Complementary Medicine for Chronic Knee Pain

Knee pain is one of the most common reasons for visits to both orthopedists and general practitioners. For decades, chronic pain has been treated using the traditional method of prescription and over-the-counter pain medications. However, continued use of these remedies can have serious consequences, including liver problems, stomach ulcers, and addiction.

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches work in conjunction with traditional medicine, and focus on relieving knee pain naturally. This effective combination can reduce or even eliminate the need painkilling drugs. Natural health practitioner Dr. Bret Mosher uses a functional approach to treat pain. He focuses on the whole person and aims for optimal health through customized, integrated therapies. If you would like to find out how Dr. Mosher uses complementary medicine for chronic knee pain at his Poway, CA, practice, please contact us to schedule a personal consultation.   

3-D representation of knee anatomy

About Knee Pain

The knee is the largest joint in the body, and consists of the femur, the tibia, and the kneecap. It also includes cartilage, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is a complex structure that is a frequent site of injury. Typically, trauma occurs to the knee in the form of a torn or ruptured ligament, torn cartilage, a break or fracture to the kneecap, or hyperextending the joint beyond the normal range of motion.

While athletes are especially prone to knee injury, even if you do not play sports, you can be prone to knee injuries and pain. Cartilage cushions the joint and absorbs shock during motion. However, the amount of cartilage in your knee decreases with age and the ligaments become less elastic, making both injury and pain more likely. Medical conditions such as bone tumors, infection, and arthritis can also cause knee pain. In addition, being overweight is a significant risk factor because excess weight puts considerable strain on the ligaments and cartilage.

Complementary and alternative approaches work in conjunction with traditional medicine, and focus on relieving knee pain naturally.

Traditional Therapies

Conventional treatments for knee pain differ based on the source of the pain. Medications may be prescribed to manage pain and also treat underlying conditions such as arthritis or gout. Some patients receive corticosteroid and other injections directly into the joint. Injections can help reduce arthritis flares and relieve pain for a period of months. However, these injections are not always effective, and overuse may worsen joint damage.

Physical therapy can strengthen and stabilize the muscles around the knee. Some patients also benefit from arch supports or braces, which relieve pressure on the joint and provide extra support. In the case of severe knee injuries, different types of surgery may be recommended. These include arthroscopic surgery and partial and complete knee replacement.

Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies are often performed in addition to traditional medicine to provide significant, comprehensive pain relief. When combined with traditional approaches such as physical therapy, and arch support or braces, CAM can provide lasting, results. Strengthening the joint and relieving pain and stiffness with acupuncture can reduce and even eliminate patients' dependence on pain-relief medications.

The most widely accepted alternative therapy for treating chronic knee pain is acupuncture. A 1999 study compared electroacupuncture to ice massage and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for osteoarthritis. This trial showed that acupuncture decreased pain and stiffness levels, and increased muscle strength and flexibility in the knee. Another study indicated that patients with pain in the front of the knee (“runner’s knee”) could benefit from weekly acupuncture treatments. Numerous smaller studies have also confirmed acupuncture to be effective at reducing knee pain and stiffness and increasing knee function. A study published in 2012 found that acupuncture was a viable alternative for knee surgery for one-third of the study’s participants. Other alternative therapies such as nutritional supplements and massage can also be effective, but they do not have as much evidential support. 

The Complementary Approach

The complementary approach to manage knee pain combines the most effective conventional and alternative approaches into a treatment plan that is customized for each unique patient. To truly benefit from CAM therapy, it is crucial to select a qualified practitioner with the appropriate training and credentials. If you would like to learn more, please contact our practice today.

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