Course reflection - Medical Acupuncture in the Treatment of Knee Pain & Dysfunction

On Saturday November 1st, I was very pleased to run the second in a series of Medical Acupuncture (with the integration of Dry Needling) courses in the management of a variety of regional conditions. This course focussed on the use of needling techniques in managing knee pain and dysfunction.

The aim of the course was once again to provide attendees with a range of needling techniques which can be effectively and safely applied in practice the following week. To allow for a practical emphasis, pre - course theory modules were completed online by the participants. These included a safety review, mechanism review, principles of point selection as well as conditions and patient suitable for medical acupuncture treatment.

We started the day with a review of the pre-course material and then went on to a clinical overview of the knee, followed by a rapid assessment relevant to the medical acupuncture practitioner.

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Referred Pain Arising From Myofascial Trigger Points - A Peripheral Or Central Effect?

It must be reiterated that pain referral is the cardinal feature of the myofascial trigger point (MTrP). As such simply trying to identify a MTrP by the presence of a taut band and tender point is insufficient. The referred pain patterns generated by the MTrP usually, but not always, occur within a predictable distribution as described by Travell and Simon’s. If the referred pain is familiar to the patient, i.e reminds them of the symptoms for which the patient may have sought treatment, the MTrP may be considered active. If the referred pain is unfamiliar is may be considered latent, but arguably the MTrP may still be worth treating.

Is the referred pain phenomenon a peripheral or central effect?

Evidence has concluded that referred pain is most certainly a central effect. My understanding of this has mostly centred at the dorsal horn where a ‘wind up’ may occur in response the afferent nociceptive barrage arising from the MTrP. This results in a progressive pain referral mostly within the associated segment. This effect has been supported by studies which have shown MTrP’s in rats capable of sensitising the dorsal horn with the development of new neurons.

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Acupuncture More Effective Than Physical Therapies For OA Knee

A recent network meta-analysis was performed which considered acupuncture versus other physical therapies in the treatment of Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee.

This complex research method is a first in acupuncture studies and was used to show how acupuncture compares with other physical interventions in the treatment of this condition. In a nutshell this research approach has the advantage of being able to pull large amounts of data together. In this study physical interventions were compared with standard care, and then acupuncture was compared with standard care. Interventions compared 18 physical therapies with 4 comparators - standard care, sham, placebo or no treatment.

The results showed that acupuncture is more effective that all other forms of physical therapy and significantly outperforms sham acupuncture. The conclusion was that acupuncture can be considered as one of the more effective physical treatments.

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Physical evidence to support the existence of the Myofascial Trigger Point

Given the fact the there is still significant deniability within the wider medical community regarding the existence of myofascial trigger points (MTrP), I am always interested to learn of further physical evidence to back up our clinical assessment findings.

Although the ability to image MTrP and taut band on ultrasound is not new, recently I was fortunate to view not only a still frame but a video clip of a needle penetrating a taut band an eliciting the local twitch response. The vigorous response from the muscle when the MTrP was targeted directly would suggest a level of reactive dysfunction within that particular portion of muscle which would be difficult to dispute, especially if the patients familiar pain was reproduced at the same time. Further ultrasound findings have included hypoechogenicity, alterations on local muscle tension and muscle entropy (Shah et al, 2008).

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Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome - A Medical Acupuncture Approach


Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is the single most common condition seen by sports medicine practitioners.1 There is extensive literature investigating the efficacy of physical interventions for this condition,2 however there is relatively little considering the role of Acupuncture. This would be in contrast to knee osteoarthrosis which has been well investigated over recent years.3 In this case study an Acupuncture based approach was used to treat PFPS. What has been highlighted are the limitations of Acupuncture treatment if perpetuating factors are not adequately considered and addressed.

Presenting complaint

M complained of regular intermittent knee pain which was localised to the right supero-lateral aspect of the patella. He reported a VAS of 5 on the day of assessment. He also reported the same area as being tender to local pressure. Aggravating factors would be walking for 10 minutes or longer, climbing stairs, sitting with the knee flexed greater than approximately 80 degrees and any attempt to run. Rest and maintaining the knee in extension would ease the knee. Occasionally at night, if he were to roll onto the right knee, pain would wake him. Morning stiffness would be common. He noticed mild swelling around the lateral patella which would worsen towards the end of the day depending on how active he had been.

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