Knee Pain Information

The knee is a complex joint made up of three bones: the femur, tibia, and patella. The interaction of these bones, the compartments between them, and the surrounding muscles provides much opportunity for pain and injury.

Knee pain is common, causing approximately one-third of all doctor visits in the U.S. Injuries such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage, and medical conditions including arthritis and gout can all cause significant knee pain. The most common knee injuries fall under three categories: Sprain (of a ligament), Tear (of meniscus), and Strain (of a muscle).

Common knee pain causing conditions include bone chips, bursitis, iliotibial band syndrome, medial plica syndrome, Osgood-Schlatter Disease, osteoarthritis, and tendonitis. Self-care measures often help, and even resolve, many types of minor knee pain.

For more serious injury and medical conditions, physical therapy, knee braces, or surgical repair may be required. Not all cases of knee pain are preventable, but there are ways to reduce the likelihood of joint weakness and deterioration.

Maintaining a healthy weight prevents any extra strain on joints and reduces the risk of ligament and tendon injuries as well as osteoarthritis. Balance and stability training strengthens the muscles around the knees and helps them work together more effectively. Finally, low-impact exercise such as swimming and water aerobics strengthen joints without adding stress.

Knee Pain Symptoms

Knee pain is a symptom of overuse, injury, or a more serious condition. Additional symptoms, and the severity of pain, vary depending on the specific cause. Anyone who suffers chronic pain, often while bending or straightening the knee, swelling, an inability to bear weight on the knee, popping or crunching during movement, locking, or have a fever in addition to the redness and swelling should consult a physician for a thorough exam that may include x-rays and MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

It is possible for injury or degeneration to cause a piece of bone or cartilage to break off and float in the joint space. This is called “Loose Body”, and may not create problems, unless it interferes with the knee joint movement.

This is different from a dislocated kneecap, which occurs when the triangular bone (patella) the covers the knee’s front slips out of place. Hip or foot pain may also cause, or be the effect of, knee pain, as any shift in the normal walking motion can cause stress and aggravate joints over time.

Knee Pain Treatment

Not all knee pain is serious, but some injuries and conditions, such as osteoarthritis, can lead to increasing pain, joint damage, and disability if untreated. An untreated knee injury increases the likelihood of developing similar injuries down the road.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol), ibuprofen (e.g. Advil), and naproxen (e.g. Aleve), may help ease knee pain. Massaging the knees, in combination with the application of creams containing lidocaine (a numbing agent), or capsaicin (e.g. Icy Hot) may also provide relief.

Other home remedies include rest, icing for no longer than twenty minutes at a time, compression bandages, and elevation (propping the knee above the waist). Medical knee pain treatments vary greatly, depending on the cause of the pain.

A doctor may prescribe pain-relieving medications to treat deeper conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or gout. For injury and other conditions, physical therapy will be necessary to strengthen the muscles around the knee for greater stability and balance.

Arch supports and different types of braces are recommended to help shift pressure away from whichever side of the knee is most affected by osteoarthritis. More invasive solutions may involve injections and surgery. Consider the pros and cons of both nonsurgical rehabilitation and surgical reconstruction before making a final decision regarding treatment.

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