Acupuncture uses needles placed at specific points of the body to relieve pain. Read the article to learn how acupuncture works for knee pain.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine that uses small needles inserted at specific points on the skin to help ease chronic pain. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic condition affecting the joints of millions of people worldwide. The condition causes inflammation and stiffness of the joints, most commonly of the knees, hands, hips, and spine. Doctors recommend opioids for pain relief; however, they do not recommend long-term usage due to their potential side effects. Alternate treatments like acupuncture, hot and cold therapy, massages, or trying herbal supplements can help relieve pain.
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine technique that uses small needles inserted into the body for the treatment of pain in chronic conditions. Chinese medicine believes that the procedure stimulates nerves, muscles, and tissues and works by balancing the energy flow in the body, thereby reducing pain and promoting healing. Researchers believe that acupuncture makes the body release natural pain killers, thus giving relief to pain.
Acupuncture is given as a complementary therapy to patients who also receive medical treatment. Treatment with acupuncture is found to provide relief for days to weeks post-treatment. However, patients may require six to eight sessions to get considerable relief from pain, though it may differ from patient to patient.
Apart from the traditional acupuncture, the other options available include:
Electro-Acupuncture: Electro-acupuncture differs from the traditional type by using two needles instead of one. A mild current is passed between the needles, which helps in additional stimulation of the points on the skin.
Auricular Acupuncture: Also known as ear acupuncture, the technique works on the concept that there are acupuncture points on the ear, which correspond to the various body parts. Auricular acupuncture, when followed, is thought to provide relief from pain within 48 hours.
Battlefield Acupuncture: This is a type of auricular acupuncture that military facilities use for immediate pain relief. However, more research is being done on using the therapy for long-term benefits.
Knee pain can have a negative impact on the quality of life of the patient. It becomes difficult for them to carry out day-to-day activities and may also cause disturbed sleep due to pain. Acupuncture is believed to give much-needed relief to people with knee pain.
Acupuncture needles send signals to the brain, along the spinal cord, to release “feel good” hormones or endorphins into the body, which is considered the reason for acupuncture to work in patients with knee pain. Also, acupuncture is believed to decrease the production of the hormone cortisol that controls inflammation. Acupuncture treatment causes a reduction in pain and inflammation, thereby improving the mobility and function of the knees.
Research is being done on various factors that play a role in the positive effects of acupuncture, one of which is whether a patient's confidence in the technique helps improve the results of treatment.
Scientific studies reveal that acupuncture has been found to be effective in delaying and reducing the need for the use of opioid medications post-surgery to relieve pain.
The knee conditions in which acupuncture is found to be useful include:
1. Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, usually beginning in the 50s. It can cause severe inflammation, stiffness, and immobility of joints. Rheumatologists, doctors specializing in the treatment of arthritis, have approved the use of acupuncture treatment in people having knee, hip, and hand pain. Evidence shows that the result of treatment is best in reducing knee pain. Therapy is shown to have both short-term and long-term benefits, with short-term pain relief for almost 13 weeks.
2. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. The condition can cause painful and swollen joints, more commonly involving the hands, knees, and ankles. Doctors suggest that acupuncture treatment is worth trying in rheumatoid arthritis patients and has been shown to improve the daily activities and the way joints work. Acupuncture has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects and also helps improve immunity in RA patients.
3. Chronic Knee Pain: Chronic knee pain can occur as a result of injury or various health conditions. Acupuncture helps in better pain management. However, pain relief must not completely rely upon acupuncture; it has to be combined with other therapies and lifestyle changes as well.
Acupuncture therapy for use in the following conditions is still under research. The related conditions include:
Fibromyalgia: A condition affecting the muscles and soft tissues that causes chronic pain, tenderness, and tiredness.
Gout: A kind of arthritis that causes joint inflammation due to excess accumulation of uric acid, mainly involving the big toe.
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS): A painful condition occurring due to inflammation of one or more joints of the spine.
Lupus: It is an autoimmune disease causing skin rashes, arthritis, and kidney failure in rare cases.
The risks involved in acupuncture treatment are pretty low; hence doctors may advise the patients to try it as an additional option. The patient must be sure that the acupuncture practitioner is experienced and licensed. Care must be taken to use sterile needles to prevent infection. The practitioner must be informed well in advance about the medical conditions and medicines the patient is using.
The following conditions have to be informed prior to treatment, which includes:
Use of blood thinners or any bleeding disorders.
Pregnant females or those who plan to get pregnant.
Use of pacemakers for heart conditions.
Common side-effects that are noted include bruising, soreness, or bleeding at the point of application of the needle. Less common side effects like dizziness, nausea, or an increase in pain can occur.
Treatment from a competent and well-experienced practitioner can reduce the risks and side effects.
During the first appointment, the acupuncturist asks for medical history, lifestyle habits, and the condition for which they need treatment.
Before the start of the session, the practitioner will make the patient lie down or sit on a chair in a relaxed position. Then the area to be treated is wiped with an alcohol-based solution to disinfect the skin, following which needles are passed to specific points on the skin. Most patients do not feel pain or discomfort during the insertion of the needles. Some even reported to have felt relaxed during the sessions. However, a few patients may experience mild pain or side effects if the needles are not positioned properly or the patient moves during the placement. The session may last for a few minutes, with a need for longer sessions for different conditions.
The duration of therapy depends upon the type and severity of the condition. The practitioner may advise for a session once or twice a week. Also, the sessions may be continued for several weeks to months, based on the treatment response shown by the patient.
Knee pain is a condition that has an impact on the lives of people affected. It can cause constant pain and discomfort that prevents daily activities from being carried out smoothly. But the good news is knee pain can be managed without the need to take opioid medicines for longer periods. Doctors themselves have advised patients to try alternative therapies for pain management, the popular one being acupuncture. Studies have shown an improvement in pain in patients going for acupuncture, thereby improving their quality of life. However, choosing a well-qualified acupuncture practitioner is pivotal in getting optimal results.
Doctors recommend the use of opioid medications for the relief of knee pain. Other additional treatment options include acupuncture, hot and cold therapy, massages, and herbal supplements.
Acupuncture releases “feel good” hormones or endorphins into the body. Also, it decreases the hormone cortisol levels that control inflammation, thereby reducing pain and improving the mobility of the knees.
It depends on the acupuncturist where the needles are placed on the knees during therapy. There is no specific treatment. They may place the needles in and around or above and below the knee base on the condition.
Acupuncture therapy provides both short-term and long-term pain relief. Short-term pain relief of up to 13 weeks is possible with the treatment.
Acupuncturists may recommend a session once or twice a week. Also, the sessions need to be continued for weeks to months, depending on the response shown by the patient.
Though acupuncture cannot completely cure or reverse osteoarthritis, it helps manage pain in combination with other treatment options.
Studies have shown that acupuncture therapy reduces pain and inflammation in knee replacement surgery patients. Also, there was an improvement in the range of motion in the knees.
Acupuncture therapy stimulates cartilage repair in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Researchers have used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to know the effects of acupuncture treatment on damaged cartilage.
Yes, an acupuncture treatment can repair a torn meniscus. The therapy aims at reducing pain and swelling and promoting healing.
Last reviewed at:
25 May 2022 - 5 min read
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