Can Acupuncture Help You with Knee Pain? Research Says YES!

Can Acupuncture Help You with Knee Pain?

Research Says YES!

            Acupuncture works for knee pain, and is a helpful alternative to opioid medications whether healing from surgery or dealing with day to day knee aches and pains. Chronic knee pain affects an astonishing 50% of senior American adults, and is the most common reported pain amongst those adults aged 50-69. However, knee pain can also occur at any age due to continued overuse from activities like manual work or sports.

Acupuncture Benefits for Knee Pain

            Acupuncture works for the treatment of knee pain by using acupuncture needles at specific points on the body which encourages blood flow to the affected joint. Acupuncture also stimulates the body’s natural healing response, promote muscle relaxation, and reduces inflammation. The knee is the biggest hinge joint in the body connecting the femur to the tibia made up of ligaments, muscles, tendons, and bones which work together to give support and movement. Since there is so much pressure on this area of the body, there is no surprise, especially with age, that the knee joint is the cause of many patients’ pain.

Common Knee Pain Causes:

  • Sports Injury – common amongst sports that put more stress on the knees such as running, skiing, and basketball to name a few.

  • Occupational Injury – common amongst jobs that require more manual labor such as lifting, standing, stair climbing, bending, and crouching. These activities put repetitive strain on the knee joints.

  • Excess Weight – this puts stress on the knees with daily activities, and can also speed up with breakdown of the knee joint cartilage which will increase the risk of osteoarthritis.

  • Meniscus Tear – this happens when the cartilage in the knee is torn, and can happen due to excess strain on the joint or an acute injury.

  • Ligament Tear – these tears can also happen commonly in athletes but also from an injury. The ACL and MCL are the most common ligaments that are injured within the knee.

  • Osteoarthritis – this occurs due to wear and tear on the cartilage that protects the knee joint.

  • Muscle Pain – caused by strain on the muscles that surround the knee. Common conditions that can cause muscle pain are runner’s knee, patellar tendonitis, IT band syndrome, jumper’s knee, and pes anserine bursitis.

Acupuncture is beneficial for any of these knee conditions as it stimulates the nervous system, and release endorphins and various neurotransmitters decreasing pain perception and reducing inflammation. Acupuncture treatment addresses the root cause of your knee pain as opposed to masking pain with harmful opioids. While opioids or other medications are not to be discounted in addition to acupuncture treatment depending on the situation, success rates from acupuncture alone for their knee pain are high.

Acupuncture Benefits for Knee Pain:

  • Improve Blood Circulation – helps to accelerate the healing process.

  • Release Endorphins – the “feel-good” hormones which help decrease pain.

  • Relieve Tight Muscles – loosening the muscles and trigger points will increase mobility and allow for pain relief.

  • Decrease Inflammation – helps to release toxins and buildup of fluid. Acupuncture also encourages production of platelets and red blood cells which decrease inflammation.

There are many different acupuncture diagnoses that can be determined after an in-depth patient history and exam, and may sound different than what is commonly heard in western medicine. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, knee pain derives from external factors like heat, cold, wind, and dampness that affect the knee joints. Additionally, the acupuncture points used for your knee pain are not necessarily in the knee like many patients think. In fact, there are well over 300 acupuncture points all over the body each coordinating with a specific meridian such as the Stomach, Liver, Spleen, Large Intestine, Small Intestine, & more. Each meridian and acupuncture point has a specific mechanism of action, and your licensed acupuncturist will choose the appropriate treatment points based on your exam.

Acupuncture Points for Knee Pain:

  • Stomach 36 (ST36)

  • Spleen 9 (SP9)

  • Liver 8 (LV8)

  • Stomach 35 (ST35)

  • Gallbladder 34 (GB34)

  • Urinary Bladder 39 (UB39)

  • Urinary Bladder 40 (UB40)

Always be sure to give your licensed acupuncturist any and all details regarding your knee pain as this will help determine the best treatment plan for your recovery. Every person and treatment plan is individualized with acupuncture and eastern medicine treatment. While western medicine tends to have a “one size fits all” mentality for healing, acupuncture and eastern medicine takes the individual fully into account getting to the root cause of knee pain, and treating based on that.

Acupuncture Research for Knee Pain

            Acupuncture treatment has become much more mainstream, especially with the opioid crisis, many patients are turning to more natural forms of treatment for their conditions both musculoskeletal and emotional. Knee pain is no different, and the proof is in the pudding, as they say. Research shows acupuncture to be a safe and effective treatment for various types of knee pain.

Acupuncture Research for Knee Pain:

  • Case Report: Electroacupuncture for Acute Pain Flare-Up of Knee Osteoarthritis, 2022:

    • This was the case of a 69-year old woman who had a right knee osteoarthritis acute pain flare-up due to walking long distance.

    • This patient refused to take medications due to side effects and unfavorable results, and electroacupuncture was performed instead to relieve symptoms of pain.
    • Electroacupuncture treatment provided an analgesic effect, and after 12 weeks of electroacupuncture treatment, “the bone marrow edema-like lesions improved significantly”.
  • Acupuncture for the Treatment of Knee Osteoarthritis, 2021:

    • This study was a systemic review of comprehensive literature in multiple databases. The goal of this study was to determine the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis.
    • The study concluded that the evidence found suggests that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for knee osteoarthritis.

  • Use of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sports Related Injuries in Athletes, 2020:

    • This study was also a systemic review to analyze case reports using acupuncture treatment for sports injuries in athletes to provide a basis for further research.

    • The analysis concluded that acupuncture helps as a noninvasive, useful, and conservative treatment for dealing with sports injuries such as ganglion cysts, sports hernias, lateral meniscus rupture, and femoral acetabular impingement.
    • The research also concluded that acupuncture is helpful for treatment of a multitude of sports injuries as well as pain control in musculoskeletal disorders and muscle soreness.

  • The Effectiveness and Safety of Acupuncture for Knee Osteoarthritis, 2019:

    • The goal of this study was to determine the safety and efficacy of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis.

    • The study concluded that according to the high-quality evidence extracted, there are advantages to acupuncture treatment for knee osteoarthritis. Acupuncture treatment was found to have more total and short-term effective rates as well as decreased adverse reactions than western medicine in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.
    • Additionally, this study found that the efficacy of electroacupuncture was better than western medicine.

  • Drug-Free Interventions to Reduce Opioid Consumption After Total Knee Arthroplasty, 2017:

    • The goal of this study was to evaluate nonpharmacological interventions to decrease pain after total arthroplasty as these interventions are becoming more in demand.

    • Multiple databases were searched comparing standard care in combination with nonpharmacological and other interventions. Interventions performed in this data collected were acupuncture, electrotherapy, preoperative exercise, cryotherapy, and continuous passive motion.
    • Acupuncture was found to both delayed and decreased opioid consumption, and improved post-op pain.

While there is more large-scale research needed, acupuncture is without question a valuable treatment option for any and all types of knee pain. Your licensed acupuncturist will evaluate and examine your unique condition and offer the best treatment plan for you without the possible harmful side effects of opioids.