Chronic Knee Pain

Chronic knee pain, knee arthritis, or, more technically, knee osteoarthritis, typically responds well to treatment with acupuncture and herbal medicine.


Knee arthritis treatment begins with a proper diagnosis. The physician arrives at a diagnosis after considering both the local symptoms in the knees and the overall condition of the individual with the pain.

Chronic knee discomfort typically occurs in the context of aging. According to Chinese medicine, aging involves a gradual depletion of vitality and vital substances, particularly of the kidneys, which, according to Chinese medical theory, govern the health of the lower back, lower limbs, knees, ankles, and feet. People suffering from knee osteoarthritis often also have symptoms of kidney deficiency, such as lower back ache, frequent urination, night time urination, leg or ankle edema, low libido, and cold or hot feet. In such cases, thorough acupuncture treatment for the condition involves treatment not only for the knees, but also for the weakness of the kidneys.

In many cases, chronic knee pain worsens with some changes in weather. Typically, cold or damp weather increases the pain. If so, then either cold or damp is present in the ailing joint. In such cases, treatment involves also dispelling cold or dampness or warming the channels, usually with herbal liniments or plasters.

Acupuncture for Knee Pain

A 2007 meta-analysis of randomized trials published in Rheumatology comparing true acupuncture to sham acupuncture or other treatments reported "Acupuncture that meets criteria for adequate treatment is significantly superior to sham acupuncture and to no additional intervention in improving pain and function in patients with chronic knee pain."

Chinese Medicine for Knee Pain

We can treat knee pain with herbal medicine alone if you prefer to avoid needles.

Your herbalist may prescribe liniments or plasters to apply directly, externally, to the affected knee, and, if appropriate, herbal pills or teas to treat the condition internally.

The herbs used will vary depend on the condition. You must use the correct herbs for the pain based on whether it is hot or cold, excess or deficient. Applying a hot herbal liniment (or heating pad) to a knee with a hot condition will worsen it; applying a cooling liniment (or ice) to a knee with a cold condition will worsen the pain. A hot knee should be treated with cooling applications; a cold knee with heat.

Unbeknownst to most people, some 'anti-inflammatory' herbs are heating and some cooling. Using the wrong herb for your condition will not help and may worsen your situation. For example, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties according to biochemical research, but it is a warming herb; whereas willow bark and some types of turmeric, also anti-inflammatory according to biochemical research, have a cooling effect. Thus, if you have cold knee pain, turmeric will have no benefit, but ginger will.

Additionally, we do not recommend using ice on chronic knee pain, even if the knee is hot. Ice numbs the area, but also causes blood vessel constriction, reducing the flow of nutrients to and removal of wastes from the ailing joint, which only impedes healing. Instead of ice, if the knee is hot, we use cooling herbs.

Allopathic medical providers and chiropractors seem to be unaware of this. We have seen patients who had various joint pains which were of the cold type, who were religiously applying ice to their aches, according to prescription from an allopathic physician, chiropractor, or physical therapist, with unsatisfying results. As soon as they switched from ice to a warm application, the condition started improving.

If the chronic knee pain patient also has signs of kidney vacuity, the herbalist will also prescribe an appropriate internal medicine to supplement the kidney yin or kidney yang.

Return to Conditions from Chronic Knee Pain

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