How Acupuncture Can Help With Arthritic Knee Pain

12th December 2019

Knee pain among older people is often caused by osteo-arthritis – a naturally occurring wearing out of the cartilage that protects the joint surfaces.

This is perfectly normal for middle-aged and older people, so don’t panic – there are treatments that can help relieve the discomfort and acupuncture is one of them. Acupuncture can offer effective pain relief treatment — as part of our Physiotherapy service.

Symptoms of Arthritis

If you are unsure if you have arthritis, typical symptoms include aching knees with occasional sharp pains when walking, getting out of a chair or climbing stairs, and stiffness and discomfort in the mornings or after prolonged sitting.

For more information, our Chartered Physiotherapists can examine you to be able to advise you on the likelihood of your discomfort being related to arthritis. We’re based in N14, London, and you can contact us by telephone on 020 8440 3629 or email us at info@oakwoodphysio.co.uk for any appointment enquiries.

Why use acupuncture for knee osteo-arthritis?

Oakwood Physiotherapy Clinic owner Caroline Kunzler is a Chartered Physiotherapist and trained acupuncturist. She says that “many studies show acupuncture is effective for treating the pain associated with osteo-arthritis of the knees and other joints. It is safe, easy to use and helpful for patients, even when their arthritis is fairly advanced.” She also highlights acupuncture’s demonstrated effectiveness over alternative treatments such as glucosamine tablets.

Why see a Chartered Physiotherapist for acupuncture?

Because of the research evidence demonstrating the benefits in terms of improvements to people’s quality of life when they receive acupuncture treatment, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy have since many years accepted acupuncture as a modality of Physiotherapy treatment – it is officially part of a Chartered Physiotherapist’s professional skill set (although not all Chartered Physiotherapists chose to train in it).

If you choose a Physiotherapist to provide your acupuncture treatment, you may well also receive massage, exercises, advice about knee supports, or ultrasound as well – it is a broader package of care than acupuncture alone.

Note: Our highly trained osteopaths also offer acupuncture if you choose to combine these two treatments. You can find out more by getting in contact either by phone or email.

What happens during your examination and treatment?

When you book at the Clinic for acupuncture your Physiotherapist will assess you first, taking a medical history and examining you. They will check for many important clinical factors including joint swelling, muscle weakness or tightness, problems with your walking pattern or how you bend your knees to pick things up.

They will feel for tender areas in the muscles for “trigger points” which can cause pain to radiate into the knee mimicking arthritis pain. (Treating these trigger points with acupuncture can often alleviate pain.)

examining the knee prior to acupuncture with physiotherapy
Before any acupuncture treatment, one of our Chartered Physiotherapists first examines the knee.

Once the examination is completed the therapist will select appropriate acupuncture points to use. For knee arthritis this often includes the use of four key acupuncture points which encircle the knee. If the problem is very much at the front of the knee, two points at the front of the knee called “the Eyes of the knee” are often used. Additional points away from the knee such as near the ankle or in the opposite elbow area are sometimes added in as well!

When the very fine acupuncture needles are inserted people usually barely notice it. There are tiny free nerve endings in the body that respond to the gentle stimulus of the needle in the body and these send messages via your nerve networks up to the spinal cord and brain which can initiate a boost in the body’s own healing response – triggering a cascade of healing and pain relieving effects in your body.

acupuncture on the back of the knee for arthritic knee pain
The acupuncture process, shown above, performed on the back of the knee.

Using acupuncture points near the painful area, in this case the knees, sends nerve messages along one set of nerve pathways to specific areas of the brain — using acupuncture points further away from the painful area will stimulate a response along another pathway – so to maximise the benefit of the treatment we often use both. This way we are stimulating as wider range of pain relieving nerve cells as possible, to help relieve pain and inflammation.

acupuncture at the knee by one of our trained physios at our local physiotherapy clinic
In addition to the knee, other acupuncture points — such as the ankle shown above — are also used.

The needles are only slightly thicker than a human hair, so they are very fine indeed. They are lined up over the acupuncture point within a plastic guide tube and then tapped gently through the tube into the correct point on the body so that they are inserted quickly and with little or no discomfort.

The needles are left in place around 10 minutes whilst the patient reclines comfortably. People rarely feel any sensation of the needles during this time and in fact often report feeling ultra relaxed.

The needles are then gently and usually painlessly removed and disposed of. We always use single-use sterile acupuncture needles. Patients are free to continue their day as usual after treatment although we recommend avoiding very strenuous activity for a couple of hours in order to maximise the potential benefit from the treatment.

How will you feel after treatment?

We let people know that they may feel relaxed and even a bit sleepy later in the day or the next day. It is a very good sign that you are responding to the treatment well. We heal when we are relaxed and when we are sleeping – therefore acupuncture tends to encourage your body to relax and to sleep better. If you need to get on with your day don’t worry, you may yawn a bit and then you will be able to carry on as normal. Many people report that they very much appreciate being more calm and relaxed once they start acupuncture treatment. Many people report an improvement the day after treatment rather on the day itself.

How many acupuncture treatments will I need?

Generally a course of 4-10 treatments of acupuncture is recommended to reach the maximum benefit. Thereafter some people attend intermittently for top up maintenance treatments.

How likely is it that acupuncture will help?

From research it is estimated that the majority of people will gain some benefit from acupuncture treatment. Though despite its impressive response rate, it is important to remember that there is no treatment which is 100% effective.

Acupuncture and physiotherapy at Oakwood Physio Clinic

Acupuncture treatment at Oakwood Physiotherapy Clinic is sometimes combined with heat treatment which is a lovely warm relaxing experience. We may use a heat lamp to gently warm the area. In Chinese medicine this treatment of gently warming the needles and the painful area can be very helpful for patients who feel more pain in the cold and who instinctively like to wrap up super warmly.

Because people are generally delighted how little sensation there is from the acupuncture needles, many recommend it to their friends and families once they have seen the benefits.

Other physiotherapy modalities will usually be added to the treatment such as professional advice and appropriate exercises.

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