Relieving Knee Osteoarthritis with Dry Needling

Jan 13, 2022

ProActive Physical Therapy

by ProActive Physical Therapy

Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is a progressive disease common among the aging population and a leading cause of disability. It is typically categorized as excessive ‘wear and tear,’ with symptoms including joint stiffness, swelling, limited range of motion, eventual lower extremity malalignment, and pain ranging from barely perceptible to debilitating.

The Costs of Knee Osteoarthritis

There are over 100 forms of arthritis, and OA is the most common and most often leads to chronic disability. Costs associated with knee OA are very high considering treatments, adaptations in activity level, and lost productivity at work. This painful disease affects millions of patients; about 13% of women and 10% of men aged 60 years and older have symptomatic OA of the knee.

Treatment Option for Knee Osteoarthritis

Due to the condition’s prevalence, numerous treatment options for managing OA exist. These options include over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), application of ice or heat, hyaluronic acid injections, corticosteroid injections, bracing, arthroscopic surgery, or total knee replacement surgery.

A lesser-known treatment option for knee OA is dry needling therapy. Increasing evidence has shown this procedure to reduce pain and disability in the osteoarthritic knee effectively, and studies have shown it can increase arterial pressure around the knee by up to 40%. Studies have also indicated it causes specific physiological responses that increase beta-endorphins blood levels, producing a pain-relieving effect. This can help patients reduce their reliance on analgesic or anti-inflammatory medications. Needling therapy has also been shown to activate the hypothalamus and deactivate the limbic system in the brain, both of which can alter our perception of pain.

Dry Needling for Improved Functionality and Reduced Pain

Dry needling involves inserting needles at 9 points around the knee to stimulate blood flow. It may cause slight discomfort but is generally not painful. The needles are twisted gently to stretch the tissue and left in place for up to 30 minutes. Low-frequency electrical stimulation may be used alongside the treatment. Post-treatment, minor tenderness, bruising, or hematomas may occur temporarily. The risk of infection is extremely low. Treatment is typically 2-3 times per week for 6-8 weeks, and when combined with supervised exercises, it significantly improves pain and functionality for most patients.

Although dry needling isn’t commonly used as a treatment alternative in the U.S., other countries frequently employ it. For example, in the United Kingdom, dry needling manages OA knee pain for patients awaiting joint replacement surgery. As a physical therapist certified in dry needling, I have performed the treatment on several patients, not only for OA knee pain but also for patients with anterior knee pain caused by patellofemoral dysfunction. Anecdotally, all patients I treated reported experiencing significant reductions in knee pain in as little as two weeks without using any other manual therapy or modality interventions. However, these patients also reported a decreased intake of pain medication and a significant increase in activity levels.

Safe and Effective Knee Pain Relief

Moreover, dry needling therapy is remarkably safe with minimal precautions or contraindications. Additionally, both research and anecdotal evidence support and demonstrate the effectiveness of dry needling in relieving knee pain. The treatment duration is relatively short, typically lasting 10 to 30 minutes per session. While some cons include slight discomfort during needle insertion and the potential for bruising, the results can take 4-12 weeks to become noticeable.

Consider dry needling if prior treatments have been ineffective or you want to postpone knee replacement surgery. For more information on dry needling from certified specialists, contact your local ProActive Physical Therapy clinic today!

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