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Leimkuhler: Acupuncture to alleviate knee pain

In my last column I wrote about the best way to treat and prevent shin splints, one of the most common running injuries, accounting for an estimated 10.7% of injuries in male runners and 16.8 percent of injuries in female runners.

But shins splints wasn’t my biggest Achilles heel when it came to running injuries; it was a double case of debilitating plantar fasciitis that sidelined me for a year. I tried everything to resolve this pain that made it feel as though the bottoms of my feet were tearing every time I stood: rest, ice, stretching, custom insoles, physical therapy with E-stim, walking barefoot on gravel (which was unpleasant but did help a little) and sleeping in a ‎Strassburg Sock, which keeps the ankle in a flexed position to gently stretch the foot and calf while sleeping.

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And nothing worked.

Eventually, someone asked if I’d tried acupuncture. After a year of pain and not being able to run I was becoming desperate. I was willing to try anything.

Acupuncture, as explained by traditional Chinese medicine, involves the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body, called acupoints. Thought most commonly used to treat pain, acupuncture is increasingly being used for overall wellness and stress management.

According to mayoclinc.org, the technique of acupunctures is used to balance the flow of energy or life force — known as chi or qi (chee) — believed to flow through pathways, or meridians, in your body.

“By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance,” the site explains.

But my experience was far from pleasant. Sometimes acupuncture works by placing needles in remote locations, such as in the hand to reduce pain in the jaw, or in the ankle to soothe the neck. But, in my case, the acupuncturist went right to the source, and I probably don’t need to explain that having needles inserted into the soles of your feet does not feel too good.

Eventually, I began to see some improvement but progress was slow. It was around this time that my acupuncturist introduced the idea of “bloodletting,” which more closely resembles acupuncture in its original form when, according to sciencebasedmedicine.org, the “needles” were really lances and the acupuncture points locations over veins to be opened.

“Chi, or the Chinese concept of the life force, was believed to be partly in the blood, and bloodletting could be used to free the flow of chi,” that site explains.

Medieval though it may sound, the results of bloodletting was nearly immediate. As doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Skya Abbate wrote in an article for Acupuncture Today, “Bleeding is a specialized technique for specific conditions that can produce effective and dramatic results when the patient’s condition is diagnosed properly and the bleeding method expertly executed.”

Before long, I was running again, and I give acupuncture full credit for my recovery.

Nonetheless, when my youngest daughter began complaining in December of running-related bilateral knee pain, we jumped through all the traditional healing hoops, none of which resolved her problem or eased her pain.

Initially, following a season of youth cross country and soccer, we thought my daughter’s knee pain might simply be due to overuse or, based on her rapid growth, Osgood-Schlatter disease which, according to orthoinfo.aaos.org, is a common cause of knee pain in growing adolescents that causes “inflammation of the area just below the knee where the tendon from the kneecap (patellar tendon) attaches to the shinbone (tibia).”

A visit to a pediatric orthopedic specialist confirmed as much when my daughter’s x-ray showed evidence of wide-open growth plates in her knees. But the fact that her pain has gone on, unabated, for so long despite complete rest, an evaluation and prescribed exercises by a physical therapist, a gait analysis and new shoes and insoles, along with a course of anti-inflammatories and use of a knee brace, made it evident that we needed to consider alternative therapies.

And so, once again, I turned to acupuncture.

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Thankfully, needles inserted in and around the knee area are more easily tolerated than in the soles of the feet and, like me, my brave 14-year-old daughter was willing to try anything to get back to running.

My philosophy on acupuncture is this: I don’t try too hard to understand how it works; I simply believe that it does. The brain is such a powerful muscle, I believe that the mind, body and spirit all need to be open to the idea of acupuncture as a method of healing and the belief that it can work in order for the treatment to be the most effective.

After a brief discussion with my current acupuncturist regarding my daughter’s knee pain, we decided on a course of six acupuncture sessions to start. After the second session, my daughter noticed improvement in her knees and less discomfort during and after running.

She is not out of the woods yet, but we are hopeful that this course of treatment will ultimately allow her body to heal and get her back to doing what she loves to do: running.

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