How Acupuncture Helped Heal My ACL Knee Reconstruction
When I was in undergrad, I did many reckless things. Sometimes I ended up getting the wind knocked out of me, as a result.
One day in point: I was skiing at Seven Springs, practicing my mogul-hopping, which I got pretty good at pretty quickly. There was a split second when I thought I was going way too fast. And, in the split second of doubt, I missed my footing, and twirled around in the air for what seemed to be forever. When I finally landed on my tummy, wind knocked out of me, the weight of the skis bent my knees, and whipped my feet to the sides of my thighs. And my knees, normally flexible, made a popping sound, like something was broken. The pain was excruciating. They had to ski me down the hill to examine me. Little did I know that I’d just suffered an ACL tear in my right knee. Frankly, it just felt like both my knees had been broken! The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a bundle of collagen in the knee, just over an inch in length, and half an inch wide. For such a tiny ligament, it packs a punch when it’s torn! It’s also incredibly destabilizing. According to Neal Gabler’s Grantland article about ACL tears, entitled, “The Nastiest Injury in Sports”, he explained: “But here is the thing about ACL tears: They’re not just another injury. They are the Godzilla of injuries. They are painful beyond tolerance, they take eons to rehab, and they always leave a lingering doubt in the athlete’s mind that he will ever be whole again. An ACL tear tests one’s mettle. An ACL tear goes to the very heart of resilience and mental toughness. An ACL tear is the standard against which the athlete himself measures his determination. An ACL tear is the absolute limit.” The article, written only a few months ago, went on to say that ACL tears are on the rise. However, I’d already experienced mine almost twenty years ago!
My ACL Reconstruction With A Cadaver Ligament
I ended up getting an ACL reconstruction. The reason being, that when they went in to reattach the ligament, they found that it had somehow disintegrated and left my body. Evidently, my body does not play! It will get rid of what no longer serves me. So, I received a cadaver ligament during my reconstruction surgery. The doctor who performed the surgery was the surgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time (I was getting the surgery performed where my parents lived, and where I’d grown up as a child, in Pittsburgh, PA). The type of surgery I received involved the use of 4 incision sites, where they inserted mini surgery tools, and worked the site like knitting needles. When they were done with me, the scars were minimal, with only a 5th slightly longer stitch at my medial knee, near an acupuncture point called Spleen 9, where they’d inserted the cadaver ligament, and secured it with a screw. I remember that, during that time, my minimally invasive surgery was cutting edge and considered “cosmetic”. Since, up until that time, they’d dealt with ACL repairs by cutting open the entire knee, and stapling it shut when the surgery was completed.
Painful Rehab… Ahoy!
After that, it was for many weeks that I was set up in bed, hooked up to a machine that constantly bent my internally scarred and traumatized knee into flexion, over and over, to break up the scarred tissue, and begin the rehab. With each couple of days, the flexion was increased, bringing on a new exquisite type of pain each time. It was just as fun as it sounds! Then came the physical therapy, which I started in Pittsburgh, and then continued, and completed, back home in New York City. Having a background as a dancer came in handy, since I was used to the physical discipline I needed to move forward with rehab. I must admit that when my skiing accident happened, right in the middle of my dreams of becoming a dancer, I was crushed to consider that I could never dance again, or that a possible professional career as a dancer in NYC would be dashed. Little did I know that I would be able to dance again, though, now writing this article as a practicing Licensed Acupuncturist, I obviously found my true calling!
The Magic Of Acupuncture
I then started to live life again with my somewhat bionic knee. I ended up continuing my love of dance, branching out from classical ballet, jazz, tap, and folk Filipino dances, into Haitian and African, and more recently, salsa and zumba. But, by the time I began to re-enjoy my dance, and as years passed, I started to understand the common remark made by people with bad joints – that they could feel it was about to rain soon, due to their sore joints. I could share the realization, because my knee was becoming a barometer, of sorts. Fortunately for me, I had already started getting my Masters of Science in Acupuncture at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine-NY (PCOM), and the school’s low-cost clinic was open to the community-at-large, so I took full advantage of its offerings. One day, I went to the next available intern in the clinic (as students, we do our rounds as observers, then assistants, then finally, interns). I then met a new intern, Deatra. I swear there were birds singing in the air and tying organza ribbons behind her, she seemed so magical with her warm smile! Dramatics aside, I had a really good feeling about the session that was about to go down. I told her that my knee was sore, which had gotten worse with the damp weather that was outside. She then assessed my tongue and pulse, and then, put a few needles into my knee. For whatever reason, at that time, although I strongly believed in acupuncture (after all, I was going to school for it!), I had rarely received acupuncture treatments. Much less on my knee. By the end of my session, the soreness was gone, and my knee much more limber and infused with fresh blood coursing through through its veins! I never saw Deatra again, perhaps because her shifts were completed and she had graduated, but I was forever grateful for that session. Not only did it renew my knee, but it solidified any doubts I may have had that I was on my correct path as an acupuncturist.
