Acupuncture and Runner’s Knee

Runner’s Knee is commonly referred to as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.  Runner’s Knee isn’t always a singular condition, rather a term used to describe a number of disorders with different causes that all create the same relative discomfort. Some of the most common disorders leading to this type of injury are:  overuse, trauma to the knee, misalignment, problems with the feet and/or weak thigh muscles.

The pain is usually in the front of the knee and it usually results from the patella (kneecap) rubbing against the femur (thighbone) causing pain, thus the name Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.  There may also be some breakdown of the cartilage that is behind the kneecap causing more friction between the kneecap and the thigh bone, or there could be some improper tracking of the kneecap over the femur causing increased friction and pain. The last two problems are common, but not always necessary to have patellofemoral pain syndrome.

The main symptom of patellofemoral pain syndrome is knee pain, especially when sitting with bent knees, squatting, jumping, or climbing stairs. You may also experience occasional knee buckling, where the knee suddenly and unexpectedly gives way and does not support your body weight. A catching, popping, or grinding sensation when walking or with knee movement is also common.

While most commonly seen in runner’s, this condition can affect anyone.  Repeated bending of the knee can irritate the nerves of the kneecap. Overstretching tendons may also cause the pain of Runner’s Knee. If any of the bones are slightly out of their correct position or misaligned physical stress and strain won’t be evenly distributed through the knee joint. This can cause pain and damage to the joints. Sometimes, the kneecap itself is slightly out of position. Uneven tension from the quadriceps muscles can lead to uneven tracking of the patella over the tibiofemoral joint. Runner’s knee can also result from flat feet, also called fallen arches or over pronation. This is a condition in which the impact of a step causes the arches of your foot to collapse, thus compromising the mechanics of the foot and ankle, increasing the stress on the knee joints.

Research proves acupuncture is as effective as prescription pain killers for knee pain.
In a blinded study analyzing the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating patellofemoral pain syndrome, 75 patients were randomly selected to receive acupuncture treatment or to not receive acupuncture treatment1. Individualized acupuncture treatment was administered twice weekly for 4 weeks, and patients were followed for 1 year to evaluate how their pain progressed. After 1 year, the acupuncture group reported less pain overall than the group that did not receive acupuncture.

Acupuncture for runner’s knee is a great option because it is drug free, kills pain, improves circulation, and releases tight muscles.  In addition to Acupuncture, the active runner should also seek to prevent injury.   In seeking prevention, finding a good running coach or running group that can critique your form and technique can go a long way to staying healthy and injury free during your running sessions.  Also make sure to do your warm up stretches and cool down stretches after your runs.

1 Jensen R, Gothesen O, Liseth K, Baerheim A. Acupuncture treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome. J Altern Complement Med Dec 1999;5(6):521-7.

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