Knee pain is one of the most common complaints affecting people of all ages. Pain in the knee may be the result of a traumatic injury like a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. Or, it can be related to medical conditions like arthritis, gout, or an infection.
Some instances of minor knee pain will respond well to self-care measures like anti-inflammatories and rest, others require physical therapy or a knee brace for support. And in some cases, knee injuries require surgical repair.
What Are The Symptoms?
There are many tell-tale signs of knee injury or knee pain. These include, but are not limited to the following:
- Swelling or stiffness
- Feeling warm to the touch
- Weakness or instability
- Popping or crunching noises when you move it
- Loss of range of motion
How Do I Know If My Knee Pain Is Serious?
Sometimes, a trip to the doctor is in store if you are experiencing any of the following:
- You are unable to bear weight on your knee of you feel as though it may give out on you
- You are experiencing marked swelling
- You are unable to fully extend or flex your knee
- There is an obvious deformity in your knee or leg
- You are experiencing a fever in addition to redness, pain, and swelling
- You are experiencing severe pain associated with a knee injury
What Are The Causes?
There are many causes of knee pain. Things like injuries, illnesses, mechanical problems, and more can be the culprit.
Let’s first start with knee pain that’s caused by injuries.
An injury to the knee can affect several parts of the knee. There’s the ligaments, tendons, bones, cartilage, and bursae (fluid-filled sacs). There’s a lot of potential injuries, right?
Some of the most common injuries include the following:
ACL: ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament and it’s on the four ligaments that connect your shinbone to your thighbone, can you picture it? ACL injuries are very common among athletes who play sports that require them to make sudden changes in direction.
Fracture: The bones in your knees are susceptible to breaks, especially when challenged by a traumatic blow like the kind created by a collision or fall. That said, some people who have weakened bones from diseases like Osteoarthritis may simply take a wrong step and experience a fracture.
Torn Meniscus: Your meniscus is tough, rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between your shin and thigh bones. If you were to twist your knee suddenly, you’re at risk for tearing your meniscus.
Knee Bursitis: Your bursae are the small, fluid-filled sacs that provide cushion to the outside of your knee joint. If you experience an accident or injury to the knee, the bursae can become irritated, limiting their ability to cushion your joint and thus causing you pain.
Patellar Tendinitis: This refers to an irritation or inflammation of one or more tendons in your knee. Your patellar tendon attached your quadriceps muscle (on the front of your thigh bone) to your shinbone. Those who are most susceptible to this type of injury include runners, skiers, cyclists, and anyone who participates in an activity that involves jumping.
Mechanical problems can sometimes be the cause of knee pain. Here are some examples:
- Loose Body: Often, when you injure your knee or it’s degenerating, a piece of bone or cartilage can break off and float in your joint space. This can cause a problem for you if it floats into the way of your knee joint movement. Picture a pencil caught in a door hinge – you wouldn’t be able to fully bend or flex your knee with something blocking it, right?
- Iliotibial Band Syndrome: Iliotibial band is the band of tough tissue that runs from the outside of your hip to the outside of your knee. Sometimes, this band becomes so tight that it rubs against the outer portion of your femur, causing pain and discomfort.
- Dislocated Patella (Kneecap): You can dislocate your knee when your patella, the bone that covers the front of your knee, slips out of place.
- Pain In Your Hip or Foot: If you’re experiencing pain, you may begin to change the way you walk to stay off your “bad” knee – that makes sense, right? But the altered gate that results can actually place more stress on your knee joint, which can lead to problems in your hip or foot.
What Can Cause Knee Pain Without Injury?
If you’re experiencing knee pain, but you know that you didn’t injure it as the result of an accident, then you may be suffering from arthritis. There are many types of arthritis, we’ll walk through the ones that are most likely to affect the knee below:
- Osteoarthritis: This type is frequently called degenerative arthritis and it’s the most common type there is. It’s a wear and tear condition, which means that it happens over time as you use your knees. Eventually, the cartilage in your knees starts to deteriorate the more you use it and the older you get.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is an autoimmune condition that can affect almost any joint in your body. It’s the most debilitating form of arthritis, but the pain can come and go.
- Gout: This refers to the buildup of uric acid crystals in your joins. Gout is most commonly associated with the big toe, but can also occur in the knee.
- Septic Arthritis: This type of arthritis occurs when your knee joint becomes infected, which can lead to painful swelling and redness. This can quickly cause damage to your knee cartilage, so it’s important that you call your doctor right away if you have these symptoms.
What Does Arthritis In Knee Feel Like?
Depending on the type and severity of your arthritis, the knee may feel tender, painful, and be inflamed. Generally, the pain develops and worsens over time, although it is possible for it to come on suddenly.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Are you at risk for knee pain? There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of having knee pain and problems, let’s take a look:
- Excess Weight: When you have excess wearing bearing on your joints constantly, you’re at a higher risk for injury and overuse. Excess weight increases your risk of osteoarthritis by working to accelerate the breakdown of your knee cartilage.
- Muscle Weakness: If you lack muscle strength and flexibility, you’re at risk for injuries to your knees. When your muscles are strong, they stabilize and protect your joints. And when your muscles are flexible, they can help you achieve a full range of motion.
- Sports and Activities: Participating in sports or activities that put greater stress on your knees can increase your risk for injury and knee pain. Sports that require you to make quick, sudden changes in direction, like basketball, football, and soccer, can all increase your chances of experiencing injury and pain. Likewise, if you work a job that requires repetitive stress on your knees, like construction or farming, you’re also at increased risk.
- History of Injury: If you’ve injured your knee once, even if it healed or was repaired, you’re at a greater risk for injuring it again. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
What Can I Do To Relieve Knee Pain?
When knee pain strikes, and it’s not the result of an obvious injury that requires immediate medical intervention, here are some things you can do to begin feeling relief:
- Rest it: Try taking a break from using your knee if possible by resting it and avoiding any activities that are causing you pain.
- Ice or Heat: Apply ice or heat directly to your knee to reduce both the pain and inflammation.
- Compression: Apply pressure to your knee with a bandage or brace to reduce swelling and hold it in place.
- Elevate it: Prop your knee up on some pillows so that it can promote drainage of excess fluids and swelling.