I Live To Serve
Now, I get to treat patients in my office for their aches and pains, of body, mind, and spirit (because they are all connected). And, I am grateful to provide relief by interacting with their body’s meridian channels, stimulating their inner healer to promote ease and flow in the joints. Imagine the joy I have when I treat a patient’s avascular necrosis of the knee (essentially, blood flow is no longer nourishing his knee, and tissues are dying), and after a few treatments, I no longer see him, due to the fact that his knee has been feeling great! Now, I don’t know if my patients see birds singing in the air behind me, as I’d envisioned when I’d visited the intern, Deatra. But, as long as they leave feeling better than when they came in, that is enough magic for me!
Did you ever have a knee injury? If so, how did you manage your pain? Let me know in the comments, below!
May you be enjoying ease and flow,
New Online Scheduling To Be Launched!
I’ve hinted at it before, but I’ll finally be launching my online scheduling sometime next week! You will now be able to easily book your wellness/healing Acupuncture and Reiki appointments online, from the comfort of your home, or on the go. Of course, if you’d still prefer to call, email, or text me to book your appointment, I welcome that, too! To book online, just click on the “Book Now” button on my website, or in my weekly newsletters.
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All information on this website is my own opinion, and not to be taken as medical advice. Reliance on any information provided on this website is solely at your own risk. Please refer to your medical practitioner before making any medical decisions.
TinaMarch 5, 2015
Thank you for your inspiring story! My 2.5 yr old German Shepherd female, may have recently torn or ruptured her ACL in her rear left leg. I am meeting with an animal acupuncture vet next week.
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherMarch 5, 2015
Thanks for reading, Tina! I’m sorry to hear about your German Shepherd’s pain. There are many qualified practitioners who practice animal acupuncture, though. And, it sounds like you’ve found one! Speedy recovery to your furrkid.
AmalJuly 19, 2015
I am glad you can help many people ease their pain. My mother needs to do a knee replacement surgery. She tolerates the pain, but she needs to use a walker when she walks and her back is leaning forward when she stands.
What can acupuncture do for her, and what can’t it do?
I live in santa clara ,California.
I appreciate your reply.
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherJuly 19, 2015
There are many reasons people get knee replacement surgery – torn/lack of meniscus, ACL, or worn down bone area, among some. I can’t say for sure exactly what your mother can/can’t expect out of acupuncture for her knee, since I don’t know how her pain began, how long she’s had it, her medical history, her constitution, and other factors to consider. But, some of the general things she can expect from acupuncture treatments, pre-surgery, are: pain management, increased blood and Qi flow to the knee, greater mobility of the area, for starters. Depending on how much pain she’s in, it may be recommended to come in twice a week for acupuncture in the beginning to get the most benefit. In addition, it’s a good idea to be doing physical therapy, stretches, strengthening exercises, and/or massage as conjunctive therapies. Post-surgery, acupuncture can help with the above, as well as help her heal from surgery faster.
AlexJuly 23, 2015
Thank you for sharing your story, very inspirational on pursuing your goals and finding your true call.
I have a question, I’ve been browsing for an answer online. I’m 26 years old and used to play basketball. Ten days ago I just had my third surgery for torn ACL within three years (first two were with cadaver ligament, this third time with autograft from my own leg). I thought maybe traditional medicine was not going to do the trick for me, but I went under the knife because somehow I knew that my ligament needed to be replaced. My question is do you think acupuncture could have avoided me going in for the third surgery? And how much do you think acupuncture can help my case or in which way now that I had surgery??
Thanks a lot again. Blessings from Mexico.
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherJuly 23, 2015
Thanks for stopping by! That’s a lot of surgery action for your knee in 3 years. Since I don’t know your medical history in detail, and how bad your knee was pre-surgery, it is difficult for me to assess if acupuncture could’ve helped you avoid your third surgery. If your knee had no ligament support, as in it was either badly torn or disintegrated/not there, sounds like the surgery was a good call. If it did have support, or only a slight tear, it’s possible that regular acupuncture treatments could’ve been beneficial to bring fresh Qi and blood flow to the area to help it repair. But, since you’ve already had the surgery, acupuncture would be helpful so you can heal faster. I would recommend to do it as soon as your scars heal, and do it regularly to get the most benefit.
