Knee pain is a common complaint. Some knee pain is due to injuries, such as a torn ACL or meniscus or a fracture, while other knee complaints stem from underlying conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tendinitis, and bursitis, to name a few. Certain sports, such as skiing and basketball, increase the likelihood of a knee-related injury. Excess weight, lack of strength, and previous injury are also risk factors for knee problems.
Causes of Knee Pain
1. Injuries and sprains
Knee pain may result from an injury such as a sprain, a torn ligament (such as an ACL injury), or damage to the knee cap. However, knee pain can also stem from an infection or an underlying condition, including forms of arthritis detailed below.
Osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis, often affects the knees.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between bones breaks down. The onset of the condition is usually in middle age, and it is most prevalent in women over the age of 50.
Knee pain due to osteoarthritis may increase related to weather and can feel like stiffness, tenderness, swelling. The condition can even result in joint deformity and limping. It can be treated with medication, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery.
3. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Another common cause of knee pain is rheumatoid arthritis, which is caused by the immune system attacking joint linings, known as synovium. The attacked synovium becomes thicker, resulting in joint inflammation and pain and sometimes a low-grade fever and fatigue. Similar to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis usually develops in middle age and affects more women than men. The condition is typically treated through a combination of diet, rest, exercise, heat, topical products, and supplements.
Another rheumatological condition that can affect the knees is tendinitis, which is a swelling of the tendons that connect muscle to bone.
Tendinitis is commonly found in athletes and others who perform repetitive motions. The condition may resolve itself, especially if the affected area is rested or immobilized. Analgesics, NSAIDs, and corticosteroids are often prescribed as are physical or occupational therapies.
Bursitis may also cause knee pain. Bursitis occurs when the fluid-filled sac, called a bursa, which serves as a cushion between bones and tendons, muscle, or skin, becomes inflamed. Repetitive motion can increase the chances of developing bursitis; accordingly, athletes and manual laborers are all at increased risk. Bursitis may go away after time. Rest and the use of sprints or braces may alleviate symptoms, and analgesics and NSAIDs are also commonly used to treat bursitis.
Treatment Options for Knee Pain
As knee pain has many causes, treatments differ. However, the most common recommendation for mild knee pain is “RICE” – rest, ice, compression, elevation. Knee braces are often used to immobilize the joint; these can be purchased over the counter. Mild exercise, including walking, swimming, stretching, and weight conditioning, may prove beneficial.
Both over the counter and prescription drugs are used to treat knee pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, as well as naproxen sodium (Aleve), can relieve knee pain; stronger drugs may be prescribed for more severe cases. Physical therapy may be prescribed in some cases as well, especially for those recovering from surgery.
If knee pain follows an injury or if you can’t bear any weight on your knee, seek out medical care immediately. Those suffering from acute pain, or from the pain that does not subside, should also see a physician as soon as possible. Rheumatologists are often consulted for knee pain, as it can stem from conditions such as those outlined above. Physicians often use x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to diagnose the cause or causes of knee pain.
Prevention of Knee Pain
Focusing on prevention is an effective strategy for many people to avoid or minimize knee pain. Eating a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy weight are both recommended.
Reducing stress can also reduce the likelihood of an injury and/or the development of a rheumatological condition which may cause knee pain. Alternative therapies may help some people suffering from knee pain. Common alternative therapies include yoga, meditation, massage, and acupuncture.
Warming up before intense exercise or sport reduces the likelihood of injury, as does pay attention to proper form or technique. Maintaining strength, flexibility and balance are all important, especially for older patients.