Knee Pain: A Chinese Medical Approach

Knee pain is a fairly common complaint among both children and adults, with the National Institute of Health in the United States estimating that over four million people seek medical care for a knee problem each year. It is the most often treated anatomical site by orthopedists.

The knee is the largest, and one of the most complicated, joints in the body. It is made up of the lower end of the thighbone (femur), which rotates on the upper end of the shinbone (tibia), and the kneecap (patella), which slides in a groove on the end of the femur. The knee joint contains several muscles, which straighten and bend the leg at the knee; tendons, which attach the muscles to the bones; ligaments, which help control motion by connecting bones; and cartilage, which serves to cushion the knee or help it to absorb shock during motion.

Because of its size and structure, the knee is one of the most frequently injured joints. Knee injuries can be caused be several factors:

Many athletes experience knee injuries, but knee pain is not limited to athletes. As people get older, the amount of cartilage in the knee decreases, and ligaments begin to lose some of their elasticity, making them more susceptible to pain and/or injury. Osteoarthritis is also a major cause of knee pain as we age.

Studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in relieving certain types of knee pain. A 1999 study comparing electro-acupuncture to ice massage and TENS (transcutaneous nerve stimulation) for subjects with osteoarthritis found that acupuncture decreased pain and stiffness levels and increased muscle strength and flexion of the knee 1. A previous study on severe knee osteoarthritis and gonathrosis has also shown acupuncture to be useful 2. Another study suggests that individuals with patellofemoral pain syndromes may benefit from acupuncture treatments, and concluded, "our study is one of the largest treatment studies on the subject, and it show a clear, durable effect of acupuncture treatment in reducing pain and improving fuction for the patient". 3

I treat knee pain using acupuncture, electroacupuncture, moxibustion, tui na, and herbal therapy. My general protocol for treating chronic knee pain is 8 - 10 sessions, ideally at two sessions per week. One generally feels relief after 1 - 3 sessions. This is always followed by tui na. Four of the herbal formulas I may suggest for these conditions are: Meridian Passage or Resinall E Tabs™ for pain caused by trauma; Collagenex™ or Mobility 2™ for pain due to arthritis.

For additional information on knee pain and acupuncture, you might wish to go to:

If you would like to pursue this form of treatment, contact me at the following telephone number or e-mail address. You will be asked to fill out a detailed intake form before your first appointment. You may pick this up at my office, or I can e-mail it to you.

1 Yurtkuran M, Kocagil T. TENS, electro-acupuncture and ice massage: comparison of treatment for Osteoarthritis of the knee. American Journal of Acupuncture; 1999.27(3-4).133-40.

2 Christensen BV, Iuhl IU, Vilbaek H, Bulow HH, Dreijer NC, Rasmussensn HF. Acupuncture treatment of severe knee osteoarthrosis: long-term study. Acta Anesthesiol Scand; 1992;36;519-525

3 Jensen R, Gothesen O, Liseth K, Baerheim A. Acupuncture treatment for patellofemoral pain syndrome. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; 1999;5(6):521-7.


Calvin Dale Smith, BA, MSc, DOM
Doctor of Oriental Medicine (USA)
Riverside Acupuncture and Wellness Centre
2211 Riverside Dr., Suite 106
Ottawa, ON K1H 7X5
cdalesmith at