JennaAugust 31, 2018
Glad you have this up. I had ACL in 1986. i’m 48 and never had to think about it much -I’ve always danced, practiced tai chi and live actively. i was attacked by a rooster then a dog and had a series of health issues over the past two years. Both attacks were to my left leg and my walking and leg up on the couch diminished muscle mass – I could tell my left leg wilted some. Any way i’ve had a painful gardening season this year. i’ve been taking acupuncture and saw birds this week . since the physical therapy for two months bothered my knee more than strengthen i question if I was doing the excersizes wron. i still haven’t tried tai chi for a month now cause i was throbbing after practice. i did have a recent mri-everythings intact. i still made an appointment to see a surgeon although going under a knife is out of the question no way. i just want to understand what’s going on in there. It’s two days since my last acupuncture session. That night i felt tingles behind my knee in bed and just chalked it up to the continued magic of our own chi. i know i’ll continue with acupuncture. i just didn’t know if acl reconstruction has a shelf life and the repairs will eventually give up and have to be replaced. it’s artificial biological process and i want more opinions on this subject. i want to believe the repair is my body part and my knee integrated it and my body can strengthen it even if the nerve tissue is gone- it got cut so I dont have sensation there. but chi goes there right?What do you think.
SylvannahJuly 31, 2015
Hi there. Thanks for sharing your story ☺ Last year November I torn a ligament playing rugby. In March of this year I finally had surgery. Now within March & now, I have been trying to exercise & stretch my knee as much as I possibly can. But (theres always a but) I have been busy from working out finances & lifes issues as well as whatever life would throw at me, moving to another country & dealing with kids, that I had been pushing my leg to be able to walk & get on with life as well as get back to work. To this day, my knee cannot straighten 100% or bend 100%. Im scared that because I have been holding off the everyday exercises & only doing exercise whenever I could get time, that my leg will not be the same again & I will not be able to play sports or anything normal. My knee is stiff & when I stretch my leg out its in pain. Also just below my knee on my shin, it is really numb. I cannot feel anything! I could smack it so hard & not feel even the slightest touch. My question is, will accupuncture help bring back feeling to my shin, and release the tension in my knee? Hope to hear from you & once again thanks for your story! ☺
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherJuly 31, 2015
Thanks for your comment! It’s hard for me to tell for sure, since I don’t know your age, your medical history, and if you’re normally a physically active person. Sounds like you really need to make your knee rehabilitation a priority. Life can get busy, but it’s vital to make time to rehab your knee, especially post surgery. It’ll affect your mobility long-term. Although it would have been ideal to start doing the exercises, and then physical therapy, and acupuncture after your surgery scars had healed to get optimal healing and mobility, at least it’s only been 4 months since the surgery. The numbness below your knee on the shin is because the nerve enervating that area was probably severed during surgery, which happened to me, too, although not as pronounced. Acupuncture can definitely help your knee, but you need to consult a Licensed Acupuncturist in your area to get a true assessment. I also recommend doing the exercises daily, and do regular physical therapy.
FrankAugust 24, 2015
I’m a 21 year old active male. I tore my ACL, MCL, and sprained my PCL in my left knee playing basketball on April 1st. This is my first knee injury. My MCL and PCL have healed but I’m currently living with no ACL. I’m getting surgery on my ACL sometime in early January. My pain level in my knee is a 1 or 2. I really don’t get pain unless I am on it for a long time or trying to do something I’m not supposed to like hiking. My question for you is when should I start doing acupuncture. Should I start doing it now leading up to surgery. I’m still a college student so I also have to keep in mind the costs. Or can it wait just a few weeks before I undergo surgery? In the meantime, I’ve just been trying to strengthen my legs leading up to surgery. I was told stronger going into surgery, stronger coming out = faster recovery time.
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherAugust 26, 2015
Thanks for your comment! You can start doing acupuncture now to get the Qi & Blood flowing into those previously injured areas, and then of course post-surgery after the scars have healed. I’m glad you’re not really experiencing any pain. If you’re concerned about costs, find out if you have insurance that includes acupuncture as a benefit. If so, find an acupuncturist who’s covered under your plan (usually can be found by checking out the insurance website providers). If not, you can check out community acupuncture, which is usually lower cost, since it’s acupuncture in a community atmosphere (no private room).
