Contributor: Jamie Starkey, LAc
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When your knee aches, day after day, you can’t walk easily. Climbing up and down stairs is a challenge. Pain wakes you up at night. It’s always on your mind.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of chronic knee pain. It causes pain, inflammation and stiffness, making it hard to flex and extend your knee.
Across the country, doctors are striving to avoid prescribing medication, particularly opioids, for chronic pain. Research shows acupuncture to be a cost-effective way to treat pain with very little risk for the patient.
In fact, acupuncture is one of the treatments now recommended as a first line of defense against pain in national guidelines for physicians.
No two patients treated alike
Acupuncture is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine, with a rich history and lineage dating back thousands of years. It involves inserting hair-thin needles into the body to promote pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
No two patients are treated alike. Some patients find relief with needles alone. Others need a more involved technique, such as electro-acupuncture (technically called percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or PENS).
Patients with knee arthritis respond particularly well to electro-acupuncture. When knee arthritis is mild or moderate, a limited number of sessions produce very good results. When arthritis is more advanced, or “bone-on-bone,” ongoing acupuncture is needed.
Acupuncture can also be combined with conventional treatments, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy and/or injections. In addition, acupuncture can provide short-term pain relief until knee replacement surgery is performed.
Acupuncture’s proven benefits
Many clinical studies support acupuncture’s ability to relieve osteoarthritis pain, particularly in the knee. One study of 18,000 patients found acupuncture to be helpful for many pain conditions, including knee osteoarthritis.
Besides promoting an anti-inflammatory effect, studies show that acupuncture releases endogenous opioid endorphins (the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals).
So where can you find an acupuncturist? Today, you can find one at your local hospital or in a private practitioner’s office.
Wherever you choose to go, your initial appointment will typically take longest. The acupuncturist will do a detailed assessment in order to create a treatment plan for you.
He or she can keep your physician informed about your progress.
Minimize the toll arthritis takes
Don’t let arthritis of the knee keep you in constant pain, and limit your ability to function and enjoy life.
But today, more than ever, it’s important to look beyond chronic pain medicine — especially opioids — for solutions.
Acupuncture is a good option to keep in mind to decrease pain, inflammation and stiffness, and increase range of motion, in your knee.