The knee is a complex joint that works much like the hinge of a door, allowing the joint to move backward and forward, but also has the ability to twist and rotate. This makes the knee joints especially vulnerable to damage, which is why they typically sustain more injuries than do other joints.
The knee joint is made up of the thighbone (femur), the two lower leg bones (the tibia and the fibula), and the patella, a bone that slides in a groove on the end of the femur. These bones are held together by four main ligaments, large bands of tissue that connect the bones together and help stabilize the knee joint during motion. Other structures in the knee include tendons (fibrous bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones and allow you to straighten or extend your leg), the meniscus (a C-shaped cartilage that cushions the knee joint), and bursae, (fluid-filled sacs that cushion the knee joint, allowing the ligaments and tendons to slide across it smoothly).
Normally, all of these structures work together smoothly. But injury and disease can disrupt this interplay, resulting in pain, muscle weakness and decreased function. A knee injury can affect any of the bones, cartilage and ligaments that make up the knee joint, as well as the ligaments, tendons, or fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that surround your knee joint.
The symptoms of knee problems can vary widely because of the number of structures involved and the range of injuries and diseases that can cause knee pain. Knee pain can be caused by an injury due to sports or a car accident, an awkward landing from a jump or fall, repetitive stress or overuse of the knee joint, sudden stopping or turning (such as in sports), hyperextension of the knee joint, degeneration of the knee joint from aging, and diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout.
Acupuncture can be an effective way to treat knee pain. First we must find out the quality of the pain we are dealing with in order to understand the cause. For example, if we have a feeling of heavy pain we will know that a damp pattern is involved. A damp pattern occurs when the body’s internal functions are disrupted, causing the body to retain excess moisture, kind of like a basement. People with this pattern will notice more predominant pain in damp weather. If the pain is heavy and burning then we have damp-heat, or if it is heavy and cold, we have damp-cold. Sharp pain would mean blood stasis. A common pain for older people is weak, achy knees, which would mean a kidney deficiency.
It is also very important to understand where the pain is located around the knee. There are 6 energetic meridians that travel through the knee. When we understand which meridian is being affected, it can help us to understand which organs are being affected to determine the most important and effective acupuncture points to use.
By understanding what lies behind the pain, we are able to go deeper into the problem to resolve the contributing causes. Acupuncture can be very effective to give the body the stimulation that it needs to resolve these internal imbalances so that healing can occur. It can help to relieve pain, as well as to promote healing and strengthen internal weakness that makes the knee joint vulnerable, making acupuncture a treatment option that is safe, effective, and free from negative side-effects.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.