Steve ZimmettJuly 21, 2017
Margarita: I’ve read your comments about acupuncture.I,m wondering if I should allow surgery on my right knee bacause I have a meniscus tear.You speak of blood flowing to the knee and I believe this is my problem. ON a scale of 1 to 10 I believe it’s probably a 4. ITs been this way for about 2 years and I believe the doctor who subscribed this surgery could be wrong. I’ll have this surgery in about 2weeks but I still wonder if I should allow this.Any advice would be helpful.Thanks for any comments,Steve Zimmett
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherJuly 24, 2017
Since you’re not my patient, I’m unable to recommend whether or not you should head for surgery. But, if you’re having any doubts about your surgery, then you may want to get a second opinion about this! Surgery or not, acupuncture would definitely be helpful in your pain management.
VivAugust 31, 2015
I have a partial acl tear with a possible meniscus tear after slipping on a wet floor and dislocating my patella. I have been advised a conservative approach rather than surgery is all they consider i need. I am a middle aged woman who plays no sport so once my quad is stronger my acl should be ok. I am now in the 8th week post accident and my knee is still swollen and about 15 degrees off being able to straighten with pain and tightness after many physio sessions. I asked imy physio if acupuncture would help and she encouraged me to try. Had my first session today and feel very positive. He felt my pulse and told me my liver & kidneys were weak. He massaged my neck but things are very tight (i have been very anxious and possibly a little depressed about my injury and slow recovery) he inserted needles in my belly/knee/foot and put a current through a couple in the knee, he then did some cupping on my back and accupressure some of which especially my lower back and foot was incredibly intense. My knee does feel more free moving. I feel drained and dry but strangely more positive. Is there other things that i can do for my liver/kidneys to help as he told me these need to be well for me to heal.
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherSeptember 3, 2015
Thanks for reading! Sounds like you are on the road to healing, and it’s good that you’ve been addressing the issue with physical therapy and acupuncture. For foods to benefit the liver, check out my blog post, “Spring Renewal Workshop A Success And Foods That Benefit The Liver” (https://alcantaraacupuncture.com/spring-renewal-workshop-a-success-and-foods-that-benefit-the-liver/). To help the kidneys, check out my blog, “How Overwork Can Tax Your Kidneys” (https://alcantaraacupuncture.com/how-overwork-can-tax-your-kidneys/).
V.M GeorgeApril 8, 2016
As a grade 12 student aspiring to be the captain and M.V.P of my Ultimate frisbee team, and as a starter for rugby, I had everything I really wanted. Then I had a complete tear in my ACL, and lateral meniscus, and with that, everything that I had worked for went crumbling away. I was depressed, I even cried, and as a man who preferred not to let emotions get the better of me, I let the injury did. I struggled constantly to find what I was truly worth, since I had placed everything I was, on my 2 good legs, and to even that leave, I didn’t know who to rely on. I would have constant dreams about being unable to jump as high, and when I did jump, for my leg to give way with the excruciating pain that I first had when I tore the ligament. I am still struggling a year later after rehab/surgery, with constant pain and discomfort. I just went for my first acupuncture treatment which I found out at my University, and to be honest, I have no clue as to whether it would work or not. I am putting all my faith into it, since I really want to get back into competitive sports, and hopefully even join a pro team, the question being, would my knee allow for this?
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherApril 9, 2016
It sounds like you’ve been really disappointed by what’s happened in your life after you tore your ACL. It must be frustrating to deal with the pain post-surgery. Keep at what you’re doing with acupuncture, as one treatment post-surgery and after a chronic knee injury is not enough to assess a true prognosis. Ditto for other therapies like massage, physical therapy, etc. You’ve come this far, don’t give up!
ArjunApril 18, 2017
Hi. I had a total acl tear in my right knee. I didn’t go for the surgery. I have taken acupuncture treatment and that doctor said that about 50 to 60% is healed. But I am not completely satisfied, should I go for surgery or go for another acupuncture session. And my age is 27. So please suggest me the best way for completely fit. And my muscles are rigid as I feel. please suggest me what should I do and the MRI doctor said it’s only 20% healed so what should I do.
ArjunApril 18, 2017
And one more thing that I am from India please suggest me the best doctor and treatment of it.
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherApril 20, 2017
Thanks for your question! Unfortunately, since I do not know your medical history, and you are not my patient, I am unable to advise you on whether or not you should have surgery for your knee. If you had a complete tear of your ACL, it is no longer there to stabilize you. What I do recommend is having further discussion with your acupuncturist, knee doctor, physical therapist, and anyone else on your wellness team to find out what the best next steps would be for you.
