Benefits of Acupuncture After Total Knee Replacement


A total knee replacement/arthroplasty (TKA) is a major surgical procedure that involves the removal of damaged bone and cartilage from the knee joint and replacing it with an artificial knee implant. While this surgery can significantly improve mobility and alleviate chronic knee pain, the recovery process can be challenging, with potential complications like pain, swelling, and limited range of motion. If you’re recovering from a total knee replacement, you may want to consider acupuncture as there are many benefits to acupuncture after knee surgery.

Acupuncture helps reduce postoperative pain by stimulating the release of natural pain-relieving endorphins, promotes healing by increasing blood flow, and reduces inflammation around the surgical area. It can also alleviate muscle tension, improve range of motion, and support the rehabilitation process by enhancing mobility and function of the replaced knee joint. 

Acupuncture can improve post-surgery knee function 

The recovery period after a total knee replacement is crucial for regaining optimal joint function and mobility. During this time, you will typically undergo physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve your range of motion, and relearn proper movement patterns. The good news is that acupuncture can play a vital role in enhancing the effectiveness of these rehabilitation efforts by promoting muscle relaxation, reducing inflammation, and improving circulation to the affected area.

Acupuncture can stimulate the release of natural vasodilators, which improve blood flow to the knee joint and surrounding tissues. This enhanced circulation delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the surgical site, facilitating tissue repair and recovery. 

Additionally, acupuncture can help relax the muscles surrounding the knee joint, which may have become tense or contracted during the healing process. By alleviating muscle tension, acupuncture can improve the range of motion and enhance the effectiveness of corrective exercise, ultimately supporting better post-surgical knee function.

Acupuncture can reduce nausea/vomiting after total knee replacement (TKA) 

One common side effect experienced by some patients after a total knee replacement is nausea and vomiting, which can be caused by anesthesia, pain medications, or the surgical procedure itself. These symptoms can not only be uncomfortable but can also hinder the recovery process by causing dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and difficulty tolerating oral medications. Acupuncture is an effective non-pharmacological approach to managing postoperative nausea and vomiting.

Specific acupuncture points have been identified to help regulate the body’s gastrointestinal function and alleviate nausea and vomiting. By stimulating these points, acupuncture can help restore the natural balance of the body’s digestive system and reduce the sensation of nausea. Acupuncture has also been shown to modulate the activity of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in regulating nausea and vomiting. By addressing both the physiological and neurological aspects of postoperative nausea and vomiting, acupuncture can provide relief and improve overall comfort during the recovery period after a total knee replacement.

Acupuncture reduces swelling around the knee during the post-acute phase of rehabilitation after TKA 

Swelling around the knee joint is a common occurrence following a total knee replacement surgery, as the body’s natural inflammatory response is triggered by the surgical trauma. While some degree of swelling is expected and plays a role in the healing process, excessive or prolonged swelling can impede recovery by causing discomfort, limiting range of motion, and potentially delaying the start of rehabilitation exercises.

Acupuncture is an effective modality for reducing inflammation and swelling in the post-acute phase of rehabilitation after a total knee replacement. By stimulating specific acupuncture points, the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response is activated, leading to a reduction in the production of inflammatory substances and promoting the resolution of swelling around the knee joint.

Acupuncture can also improve lymphatic drainage, making it easier for the removal of excess fluid and metabolic waste from the surgical site. This can help minimize swelling and support the body’s natural healing processes.

A young sportswoman using an ice pack to prevent swelling after a workout.

Acupuncture helps with TKA postoperative pain 

Pain management is a crucial aspect of recovery after a total knee replacement, as uncontrolled pain can hinder mobility, prolong the healing process, and negatively impact the patient’s quality of life. Traditional pain management strategies often involve the use of opioid analgesics, which can have significant side effects and the potential for dependency. Acupuncture offers a safe and effective alternative or complementary approach to managing postoperative pain after a total knee replacement.

Acupuncture stimulates the body’s natural production of endorphins, which are powerful pain-relieving chemicals. These endorphins bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, increasing the body’s pain threshold and promoting a sense of well-being. Additionally, acupuncture can modulate the transmission of pain signals from the knee joint to the brain, effectively reducing the perception of pain. This is achieved by influencing the activity of specific neurotransmitters and brain regions involved in pain processing.

Acupuncture can also help relax the muscles surrounding the knee joint, alleviating muscle tension and spasms that may contribute to postoperative discomfort. 

How soon after TKA surgery can you get acupuncture?

After total knee replacement surgery, it is generally recommended to wait until the initial acute postoperative phase has passed before beginning acupuncture treatments. This acute phase typically lasts around 2-4 weeks, during which time the surgical incision needs to heal properly and the risk of infection or excessive swelling is at its highest.

Once this initial healing period is over and the surgical incision has closed and begun to mend, acupuncture can usually be safely introduced. We recommend waiting at least 4-6 weeks after the TKA procedure before starting acupuncture. This allows sufficient time for the acute inflammation and wound healing to occur.

However, the exact timing can vary based on the individual patient’s recovery progress and any potential postoperative complications. It’s best to consult with both the orthopedic surgeon who performed the TKA as well as the acupuncturist to determine the most appropriate time to incorporate acupuncture into the rehabilitation plan. Early, cautious intervention can assist the healing process, but proper wound healing is the top priority initially after knee replacement surgery.

Booking your appointment

If you’re recovering from a total knee replacement or anticipating this procedure, consider incorporating acupuncture into your recovery plan. At Lycoming Orthopedics & Sports Acupuncture, our experienced acupuncturists will work closely with you on your first visit to recommend the best treatment approach that supports your healing journey after TKA surgery. 

Contact our team today to learn more about the benefits of acupuncture after total knee replacement surgery and to book your appointment. Our team is dedicated to providing comprehensive care and support throughout your recovery process.

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