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Knee Surgery Pain Relief with Acupuncture

(Sandy Schwartz)

By Sandy Schwartz
May 11, 2010

Due to their complexity, size, and anatomical position as a major weight bearer of the body, knees are the most often treated joints by orthopedists as well as the most examined by general practitioners. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that every year over eleven million physician visits are made because of knee injury or knee related problems. Injuries to the knees can be caused by trauma, such as a ligament injury or fractured knee cap. But as we age, knees are many times the first to weaken, resulting in torn ligaments or deteriorated cartilage, making older adults more susceptible to injury, many times resulting in requiring full knee replacements. Acupuncture is highly effective in the treatment of many types of pain, including the pain associated with such knee injuries and trauma. Both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health have officially acknowledged the benefits of acupuncture in treating and eliminating pain.

Even though acupuncture has been practiced for over three thousand years, in much of the United States, how it works is still a mystery. In Oriental Medicine, Qi, Blood, and body fluids maintain vital activities of the body. Blood is more than just the red liquid that circulates in the blood vessels. Qi (pronounced “chee”), is the vital energy that animates the body. Qi moves and warms, while Blood provides nourishment and moisture. Qi and Blood cannot be separated and depend on each other throughout the body. Qi travels all thru the body in invisible pathways called meridians. Meridians are much like the blood circulatory paths, moving from large pathways down to smaller ones. There are fourteen large pathways, or major meridians in the body, and Qi flows thru these meridians to bring energy and nourishment to every cell. Meridians are pathways in which Qi and Blood are circulated. But if the meridians become blocked, then the Qi stagnates and cannot flow freely, resulting in pain, illness and eventually disease. Acupuncture is used to remove these blockages and restore the free flow of Qi. In addition to acupuncture, other therapies such as herbal medicine, electro-stimulation, cupping, and Tuina (a type of therapeutic massage), are used to relieve pain, strengthen the body, promote healing, and tonify underlying deficiencies. Oriental Medicine not only addresses symptoms such as pain, but also treats the source or cause of the pain.

This comprehensive and in-depth approach makes acupuncture an ideal treatment for knee ailments, especially major knee surgery. Knee surgery can include many types of injuries including meniscus injury, ligament injury, or total knee replacement. A fit knee joint relies on healthy sinews, which in Oriental Medicine refers to the cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. Since there is no blood supply to these sinews, nourishment and oxygen must come from surrounding joint fluids. If any of the six meridians surrounding the knee become blocked, then stagnation occurs, causing pain and possibly further damage to the knee. Acupuncture frees the stagnation and moves these vital nutrients to the knee area to facilitate healing. There are specific acupuncture points on meridians that relate to knee injuries, sinews, muscle, bone, and blood. Deficiencies in any of these areas can be tonified by using these points. Herbal medicine is also very specific to regeneration of the sinews, bones, blood, and muscle to facilitate healing of knee injuries. Herbs can be used to relieve pain, relax the muscles, regenerate tissue, strengthen the deficient meridians, and to reduce heat, inflammation and swelling. Depending on the severity of the injury, acute cases can usually achieve pain relief within a few treatments; chronic cases will take more treatments depending on the age of the injury.

The World Health Organization endorses that acupuncture can be used to treat a wide range of conditions and has been proven by several case studies to relieve pain quite effectively after knee surgery. Other smaller studies confirm that acupuncture is effective in reducing knee pain, stiffness, and physical disability in patients with knee problems. One study involving eighteen patients receiving twenty acupuncture treatments, showed that after arthroscopic knee surgery the patients showed significant improvement by the end of the study in areas of pain relief. A 2005 German study, consisting of 20 patients, assessed the amount of analgesic required after ambulatory knee arthroscopy. Even though the pain intensity was similar among the control and acupuncture groups, the patients that were given auricular (ear) acupuncture consumed less Ibuprofen than the control group. The patients receiving acupuncture also tended to spend less time in recovery and became ambulatory at a significantly faster rate. This study concluded that auricular acupuncture might be useful in reducing the post-operative analgesic requirement after ambulatory knee arthroscopy.

Patients facing knee surgery can greatly benefit from the synthesis of Western Medicine and Oriental Medicine. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1998, showed that physicians referred their patients to acupuncturists more than any other alternative health care provider and that 51% of medical doctors believe acupuncture to be effective and of value. Not only can acupuncture ease the pain while awaiting knee surgery, it can also be an alternative to surgery, especially for patients that are unwilling or unable to have surgery. For knee surgery, acupuncture can be used both pre-operatively and post-operatively. Patients receiving acupuncture after knee trauma report a decrease in pain, reduction in stiffness, and better mobility and increased knee function. Acupuncture can be a valuable complement to standard Western care.

In addition to acupuncture, herbal medicine can be effective post-operatively as well. While Western medicine excels in the treatment of acute pain, herbal medicine is more beneficial in chronic cases. Drugs typically treat the symptom of pain, but don’t treat the root cause of the pain. Herbal medicine can be used to help manage pain, once the acute severe pain has passed, to help patients discontinue use of drugs that with long-term use can lead to side effects or even addiction. There are herbs specifically used to relieve pain, for mending flesh, for strengthening bone and sinews, and to move Qi and Blood in the knee area to promote healing.

In addition to major knee surgery, acupuncture can also help with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, even after bone deformities have occurred. Acupuncture can be beneficial in the rehabilitation of chronic knee pain that was not properly treated during the acute phase of the injury. Acupuncture can also be used as a preventative measure against daily wear and tear of knee cartilage and surrounding tissues, in individuals that engage in activities involving repetitive motions. Together acupuncture and herbal medicine can strengthen bone, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage to help prevent future knee injuries.

So ask your orthopedist about acupuncture and how it can be used as complementary medicine before and after knee surgery. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are safe, effective and have relatively few side-effects. Few complications from acupuncture have been reported to the FDA. Not only is acupuncture beneficial post-operatively for knee surgery, but it is also frequently used in treating ailing knees in general. Acupuncture for the treatment of knees has become widespread among athletes as well as the general public.

Sandy Schwartz is the owner of Renewed Health Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine. You may contact her at (512) 341-9900 or www.RenewedHealthAc.com.

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