Knee pain is a common reason people visit the doctor. The pain is often due to injury but medical conditions can cause pain as well. Depending on the type of damage, the pain can be minor or major.
Signs, symptoms and Causes
The knee is very complex and an injury can affect any of the ligaments, tendons or fluid-filled sacs that surround the knee. Signs and symptoms are varied, such as:
Pain due to injury
Ligament injuries. The knee contains four ligaments. These ligaments usually tear because of a fall or contact trauma, like in sports like football. The pain ranges from mild to severe. It hurts worse when walking or bending the knee. Torn ligaments may also cause a knee to buckle or feel as if it might give way. This can cause you to not be able to support your own weight.
Tendon injuries. Tendinitis is irritation and inflammation of one or more tendons. Runners are especially prone to develop this. It often causes pain and swelling at the front of the knee and just below the kneecap. The pain is felt when you jump, run, squat or climb stairs. If the tendon is completely ruptured, extending or straightening the knee is impossible.
Dislocated kneecap. Occurs when the bone that covers the front of the knee slips out of place. The dislocations will be seen, and the kneecap will move side to side. There will be intense pain and swelling. Once you have had a dislocated kneecap, you are at increased risk of having it happen again.
Pain due to a medical condition
Rheumatoid arthritis. The most debilitating type of arthritis that can affect any joint in the body, including the knees. There will be pain and swelling, aching and stiffness, loss of motion in knees and eventually deformity of knee joints. There will be flare-ups often.
Osteoarthritis. Also called degenerative arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis. Occurs when the cartilage in the knee deteriorates with use and age. Varying degrees of pain and swelling. Leads to stiffness and a loss of flexibility.
Gout. A type of arthritis that causes redness, swelling and intense pain in the knee that comes on suddenly. Pain lasts five to ten days and then stops.
Breaking the cycle of inflammation that begins right after an injury is key to treating many types of knee pain. A few simple self-care measures can end this cycle. Start treating your injury right away and continue for at least 48 hours.
Referred to by the acronym P.R.I.C.E., self-care measures include:
Protection. Protect your knee from further damage. Use a compression wrap for most minor injuries and crutches or a brace for more serious ones.
Rest. Give the injury time to heal.
Ice. Reduces both pain and inflammation. Doctors recommend applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day.
Compression. Helps prevent fluid buildup and maintains knee alignment and stability. Look for a lightweight bandage.
Elevation. Gravity drains away fluids and helps reduce swelling.
Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium (Aleve, Naprosyn), can help relieve pain. But there is a limit to how much pain they can control. Your doctor can always prescribe something stronger.
The goal of physical therapy is to strengthen the muscles around the knee and help you regain knee stability. Some exercises can be done at home while others require weight machines, exercise bikes or treadmills that are found at athletic clubs, fitness centers or clinics.
Depending on many factors, your doctor may suggest surgery. Usually, it is not necessary to have the operation immediately. Most times, you will do better if you wait until the swelling goes down and you regain strength in your knee.
There are some things you can do to decrease your risk of knee pain. Prevention is not always possible, but the following may help forestall injuries and joint deterioration: Keeping extra pounds off, Staying limber, Making sure shoes fit well and Listening to your body.