Injury Care

How Acupuncture Can Help Alleviate Knee Pain

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For individuals dealing with knee pain symptoms from injury and/or arthritis, can incorporating an acupuncture and/or electroacupuncture treatment plan help in pain relief and management?

Acupuncture For Knee Pain

Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into the skin at specific acupoints on the body. It is based on the premise that the needles restore the flow of the body’s energy to activate and promote healing, relieve pain, and help the body relax.

  • Acupuncture can help address various health conditions, including knee pain caused by arthritis or injury.
  • Depending on the type and severity of pain, treatments can help reduce the pain for days or weeks.
  • Acupuncture is often used as a complementary therapy – treatment in addition to other treatment or therapy strategies like massage and chiropractic.

Acupuncture Benefits

Knee pain caused by osteoarthritis or injury can reduce flexibility, mobility, and quality of life. Acupuncture can help provide relief.

When the acupuncture needles are placed on the body, a signal is sent along the spinal cord to the brain, which triggers a release of endorphins/pain hormones. Medical researchers believe this helps reduce pain. (Qian-Qian Li et al., 2013) Acupuncture also helps decrease the production of cortisol, a hormone that helps control inflammation. (Qian-Qian Li et al., 2013) With reduced pain sensations and less inflammation after acupuncture treatments, knee function and mobility can be improved.

  • Various factors play a role in the pain relief experienced from acupuncture. Some evidence suggests that an individual’s expectations may impact the results of acupuncture treatment. (Stephanie L. Prady et al., 2015)
  • Researchers are currently assessing whether the expectation that acupuncture is beneficial contributes to a better outcome after treatment. (Zuoqin Yang et al., 2021)
  • In 2019, acupuncture was recommended in treating knee osteoarthritis in the American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation guidelines for hand, hip, and knee osteoarthritis pain management. (Sharon L. Kolasinski et al., 2020)

Research

  • Different clinical studies support acupuncture’s ability to help in knee pain relief and management.
  • One study found that acupuncture helps manage various conditions that cause chronic pain. (Andrew J. Vickers et al., 2012)
  • A scientific review analyzed previous studies on pain management interventions after knee surgery and found supporting evidence that the treatments delayed and reduced the use of medications for pain relief post-surgery. (Dario Tedesco et al., 2017)

Osteoarthritis

  • A systematic review analyzed randomized control studies to determine whether or not acupuncture reduced pain and improved joint function in individuals with chronic osteoarthritis knee pain. (Xianfeng Lin et al., 2016)
  • Individuals received six to twenty-three weekly acupuncture sessions for three to 36 weeks.
  • The analysis determined that acupuncture can improve short and long-term physical function and mobility and provide up to 13 weeks of pain relief in individuals with chronic knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that affects joints, including the knee joint, causing pain and stiffness.
  • Acupuncture is beneficial in treating rheumatoid arthritis/RA.
  • A review found that acupuncture alone and in combination with other treatment modalities benefits individuals with RA. (Pei-Chi, Chou Heng-Yi Chu 2018)
  • Acupuncture is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects to help regulate immune system function.

Chronic Knee Pain

  • Various conditions and injuries can cause chronic knee pain, making mobility difficult.
  • Individuals with joint pain often turn to complementary therapies for pain relief management, with acupuncture being one of the popular modalities. (Michael Frass et al., 2012)
  • A study showed modest improvements in pain relief at 12 weeks. (Rana S. Hinman et al., 2014)
  • Acupuncture resulted in modest improvements in mobility and function at 12 weeks.

Safety

Side Effects

  • Side effects can include soreness, bruising, or bleeding at the site of needle insertion and dizziness.
  • Less common side effects include fainting, increased pain, and nausea. (Harvard Medical School. 2023)
  • Working with a licensed, professional acupuncture practitioner can reduce the risk of unwanted side effects and complications.

Types

Other acupuncture options that may be offered include:

Electroacupuncture

  • A modified form of acupuncture where a mild electrical current passes through the needles, providing additional stimulation to the acupoints.
  • In one research study, individuals with knee osteoarthritis reported significant improvements in their pain, stiffness, and physical function after electroacupuncture treatment. (Ziyong Ju et al., 2015)

Auricular

  • Auricular or ear acupuncture works on acupoints in the ear corresponding to the body’s different parts.
  • A research review analyzed several studies on auricular acupuncture for pain relief and found that it can provide relief within 48 hours of pain onset. (M. Murakami et al., 2017)

Battlefield Acupuncture

  • The military and veteran healthcare facilities use a unique form of auricular acupuncture for pain management.
  • Studies show that it is effective at providing immediate pain relief, but more research is necessary to determine long-term pain relief effectiveness. (Anna Denee Montgomery, Ronovan Ottenbacher 2020)

Before trying acupuncture, consult a healthcare professional for guidance, as it may be integrated with other therapies and lifestyle adjustments.


