By Tracey-Ann Brown
Many if not most people associate acupuncture and Chinese medicine primarily with the treatment and management of pain. Of the many pain complaints for which Chinese medicine is sought out, knee pain is one of the more common concerns.
Knee pain may result from a number of underlying issues:
Injury: such as sprains, strains or other injuries to the tendons and ligaments that support the knee. Over-use injuries as a result of repetitive or prolonged pressure on the knee from activities such as stair climbing, jogging or jumping can cause inflammation and pain. Excess weight may, over time, also lead to pain.
Joint disease: Degenerative joint disease such as osteoarthritis and various arthritic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout are also leading causes.
Stiff and weak
Knee pain may be accompanied by stiffness, weakness, swelling, redness, feeling warm to the touch, crunching sounds and sensitivity to cold weather. If severe enough, there may be difficulty walking and maintaining balance, which may create a risk of further injury.
In addressing acute or chronic knee pain issues, acupuncture and/or herbal formulas may be used.
Acupuncture sessions to treat knee pain and its accompanying symptoms will usually include several of the acupuncture points circling the knee, alongside other acupuncture points on the body - the choice of which is determined by their sensitivity when pressure is applied.
Once very thin needles have been inserted in the selected points around the knee, a mild electric charge is usually applied to the needles to enhance the stimulation and effectiveness of the treatment.
In cases where there is swelling in the joint or there is sensitivity to cold conditions, moxibustion is applied. Moxibustion is the process of applying the 'moxa' herb to the head of the acupuncture needle and allowing it to burn in order to gently warm the acupuncture point to assist in pain relief.
Herbal formulas may take several approaches in offering relief. In the case of injuries, herbs are combined to assist in tissue repair and relieving swelling. Herbs such as: mo yao (myrrh) and ru xiang (frankincense) are popular choices. In the case of swelling, herbs such as du huo (pubescent angelica root) and dong gua ren (winter melon seed) are often added.
With chronic conditions, herbs which assist in strengthening the joint such as shu di huang (Chinese foxglove root) and hu tao ren (walnut) are used alongside herbs which help to stimulate the flow of qi and blood in the joint.
The course of treatment will depend on the severity of the condition and may require once or twice weekly acupuncture sessions. For chronic joint disease, long-term acupuncture and/or herbal treatment will be required.
Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture; email: firstname.lastname@example.org