OVJune 25, 2017
Thank you for sharing your story! I am curious how your knee is currently doing, a few years post ACL reconstruction. I myself tore my ACL and MCL two years ago while skiing, and went for an ACL reconstruction about a year and a half ago. I feel as though both the surgery and rehab went relatively well. I am currently a very active person, working out 4-6 times a week, mostly consisting of crossbody training, weight training, and some cardio. However, even though a year and a half have passed and I am able to do relatively intense workouts, I still have pain in my knee which limits me, and I am wondering if it will ever go away or whether ACL reconstruction patients deal with pain for the rest of their lives (though I do have friends and acquaintances who have had this surgery years ago and they seem to be pain free, so I have some hope). The pain especially occurs in the back of my knee in the area where I believe the hamstring tendon and IT band attach to the bone and it occurs when I am trying to fully straighten the knee while standing or laying down, or when in a deep squat, and I experience a weird stringy/cracking sensation when I try to straighten it. I am curious if acupuncture can help heal my knee, as it seems it had never fully healed, or whether acupuncture can at least manage the pain. Any input you may have would be greatly appreciated.
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherJune 26, 2017
Actually, as my article mentioned, it’s been about 20 years since my ACL reconstruction, so it’s been more than a few years! And, thanks for asking, my knee is perfectly fine. As revealed in the article, I did much rehab and was on top of that. And, at the time, I was not familiar with acupuncture. I’m sure it would’ve healed faster if I had some acupuncture before surgery and during recovery! You may want to make sure you are massaging the area of pain in the back of the knee, to make sure there are no adhesions happening, and to keep blood flow to the area. Also, it is not uncommon to have the larger part of healing in the beginning, and some lingering “adjustments” in the body for a while afterwards. This could mean some lingering pain or bruising that takes a while to resolve. And, yes, you should definitely receive acupuncture from a Licensed Acupuncturist in your area to speed the healing!
Ann SpartanJanuary 5, 2018
My friend is having some tears and sprains in his right knee. He is 24 years old. He is into sports and he happened to get pain when he twists or turns his leg. Whenever he gets it, he ignored to proceed with surgery and beared those pain for a month and will lead a normal life for few months until he twists his knee again. This kept repeating for 3 years. This time it got worse and proceeded with X-ray, which resulted normal. Further we did MRI and mentioned below is the scan result :
ULTRA HIGH FIELD 3T MRI – RIGHT KNEE
-AXIAL PD FAT SAT
-CORONAL PD FAT SAT
-SAGITTAL T2 FSE, PD FS
-Large right knee joint effusion seen.
-ACL proximal femoral attachment full thickness complete tear seen.
-Medical meniscus posterior horn outer 3rd complex oblique and vertical longitudinal tear seen.
-Lateral meniscus body posterior horn and anterior horn medially displaced bucket handle tear seen.
-MCL grade I sprain seen.
-LCL grade I sprain seen.
-Postero-medical and postero-lateral corner structures appear normal.
-Normal alignment of right knee joint noted. The distal femur, proximal tibia, fibula and patella show normal marrow signal. The articular margins appear normal. Tibio fibular joint is normal.
-The PCL show normal insertion, thickness and signal intensity.
-Patellar and popliteal tendons are normal.
-The peri articular muscles show normal signal intensity.
-Popliteal vessels appear normal.
Let me know your suggestions, He doesn’t want to get operated. Can it be cured in Acupuncture alone or by any other means without surgery?
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/TeacherJanuary 5, 2018
Thanks for your inquiry!
However, I’m unable to advise your friend on next steps with his knee, since he is not my patient. I recommend that he sees a local Licensed Acupuncturist for an assessment on how acupuncture can help him, as well as whether surgery would be advisable or not.
FYI: if he has a complete tear of his ACL, he will have some decisions to make.
SophiaMay 10, 2018
Hi! I have a quick question. I am 18 years old and am very active. I play soccer and lacrosse competitively. I got surgery a year and a half ago and still have knee problems. My patella tendon was used but I have patella tendonosis now. I did pt and also worked with a trainer to get back on the field. I have tried everything and now just started acupuncture. I have pain from acupuncture on the side of my knee and near my patella pain too. I have only been to three sessions though. Just wondering, even after 1 and a half out of surgery do you think acupuncture can help relieve my patella pain and my ongoing knee pain? Or being so far out of surgery acupuncture may not be the best solution to my problem? Thank you.
Margarita Alcantara, M.S.Ac., L.Ac., Reiki Master/Teacher, Medicine WomanMay 13, 2018
Acupuncture is great for knee pain, no matter what stage of healing it’s in. That said, you should discuss your concerns about your acupuncture experience, and prognosis, with your acupuncturist. It is common to have a series of treatments in order to resolve the pain, as well as initially feel some intensity in the knee when first getting things moving in the are, as a result of the acupuncture.