Q: Dear Dr. Mao,
I was recently diagnosed with Baker’s cysts and was referred to an orthopedic doctor; he recommended I try physical therapy. I am finding the physical therapy terribly painful. Should I still be doing PT with so much pain? This physical therapy seems to be worsening my situation. I would appreciate a perspective from alternative medicine and natural health.
A: Baker’s cysts, also known as popliteal cysts, are fluid collections behind the knee. The condition can be caused by the herniation of the knee joint capsule out into the back of the knee, which is more common in adults and is commonly associated with a tear in the meniscal cartilage of the knee. In older adults, this condition is frequently associated with degenerative arthritis of the knee. Unless the collected fluid is drained, it may persist and cause substantial discomfort and pain; physical therapy may actually produce more pain. I would discuss the possibility of draining the fluid, and correcting any possible underlying problems, whether tears or herniation, prior to engaging in physical therapy. I recommend acupuncture in conjunction with physical therapy to alleviate the pain and help with the function of the knee joint. As a recent NIH research (www.nih.gov/news/pr/dec2004/nccam-20.htm) illustrates, acupuncture can be helpful in alleviating pain associated with joint problems.
There are several important Chinese herbs that are also helpful in building and maintaining strong knee joints, such as Rhizoma Drynariae and Cortex Eucommiae. Your acupuncturist will be able to assemble a specific prescription for your needs.