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Study Finds Acupuncture Enhances Performance and Reduces Pain in Runners with Knee Problems

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

A 2018 study published in the Brazilian medical journal Acta Ortopédica Brasileira, yielded some impressive results for street runners suffering from knee injuries. The study, entitled "Reduction in Knee Pain Symptoms in Athletes using an Acupuncture Protocol," evaluated 34 runners to discover if acupuncture could provide pain relief and improve future performance.

The patients consisted of 25 men and 9 women, from the ages of 20 to 52. The average length of their running careers was seven years, and they trained about 7 hours per week. The time spent suffering from knee pain and injuries was, on average, 2 years and 9 months.

Treatments were conducted once a week for 5 consecutive weeks.  Acupuncture points utilized were Dubi, Extra Point Neixiyan, and cranial points. Dubi is part of the stomach meridian and resides on the medial side of the lower border of the patella. Neixiyan is found on the other side of the patella, at the same level as Dubi. Together, they are sometimes referred to as the 'eyes' of the knees. The cranial points are located on the skull.

Researchers documented each study participant's muscle strength, levels of pain, and the number of motor units recruited by the muscles in the lower limbs. Evaluations occurred before and after each acupuncture treatment, and participants were not able to access their answers.

To gauge pain intensity, researchers used the McGill Pain Questionaire, the Visual Analog Scale (VAS), and the Faces Pain Scale. To assess the amount of motor unit recruitment in the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, and medialis muscles, they performed electromyographic (EMG) tests.

At the end of the five-week treatment course, nearly all patients reported a reduction in knee pain and an increase in muscle strength. For 28 patients, there was a minimum 50 percent decrease in pain. Another 5 patients reported a decline in pain that was less than 50 percent. One patient did not sense any significant change in levels of pain by the end of the trial.

Researchers concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment that brings about significant results for runners with knee problems and can enhance sports performance. As muscle strength in the lower limbs improved, the chances of future injuries decreased. This is due to the fact that robust, healthy leg muscles allow athletes to run with more stability and in proper form. The EMG test, they noted, was a critical tool that should be used for monitoring pain and muscular strength pre- and post-treatment.

Source: Siqueira A, Beraldo L, Krueger E, and Ulbricht L. (2018). Reduction in Knee Pain Symptoms in Athletes using an Acupuncture Protocol. Acta Ortopédica Brasileira, 26(6): 418–422. Retrieved from

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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.

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