Can acupuncture help and treat chondromalacia patella?

Q: Can acupuncture help and treat chondromalacia patella?

A: Buried within our fact sheet on Sports Injuries

is mention of a study which shows that there may be benefit from acupuncture treatment with warm needling (using moxibustion, a technique involving the burning of a herb moxa to generate heat). There is also an interesting case study from 2001 in one of the leading US acupuncture journals

which reports some success in treating the condition with electroacupuncture, although even we thought some of the diagrams looked a little scary.

In general, though, a practitioner would first want to explore what has caused, or been thought to have caused, the problem. A great many cases involves some form of repeat stress on the knee joint, and this can have a major impact on the management of recovery as well as on understanding from a Chinese medicine perspective what is happening. The Chinese medicine understanding of the body and mind as an integrated system of flow and balance of energy (called 'qi') means that the practitioner will primarily want to establish whether the problem is local, involving some form of trauma or over-use syndrome, or systemic, where the pain in this joint is the tip of a larger iceberg of problems within the whole pattern. This will dictate in large measure what strategy is best for dealing with the problem.

Acupuncture treatment, of course, is just a treatment like any other, not magic, so if there has been physical damage to tissue where regeneration is unlikely, then the best that can be achieved is a reduction in some of the secondary symptoms of the problem, like swelling and pain. This can have a profound effect, because there are many problems where a vicious circle arises, where damage causes inflammation causes pressures causes more inflammation, and so on. Many conventional treatments, like steroid injections, operate on this principle of breaking the cycle of pain.

Our best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you to seek a brief face to face assessment of what might be possible. Each case from a Chinese medicine perspective is unique and different, and the same named condition in twenty people might lead to twenty different treatments. There may also be a different understanding of what is going on that may encourage a practitioner to believe that he or she may be able to help.

If it is a matter of keeping a symptom like pain or swelling under control, however, it is important to be very clear about the outcomes of treatment, especially if the symptom recurs. As a form of pain relief for a condition which is destined not to change a great deal acupuncture treatment can be a costly option, and it is never a bad thing to undertake a cost/benefit analysis of continuing treatment. What we often find, though, is that some of the 'side effects' of continuing treatment, like general improvements in feelings of health and well-being, become as valued as the pain relief itself.

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