Acupuncture for Knee Pain

Knee pain usually arises either due to injury or to degeneration of the joint. Injury can involve damage to one of the ligaments within the knee which hold the bones together, a tear of one of the menisci which provide stability and support to the joint, or an inflammation of one of the tendons which attach the leg muscles to the bones.

Degenerative problems which can affect the knee include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Conventional treatment for knee pain includes physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory medications and sometimes cortisone injections.

Knee Pain and TCM

Pain in TCM arises when our Qi is not free flowing; for some reason it is stuck or stagnant. In the case of pain in the knee, the obstruction is in one or more of the meridians which flow down the leg from the thighs, through the knee joint to the foot.  Treatment will involve freeing up that flow of Qi through the knee area. This will usually involve acupuncture treatment on the knee and further down the meridians on the lower leg or foot.

It is also important to understand why the Qi is getting stuck at the knee. From the perspective of TCM there are several possible causes of this.

i) A single traumatic injury to the area has temporarily damaged the meridians and blocked the flow of Qi. This is the most straightforward case and unless the injury is particularly severe a few treatments will usually be enough to substantially reduce the pain if not eradicate it completely.

ii) Sometimes the Qi is blocked at the knee due to what in TCM is called a pathogenic factor obstructing the flow. For example, if you are someone who feels the cold easily, and have been exposed to a cold environment, then a Cold pathogen may have entered the channels at the knee and, as it were, ‘frozen’ the Qi there. Similarly exposure to a wet environment (for example kneeling on a wet lawn when gardening) may cause a Damp pathogen to lodge in the knee, which typically leads to swelling, pain and perhaps a heavy feeling around the knee and in the leg. In this case as well as moving the Qi with acupuncture, the TCM practitioner will aim to expel the pathogen involved, which may involve, for example, warming the area by using moxibustion and warming topical applications, among other techniques.

iii) Knee problems, especially if on both knees, may also point to an underlying systemic disharmony. The careful questioning of a TCM practitioner during an initial consultation appointment will give them a clear idea of any such disharmony, and in this case local treatment of the knee would be supplemented by treatment to rebalance the patient’s Qi overall, using acupuncture and perhaps herbal therapy.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Knee Pain?

A systematic review 1 of  trials of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic knee pain concluded that both pain levels and knee function are significantly improved by treatment with acupuncture. The review concludes that “the amount of high quality, long-term evidence for acupuncture is impressive when compared with the evidence for many other interventions for chronic knee pain. For example, recent reviews could find no long-term data to support the use of oral or topical NSAIDs [anti-inflammatory medication which is often used in orthodox medicine to treat knee pain]”

A 2016 study 2 published in the American Journal of Translational Research suggested that acupuncture treatment showed better curative effect than physiotherapy, suggesting that acupuncture may be a superior non-operative treatment for KOA [knee osteoarthritis] compared with physiotherapy.


1 Acupuncture treatment for chronic knee pain: a systematic review White N.E. et al (2007) Rheumatology 2007 46(3):384-390

2 Zhang Y, Bao F, Wang Y, Wu Z. Influence of acupuncture in treatment of knee osteoarthritis and cartilage repairing. American Journal of Translational Research. 2016;8(9):3995-4002.


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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