Probably the most intense pain I have experienced in my life is when my knee “let go” as I was going up the stairs. I was in a hurry, and turned to the left at the top step, when I felt an intense pain in the inner corner of my right knee. The knee had been giving me a few hints that something was wrong during the previous month or so, which I ignored. But that was nothing like the sharp, stabbing pain I felt this time.
Luckily I have an “in” with a local doctor of chiropractic, who saw me right away. His treatment might surprise most people who are not familiar with treating mechanical joint and muscle problems. After a quick check of the area, he began working on my pelvic alignment, leaving the knee alone. There was some immediate relief, and the limp was gone. After a few more treatments to the pelvis, even the earlier, minor knee symptoms were gone. He never treated the knee at all.
There is an old saying in musculoskeletal medicine, which is the treatment of joint and muscle pain, that “he who only treats the location of the pain is lost.” The knee is a relatively flat joint that is very vulnerable to dysfunction in any of the surrounding joints. If the ankles and feet do not absorb the shock of impact from walking or running, the shock will be transmitted up the leg. If the dynamics of the hips or pelvis are not right, stress is sent up and down the body, and it is often felt at the knee, especially the inner part of the joint.
Of course, the knee joint itself can develop problems with how it moves; not every case of knee pain comes from surrounding joints. Actually, most cases of knee pain involve several joints, and typically include problems with the surrounding muscles as well. But the pain is often felt only in the knee.
Knee pain is often blamed on arthritis; wear and tear of the cartilage is very common on X-ray. But just because there is arthritis in the knee does not mean it is the primary cause of pain. Often, when these patients are treated, the pain improves or even goes away, yet the arthritis is still there. The same is true of other types of damage to the knee, like torn cartilage, or even post-surgical pain. These problems respond well to manipulation and other mechanical-type treatments. Just because someone has knee arthritis or a cartilage problem doesn’t mean they don’t also have alignment problems. While correcting the alignment doesn’t make the other problems disappear, it often eases the pain and allows the patient to use the knee. Even in cases where there is advanced damage to the knee, it is still worth trying a natural treatment before going to shots or surgery.
I find my overall health is much better — including no knee pain — now that I have another doctor in the office. I try not to pester him too often for treatments, but when the spine and pelvis are in alignment everything else works so much better. It’s a little ironic that, because our work is physical, involving a lot of bending over, doctors of chiropractic are at risk for the same problems we treat. One benefit is that it keeps us humble, and helps us sympathize with our patients when they come limping into the office.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.