This past off season, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees both traveled to Germany to receive a new injection therapy called Orthokine. During a treatment session, the patient is injected with components of their own blood along with other factors. This results in a reduction of a protein called interleukin-1 (IL-1), which is thought to be one of the main culprits in joint diseases like osteoarthritis. IL-1 is part of the body’s immune system, and generally enhances a typical immune reaction. Over time, however, its inflammatory actions can cause a breakdown of cartilage in joints, leading to pain.
In September of last year, a team of researchers from Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, China published a study on the influence of acupuncture on IL-1. Specifically, they were studying electro-acupuncture, whereby a mild current is applied through the acupuncture needles. They found that subjects that received electro-acupuncture had significantly less IL-1 present in cartilage than those that did not receive the treatment. They also compared the acupuncture results against a group that received the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac, and found acupuncture to be equal in effectiveness as the drug.
This study sheds some light on how acupuncture does what it does. Certainly, those who have received it for their joint pain and felt the relief know that it works. Now science understands a little bit better the action behind the positive results. Anyone following the NBA this season can see that the Orthokine treatment has helped Kobe to put up MVP-worthy numbers. Perhaps he might try acupuncture to maintain his positive results until his next trip to Germany.