You use your knees a lot ??? probably more than you even realize: You use them to sit, to stand, to walk and just tomaintain your balance. And that???s not all: If you???re the old-fashioned or romantic type, you???ll need them to propose; if you???re the frugal type, they???re essential for bending down and fishing out those errant quarters that roll under vending machines; if you???re a jock ??? well come on, what???s a squat-thrust without a knee? In short, they???re an indispensable part of your life.
It???s no wonder, then, that knees are one of the most commonly injured joints in the human body. Each year, more than 20 million Americans seek treatment for painful knee conditions, most of which are due to injury, overuse or arthritis. Knee pain is one of the most common types of joint pain. As the body???s largest joint, our knees act as big, knobby shock absorbers, and as a result, they???re subjected to tremendous amounts of stress and strain every day.
Unlike some joints that pivot and swivel like those in the wrist or neck, the knee joint is designed to bend and flex in a single plane ??? up and down. Its range of motion is also restricted, typically to about zero degrees when it???s stretched out straight to about 140 degrees when it???s fully bent. A single misplaced step can cause the knee to twist or overextend, resulting in pain and inflammation in the ligaments, tendons and other areas of the joint that can make even simple movement uncomfortable.
Acupuncture has been shown to be highly effective in treating knee pain in many individuals, and studies suggest it works in three primary ways:
- First, acupuncture helps increase circulation to the injured area, and that helps healing in a couple of ways. When blood flow is increased, all the toxins and fluids that build up as a result of inflammation can be removed more quickly. That means swelling will decrease more rapidly, reducing the painful friction that occurs when swollen tissues rub against each other. Improved circulation also promotes healing by supplying the injured area with an increased supply of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, speeding up the tissue repair process.
- Second, acupuncture relaxes and loosens painful ???knots??? or ???trigger points??? that develop in muscles and fascia, the layer of tissue that surrounds muscles. Acupuncture works by deactivating these painful trigger points, unknotting sore spots and helping relax the unnatural tension that can develop in the muscle fibers as a result of injury.
- Finally, acupuncture works with the body???s own healing and pain mediation processes to help resolve the underlying injury naturally. Although right now, it???s not clear how acupuncture accomplishes this feat, researchers believe the technique has an effect on two chemical components that are essential in the body???s natural healing process: Endorphins and serotonin ??? the body???s ???feel good??? chemicals. Endorphins are often released following prolonged physical activity, and they???re the chemicals that are responsible for the so-called runner???s high experienced by many long-distance runners and other endurance athletes.
Those are the primary ways acupuncture can help resolve knee pain, but you don???t have to take our word for it: Medical studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in treating many types of knee pain, including pain that???s associated with arthritis and patellofemoral pain (known among non-science-y folks as ???runner???s knee???). Other studies have shown that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain in patients waiting for knee surgery and can even be used as an alternative to surgery in some patients.
Because your knees play such an important and integral role in your everyday activities, keeping them in tip-top shape is vitally important to your overall quality of life. Having healthy, pain-free knees means you can stay mobile, and that???s an important part of warding off depression and other health problems like obesity and cardiovascular disease. And let???s face it ??? the next time you forget an anniversary or ???accidentally??? leave someone waiting at the airport for three hours or have a little (ahem) fender-bender with the brand-new car, you just might need those knees for one of their most essential functions of all: Begging for forgiveness.