Judy Bowen-Jones

Sudden knee pain in one of the knees is usually the result of overusing or injuring the knee.

The knee joint is vulnerable to damage and because it takes the full weight of your body during daily activities and any extra force when you run or jump.

You are more likely to experience knee pain as you get older. People who are overweight or do lots of sports have a higher risk of damaging their knees. Some sports that involve a lot of turning, such as football, netball, squash and skiing, carry a higher risk of knee injuries.

  • sprains and strains, where tissues in the knee have been overstretched but not permanently damaged. These can be managed using PRICE therapy (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation) and pain killers if needed
  • osteoarthritis, a common cause of knee pain and stiffness in the elderly
  • patellofemoral pain syndrome (Anterior knee pain). Knee pain felt at the front of the knee which may be linked to previous injuries, overuse of your knees, muscle weakness and/or your kneecap being slightly out of place. The pain tends to be dull or aching and often affects both knees at the same time. It is usually worsened by sitting for long periods, squatting or kneeling, or using stairs. Conventional therapy includes pain killers, PRICE therapy and possibly exercise and/or physiotherapy
  • Osgood-Schlatter’s disease (OSD) is a condition which presents with a painful lump on the bone just below the knee. Typically seen in sporty adolescents during a growth spurt, OSD is caused by inflammation of the patellar ligament
  • menisci or cartilage damage. The menisci/cartilage act as shock absorbers between the ends of the upper and lower leg bones. These shock absorbers can be damaged by sudden twisting, injury or simply worn by ‘wear and tear’. Physiotherapy may help. Surgery may be needed to repair torn tissue
  • patellar tendonitis, inflammation of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shin bone due to overuse or injury. Sometimes called ‘jumpers knee’ as it can be brought on by basketball or volleyball
  • bursitis (housemaid’s knee), a condition involving the build up of fluid over the knee joint, often seen in people who kneel a lot at work, such as carpet layers, or in sports players.
  • torn ligaments or tendons. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue which connect the bones at the knee joint; tendons connect the muscles to the bones. These tissues may be torn during running sports such as rugby or football. Surgery may be required
  • Injury that causes significant damage to the knee joint may cause bleeding into the joint spaces, known as haemarthrosis. Signs include swelling of the knee, warmth, stiffness and bruising.
  • gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints, leading to inflammation, pain and swelling.
  • septic arthritis (infected knee joints) is a serious condition which causes a very painful, hot, swollen knee. You may also have a fever and feel unwell.

Seek urgent medical attention if you knee is very swollen or red, if you cannot put any weight on it, if it is very painful even at rest, if you have numbness or tingling in the lower leg, or if you develop a high temperature and feel unwell with a knee problem.

Acupuncture for Knee Pain

A report of acupuncture clinical research trials published by the World Health Organization in 2003 lists Knee Pain and Osteoarthritis among conditions for which acupuncture has been proven effective. Acupuncture studies and systematic reviews indicate that moxibustion (which involves the application of heat) is more effective than conventional drug therapy for treating osteoarthritis of the knee.

Acupuncture may also help relieve pain, inflammation, muscle and joint stiffness and so may help in the treatment of knee and joint pain by:

  • Stimulating nerves in muscles and other tissues and producing endorphins (natural pain killers)
  • Changing processing of in the brain and spinal cord
  • Calming inflammation
  • Reducing muscle stiffness and enhancing joint mobility by improving circulation and reducing swelling
  • Calming sympathetic nervous activity and reducing our sensitivity to pain

See also:

Treating Knee Pain

“Many sufferers of chronic knee pain associated with arthritis or fibromyalgia report that their symptoms are worse in cold, damp weather. Knee pain is significantly more common in people working in cold conditions. Warming the acupuncture needles with moxa can be very effective in the treatment of knee pain. If you suffer from cold, chronic knee pain, it’s a good idea to avoid foods which have a cold energy and wear long johns in winter!”

Arthritis Special Report – Does Weather Affect Arthritis Pain? From Johns Hopkins Health Alerts. John Hopkins Hospital

Leggett, D. 2005. Helping Ourselves, A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics. Meridian Press

Maciocia, G. 2005. The Practice of Chinese Medicine. Painful Obstruction Syndrome. 561-604. Churchill Livingstone

Pienimäki, T (2002). Cold exposure and musculoskeletal disorders and diseases. A review. International journal of circumpolar health 61 (2): 173–82

Sandow, MJ; Goodfellow, JW (1985). The natural history of anterior knee pain in adolescents. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. British volume 67 (1): 36–8.

Research Fact Sheets

For more information see the British Acupuncture Council Research Fact Sheet below.