Acupuncture involves inserting very fine needles into the skin at specific points on the body. This traditional Chinese medicine practice originated thousands of years ago and is based on the principle that inserting these needles into points on the body restores the flow of qi – the energy of the body – to promote healing. healing, reducing pain and encouraging relaxation.
Acupuncture is believed to be helpful in treating a variety of health conditions, including knee pain caused by arthritis or injury. Depending on the type and severity of your knee pain, treatments can help reduce the pain for days or weeks.
You can expect to notice improvement in symptoms soon after treatment, although some people may need more than one treatment before noticing improvement in pain reduction. Acupuncture is often used as a complementary therapy, that is, treatment given in addition to conventional treatments or therapies, such as medication.
How acupuncture benefits knee pain
Knee pain from osteoarthritis or injury can negatively impact quality of life, reduce mobility, and even interfere with a good night’s sleep. Acupuncture can help provide much needed relief for people with knee pain.
When acupuncture needles are placed on the body, a signal is sent along the spinal cord to the brain, which can trigger a release of endorphins, called “feel good” hormones. Scientists believe it helps reduce pain.
Acupuncture can also decrease the production of cortisol in the body, a hormone that helps control inflammation. With reduced pain sensations and less inflammation after acupuncture treatments, knee function and mobility can be improved in the short term.
Many factors can play a role in the benefits of acupuncture for pain relief. There is some evidence to suggest that a person’s expectations and beliefs may impact the results of acupuncture treatment.
Researchers are currently evaluating whether a person’s expectation that acupuncture is beneficial contributes to a better outcome after acupuncture treatment.
In 2019, acupuncture received a conditional recommendation for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee in the American College of Rheumatology / Arthritis Foundation guideline for the management of osteoarthritis of the hand, hip and knee. .
What the research shows
Numerous clinical studies support the ability of acupuncture to relieve knee pain. A study of 18,000 patients found that acupuncture is helpful in managing many conditions that cause chronic pain, including knee pain.
This study found significant differences between real and “false” acupuncture during the trial, indicating that acupuncture effectively reduced pain and inflammation.
A scientific journal analyzed previous studies of pain management interventions after knee surgery and found supporting evidence that acupuncture delays and reduces the use of opioid drugs for postoperative pain relief.
A systematic review analyzed 10 randomized controlled studies to determine whether or not acupuncture reduced pain and improved joint function in people with chronic knee pain (3 months and older) induced by osteoarthritis.
People received between six and 23 acupuncture sessions at least once a week for three to 36 weeks. The analysis determined that acupuncture can improve physical function and mobility in the short and long term, and appears to provide short-term pain relief (up to 13 weeks) in patients with chronic pain in the body. knee caused by osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that affects joints all over the body, including the knee joint, causing pain and stiffness. Acupuncture shows promise to be of benefit in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A review of 43 studies found that acupuncture alone and when combined with other treatment modalities benefits people with RA.
Acupuncture may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and help regulate immune system function, helping to improve the quality of life for people with rheumatoid arthritis. More research is needed to assess the effects of acupuncture and how it works to relieve RA.
Chronic knee pain
A variety of conditions and injuries can cause chronic knee pain, making mobility difficult and affecting a person’s quality of life. People with joint pain often turn to complementary therapies for pain relief, with acupuncture being the most popular among the modalities.
One study found that acupuncture is generally effective in the short term but not in the long term. In the study, needle and laser acupuncture resulted in modest improvements in pain at 12 weeks, but not at one year. Acupuncture produced modest improvements in mobility and function at 12 weeks, but not significantly at one year.
Acupuncture should not be used as the only therapy, but it can be integrated with other therapies and lifestyle changes.
Talk to your health care provider before treatment
Before trying acupuncture, ask your healthcare professional for advice. Acupuncture should not be used as the only therapy, but it can be integrated with other therapies and lifestyle changes.
Risks and side effects
Acupuncture is considered safe when administered by a trained and licensed professional. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, few complications have been reported from the use of acupuncture. It is important to make sure that your practitioner uses sterile single-use needles, in accordance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.
The risks of acupuncture are low if you work with a competent and licensed acupuncture practitioner who uses sterile needles. Before your first acupuncture session, talk to your practitioner to let them know about all your health concerns and any medications you are currently taking.
Contraindications and precautions
If you have a pacemaker, you should not receive electroacupuncture. Tell your acupuncturist if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are taking blood thinners. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, discuss this with your practitioner ahead of time, as some acupuncture points are believed to stimulate labor.
Side effects of acupuncture include pain, bruising or bleeding at the needle insertion site and dizziness. Less common side effects include fainting, increased pain, and nausea.
Working with a licensed and knowledgeable acupuncture practitioner can reduce the risk of side effects and unwanted complications.
Overview of a typical acupuncture session
During your first appointment, your practitioner will ask you questions to learn more about your medical history, health and lifestyle, as well as the condition for which you are seeking treatment.
Before the start of your acupuncture session, you will be asked to lie down or sit on a chair, depending on where the needles are placed. You may need to roll up your sleeves or pant legs to allow your acupuncturist to access the parts of the body where the needles will be inserted.
The acupuncturist will wipe the areas where the needles will be inserted with a disinfectant (for example, alcohol) before inserting the needles. The practitioner will then insert the needles in various places on your body, including on or around your knee (s).
You should feel little or no discomfort when the needles are inserted. Some people report feeling relaxed or even energized when needles are inserted. You should not feel any pain or pain during treatment unless you move around during treatment or a needle is misplaced.
The session can last from a few minutes to 30 minutes or more per treatment session.
In addition to traditional acupuncture, other acupuncture options may be offered to you:
Electroacupuncture is a modified form of acupuncture that uses two needles (standard acupuncture uses one). A slight electric current passes between the two needles, which provides additional stimulation to the acupuncture points.
In a research study, people with osteoarthritis of the knee reported significant improvements in pain, stiffness, and physical function after treatment with electroacupuncture.
Auricular acupuncture (ear) works on the theory that there are acupuncture points on the ear that correspond to every part of the body. A research review analyzed 10 studies of auricular acupuncture for pain relief and found that it can provide relief when used within 48 hours of the onset of pain.
Battlefield acupuncture is a unique form of auricular acupuncture used by the military and many Veterans Health Administration institutions for pain management. Studies show that it is effective in providing immediate pain relief, but more research is needed to determine its effectiveness in providing long-term pain relief.
The frequency and duration of acupuncture treatments depend on your condition and the severity of your pain. Your acupuncturist may suggest that you be seen once a week or more, for several weeks or months. Your acupuncturist will work with you to determine how long to continue the treatments, based on your response to previous sessions.
Find a practitioner
If you are interested in acupuncture for knee pain, be sure to work with a licensed acupuncture practitioner. Most states require acupuncture practitioners to be licensed, although education, training, and licensing vary from state to state.
Cost and insurance
Before trying acupuncture, check with your insurance if they will cover some or all of the costs. Many insurers in the United States offer some coverage for acupuncture. Costs per session can range from $ 75 to $ 200.
Some acupuncture centers offer treatments on a sliding scale for those in need. There are also community clinics that offer acupuncture at low or no cost.
A word from Verywell
If you suffer from knee pain due to injury or arthritis, acupuncture can help with short-term pain relief. Be sure to check with your health care provider before receiving your first acupuncture treatment.