Knee osteoarthritis is a major cause of pain and disability in the UK. Acupuncture is used and studies have shown it can reduce pain. Giving acupuncture in a group reduces costs, but may have a different effectiveness from individual acupuncture. Our eventual aim is to find how effective and cost-effective is group acupuncture. Our pilot study was undertaken to find out whether we could identify suitable patients from GP databases; whether the study was acceptable to participants; whether the questionnaires were completed satisfactorily, particularly those measuring use of health and social services resources; and to provide information on how many patients would be needed in the main study.
Patients were identified from GP computer databases, invited to take part in the study, and screened by questionnaires and telephone interview. Those who were eligible and gave consent were divided randomly into three arms: standardised care (SC), SC plus group acupuncture, or SC plus individual acupuncture. SC consisted of an information, exercise and advice booklet. Acupuncture was given for six to ten sessions over 12 weeks, adding electroacupuncture if necessary. All participants were asked to comment on experiences at various points in the study, and some were invited for interview. Participants were sent questionnaires after 14 weeks: the main one, known as WOMAC, assessed knee pain, stiffness and function. Other questionnaires were used to support WOMAC. Importantly, there were not enough people in this pilot study to test whether acupuncture is effective.