Overcoming an ACL Injury


References

Li, Q. Q., Shi, G. X., Xu, Q., Wang, J., Liu, C. Z., & Wang, L. P. (2013). Acupuncture effect and central autonomic regulation. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2013, 267959. doi.org/10.1155/2013/267959

Prady, S. L., Burch, J., Vanderbloemen, L., Crouch, S., & MacPherson, H. (2015). Measuring expectations of benefit from treatment in acupuncture trials: a systematic review. Complementary therapies in medicine, 23(2), 185–199. doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2015.01.007

Yang, Z., Li, Y., Zou, Z., Zhao, Y., Zhang, W., Jiang, H., Hou, Y., Li, Y., & Zheng, Q. (2021). Does patient’s expectation benefit acupuncture treatment?: A protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine, 100(1), e24178. doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000024178

Kolasinski, S. L., Neogi, T., Hochberg, M. C., Oatis, C., Guyatt, G., Block, J., Callahan, L., Copenhaver, C., Dodge, C., Felson, D., Gellar, K., Harvey, W. F., Hawker, G., Herzig, E., Kwoh, C. K., Nelson, A. E., Samuels, J., Scanzello, C., White, D., Wise, B., … Reston, J. (2020). 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hand, Hip, and Knee. Arthritis care & research, 72(2), 149–162. doi.org/10.1002/acr.24131

Vickers, A. J., Cronin, A. M., Maschino, A. C., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N. E., Sherman, K. J., Witt, C. M., Linde, K., & Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration (2012). Acupuncture for chronic pain: individual patient data meta-analysis. Archives of internal medicine, 172(19), 1444–1453. doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3654

Tedesco, D., Gori, D., Desai, K. R., Asch, S., Carroll, I. R., Curtin, C., McDonald, K. M., Fantini, M. P., & Hernandez-Boussard, T. (2017). Drug-Free Interventions to Reduce Pain or Opioid Consumption After Total Knee Arthroplasty: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA surgery, 152(10), e172872. doi.org/10.1001/jamasurg.2017.2872

Lin, X., Huang, K., Zhu, G., Huang, Z., Qin, A., & Fan, S. (2016). The Effects of Acupuncture on Chronic Knee Pain Due to Osteoarthritis: A Meta-Analysis. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. American volume, 98(18), 1578–1585. doi.org/10.2106/JBJS.15.00620

Chou, P. C., & Chu, H. Y. (2018). Clinical Efficacy of Acupuncture on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Associated Mechanisms: A Systemic Review. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2018, 8596918. doi.org/10.1155/2018/8596918

Frass, M., Strassl, R. P., Friehs, H., Müllner, M., Kundi, M., & Kaye, A. D. (2012). Use and acceptance of complementary and alternative medicine among the general population and medical personnel: a systematic review. Ochsner journal, 12(1), 45–56.

Hinman, R. S., McCrory, P., Pirotta, M., Relf, I., Forbes, A., Crossley, K. M., Williamson, E., Kyriakides, M., Novy, K., Metcalf, B. R., Harris, A., Reddy, P., Conaghan, P. G., & Bennell, K. L. (2014). Acupuncture for chronic knee pain: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA, 312(13), 1313–1322. doi.org/10.1001/jama.2014.12660

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2022). Acupuncture in depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. www.nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture-what-you-need-to-know

Harvard Medical School. (2023). Acupuncture: what is it? Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School Blog. www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/acupuncture-a-to-z#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20side%20effects,injury%20to%20an%20internal%20organ.

Ju, Z., Guo, X., Jiang, X., Wang, X., Liu, S., He, J., Cui, H., & Wang, K. (2015). Electroacupuncture with different current intensities to treat knee osteoarthritis: a single-blinded controlled study. International journal of clinical and experimental medicine, 8(10), 18981–18989.

Murakami, M., Fox, L., & Dijkers, M. P. (2017). Ear Acupuncture for Immediate Pain Relief-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.), 18(3), 551–564. doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnw215

Montgomery, A. D., & Ottenbacher, R. (2020). Battlefield Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Management in Patients on Long-Term Opioid Therapy. Medical acupuncture, 32(1), 38–44. doi.org/10.1089/acu.2019.1382

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The information herein on "How Acupuncture Can Help Alleviate Knee Pain" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, acupuncture, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

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