Acupuncture for Knee Pain

What causes knee pain and how can I help it?

Knee pain can be the result of any number of conditions or experiences.  People who are in good physical shape, who take care of their bodies and eat right, generally do not suffer from pain in their joints, tendons, and the ligaments that surround the patella.  But even this population is not immune to overexertion, congenital deformities, as well as plain bad luck.

Advanced age can also play a role in the severity and frequency of knee pain, as does the illnesses and ailments that one acquires most often in their later years.

Knee pain can range from mild to severe.  For some, the pain is manageable a good part of the time and requires a person to alter their level of activity from time to time. On the other end of the spectrum, knee pain can be debilitating and require surgical procedures and the use of corrective, medical equipment, ongoing.

It is important to understand that while some knee pain is bearable, it can mask more significant health issues.  Many of us simply deal with our pain and trudge along like good soldiers.  But pain is your body’s way of letting you know that something is wrong and that it needs to be tended to.  For some, a little bit of pain is enough to sound the alarm.  For others, swelling, tenderness, excruciating pain, and stiffness serve as the requisite wake up call for care.

Many of us, particularly in the Western world, were raised with the notion that pain equals pain medication.  In light of this widely accepted practice, and by definition, more pain equals more pain medicine.  The United States is currently facing an opioid crisis unlike any it has ever experienced before.  Sadly, many of the patients who become addicted have been introduced to these medications and painkillers by well meaning physicians,  treating their aches and pains.  This is not of course to say that everyone who takes pain medication, whether it is ingested, absorbed transdermally, or injected, is going to become a drug addict.  What it does mean though, is that we need to explore other types of pain management whose side effects are not worse than the reason they were started.

Does acupuncture work for knee pain?

Acupuncture, a method of pain management used in the Far East, has become a popular and acceptable way of treating pain in Western Society. That said, it is still seen as highly alternative and questionable as a type of true medical care.  It is a shame that so much stigma surrounds acupuncture and other homeopathic regimens, because many have found the pain relief they have been looking for without taking medication. By opening themselves up to the possibilities of acupuncture and the outcomes it produces, they could be far ahead in their treatment plan.

Acupuncture involves the careful placement of specially designed needles that are strategically placed in select pressure points in order to alleviate distress, whether physical or emotional.  Because it can be difficult to quantify or discern how effective this treatment is, many practitioners of mainstream medicine  find acupuncture to be akin to old wives tales and made up science.  Acupuncture is based on the belief that there is a flow of energy that runs through our bodies and that pain is a result of a disruption in our energy flow.  Frankly, the mere thought of energy, healing, and flow is seen as a sham to those who doubt the practice.

When it comes to knee pain, and particularly arthritic knee pain, studies suggest that in fact, pain relief can be achieved through the practice of acupuncture.  Certain types of knee pain in fact, show marked improvement, allowing patients greater range of motion, flexibility, and strength.  Other studies performed both here and abroad further support the use of acupuncture as a non- invasive, alternative treatment that allows mind and body to work together in order to relieve one of pain.  Because we are so used to taking a proverbial pill and calling the doctor in the morning, sticking needles in our body in order to feel better seems counterintuitive to everything we have been taught.  Nevertheless, we owe it to ourselves and our communities to learn about acupuncture’s benefits and its place in the world of medicine.

Why isn’t acupuncture more readily available to orthopedic patients?

To many, the practice of acupuncture is just plain weird. Its lack of measurability, at least on the surface, of how well or not it heals, makes it an anathema to the Western medical community.  Quantifying how many milligrams a dose of pain medication is needed per hour, per day, per patient, etc. fits into the familiar paradigm.  

There is some acceptance of acupuncture as a treatment method for patients with knee pain and related ailments.  It is not recommended nearly as much as it could be because of the “weirdness factor” that some attribute to it.  Still, we must encourage the practice for patients suffering from arthritis, patellar deformities, tendonitis of the knees, and other related musculoskeletal conditions.

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