results. Overall, we can confirm that there is no clear scientific support for using acupuncture to treat osteoarthritis. However, this does not mean that individuals cannot experience positive effects from the treatment, and since it is not considered dangerous, there are no recommendations against this type of treatment.

There are several studies that point to the benefits of acupuncture as a form of treatment for several types of painful conditions. Many of the people that use this treatment method say that it helps to relieve pain. However, there is insufficient scientific evidence to show that the treatment provides anything other than a placebo effect for osteoarthritis. Therefore, this is not a treatment method that doctors and physical therapists can recommend.


There are people who experience increased pain as a side effect directly after the treatment. However, this pain usually disappears after one or two days. Serious or long-term complications are very rare. Normally, patients experience positive effects from acupuncture after just a few treatments. Stimulating the acupuncture points is thought to increase blood circulation and affect nerve signals to the brain. This causes the production of pain-relieving hormones and endorphins to increase, which in turn, according to the theory, results in pain relief.

Can anybody provide acupuncture treatment?

Only licensed practitioners with training in acupuncture may perform the treatment. This means, for example, physicians, chiropractors, physiotherapists, naprapaths, and nurses can perform the therapy if they have received the proper training. Even some people who work outside of the healthcare system can perform the treatment. In these cases, it is more common for them to use the traditional Chinese variation of acupuncture. These unlicensed persons who perform the treatment are outside of the purview of the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare. 

Here you can find more information about natural remedies, which is another alternative method for treating osteoarthritis.


There are a host of actions, including both preventative and remedial actions, that can be taken to relieve the pain associated with osteoarthritis. However, there is scientific evidence to support customized, guided exercises as a form of treatment. Acupuncture as a form of treatment for osteoarthritis is an alternative approach that is not yet recommended by physicians. This is because the results have not been proven.

Read more about how a naprapath practices naprapathy.