Study: Acupuncture Is Superior to Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis

Many patients come to Jackupuncture with pain in their joints. Oftentimes, a major contributing factor to their pain is poor muscular function. By using electroacupuncture to restore function to the muscles that move the joint, these patients experience lasting relief. Other times, however, the issue may also involve changes in the joint that require additional attention. One such case is osteoarthritis.

In the case of osteoarthritis, electroacupuncture inside the joint itself is an excellent way to help restore the cartilage. That’s right–electroacupuncture can safely regenerate cartilage inside joints. So, once improving muscular function helps the joint become more stable and mobile, electroacupuncture can help restore internal joint health by regenerating cartilage. While I’ve done this successfully for many patients, you don’t have to take my word for it. A recent study that compared electroacupuncture to physical therapy not only demonstrates this cartilage-regenerating benefit of electroacupuncture, it also shows that overall outcomes in knee osteoarthritis were greater for patients who received electroacupuncture compared to those who received physical therapy.

The Study

In the realm of non-operative approaches to managing knee osteoarthritis (KOA), a recent study by Zhang, et. al. has provided illuminating insights into the comparative efficacy of electroacupuncture and physical therapy. With 47 participants completing the trials, including 24 in the acupuncture group and 23 in the physical therapy group, this research offers valuable findings on the effectiveness of these treatments in alleviating KOA symptoms and their potential impact on cartilage repair.

Understanding Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, commonly known as OA, is a degenerative joint disease characterized by the breakdown of articular cartilage in the joints. This degradation occurs gradually over time and can lead to symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and reduced joint function. While OA can affect any joint in the body, it most commonly occurs in weight-bearing joints like the knees, where the constant stress and strain exacerbate cartilage degradation.

Comparing Electroacupuncture & Physical Therapy

As two major non-operative methods for treating KOA, physical therapy and acupuncture have shown promise in improving symptoms and motor function. However, a key aspect that has been relatively underexplored is their impact on cartilage repair. To address this gap, researchers designed a study to compare the effectiveness of these two therapies and explore their potential for promoting cartilage repair in KOA patients.

 Study Design

Participants were randomly assigned to either the acupuncture group or the physical therapy group. For clinical evaluation, the study utilized the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC), a commonly used survey that assesses pain, stiffness, and physical function in hip and knee OA (2). To assess the joint cartilage, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) T2 values were used. Acupuncture sessions were administered by experienced practitioners using specific acupuncture points known for their efficacy in treating KOA, while physical therapy involved targeted interventions utilizing specialized equipment to alleviate pain and improve joint function. The acupuncture group included use of electroacupuncture in two points inside the knee joint. At both points inside the knee, an electric current was applied during each session.


Understanding T2 Values

knee arthritis acupuncture

MRI assessments included T2 mapping, a technique that provides insights into the quality of cartilage. T2 values represent the relaxation times of water molecules within the cartilage tissue. Higher T2 values indicate increased water content, which is associated with cartilage degeneration and matrix disruption. Conversely, lower T2 values suggest healthier cartilage with more organized collagen fibers. Basically, in the knees and other joints where the presence of cartilage is beneficial and necessary, higher T2 values are bad.

Study Outcomes

The results of the study revealed significant improvements in both treatment groups after 4 weeks compared to baseline measurements. Notably, the acupuncture group exhibited significantly lower total WOMAC scores and subscale scores–meaning less pain or stiffness and greater physical function–compared to the physical therapy group. Additionally, MRI data showed significant reductions in T2 values in specific cartilage sub-regions, particularly in weight-bearing areas, in the acupuncture group. The physical therapy group showed no significant changes in T2 values after treatment.

acupuncture vs physical therapy knee arthritis

Benefits of Electroacupuncture

This study underscores the clinical efficacy of acupuncture in managing KOA symptoms and suggests its potential for promoting cartilage repair, particularly in weight-bearing areas of the knee joint. Acupuncture offers distinct advantages over physical therapy, providing superior outcomes in terms of symptom relief and potential cartilage health restoration. With its anti-inflammatory effects and influence on key growth factors involved in cartilage repair pathways, acupuncture emerges as a promising alternative therapy for KOA patients, offering both symptomatic relief and potential long-term benefits for joint health.

In conclusion, this study highlights the importance of exploring complementary therapies like acupuncture in the management of KOA. By addressing both symptomatic relief and cartilage repair, acupuncture offers a holistic approach to treating this debilitating condition, providing patients with a viable alternative to traditional physical therapy interventions.

Final Note

Our experience and research like this demonstrates that the care Jackupuncture provides significantly improves the lives of our patients and regularly exceeds the results they experience with other providers. Since the publication of this paper in 2016, Jackupuncture has been providing the same frequency and duration of electricity outlined in this study to improve the lives of patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis. Seeking help from Jackupuncture means you receive up-to-date evidence-based care that offers lasting drug-free solutions for pain, injury, and dysfunction.


(1) Zhang, Y., Bao, F., Wang, Y., & Wu, Z. (2016). Influence of acupuncture in treatment of knee osteoarthritis and cartilage repairing. American Journal of Translational Research, 8(9), 3995-4002. Retrieved from
(2) “WOMAC Osteoarthritis Index.” February 6, 2024.

IMAGES: Zhang, Y., Bao, F., Wang, Y., & Wu, Z. (2016). Influence of acupuncture in treatment of knee osteoarthritis and cartilage repairing. American Journal of Translational Research, 8(9), 3995-4002. Retrieved from