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THE FACTS ON KNEE PAIN:

WHAT IS KNEE PAIN?

At one time or another, some of us may experience some level of knee pain. The largest joint in your body, your knee takes quite a beating between the running, jumping, standing, bending, kicking, dancing … all the moving you do. Your knees are subject to a lot of force. For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, going up and down stairs feels like carrying 300-500 pounds to your knees. This can stress the tendons and ligaments that support your knees and kneecaps. So when knee pain strikes, it can quickly put the brakes on your life, either slowing you down or stopping you from moving altogether.

While the symptoms of knee pain may vary depending on the cause, common symptoms include knees that are red, warm and swollen, stiff with reduced mobility (may be unable to straighten), weak and unstable, or producing noises like popping or crunching sounds.

WHAT CAUSES KNEE PAIN?

Many factors can contribute to achy knees. Weakness, instability or excess forces from exercise and other activity – and sometimes specific conditions or diseases – they all can be a cause of knee pain. Most commonly, however, knee pain comes from everyday exertions that put stress and strain on your knees.

Other common causes of knee pain include:

  • Chondromalacia: Often caused by overuse, misalignment, muscular weakness, or injury, this condition results in the softening and breakdown of cartilage of the kneecap. This condition is common in young adults, runners, skiers, cyclists, and soccer players. Symptoms often include a dull pain that worsens when weight is placed on the knee as it straightens, such as while climbing down stairs or hills.

  • Meniscal injuries: The menisci of the knee can become torn when you rotate your knee while putting weight on your leg (such as during sports like tennis or basketball). Often, meniscal damage can leave your knee feeling painful when straightened, and swollen. Your knee may also feel weak, lock, give-way, or making clicking sounds.

  • Cruciate ligament injuries: Often referred to as a sprain, sudden twisting motions and direct impact can result in this kind of injury. Your knee may give-way when you stand on it and you may hear a popping sound.

  • Medial and lateral collateral ligament: This kind of injury is common in contact sports, such as football or hockey. It is often the result of a blow to the outer side of the knee. Pain and swelling often occur with this injury. You may also find your knee makes a popping noise and buckles sideways when you put weight on it.
  • Tendon injuries: Overusing a tendon, as can occur during repeated activities, such as cycling, running, or dancing, can stretch the tendon and cause it to become inflamed. The repeated force of hitting the ground can also stress the tendon, which can occur with sports like basketball. Tendonitis and tears are painful and will make walking, jumping, and running difficult. Tears in particular often cause severe limited mobility of the knee.

  • Osgood-Schlatter disease: Common in young and active individuals, such as those involved in running and jumping activities, this disease is the result of tension or repetitive stress to the upper tibia. Often it results in pain below the knee that is made worse with activity, and resolves with rest. It may also result in a bump below the kneecap.

  • Iliotibial band syndrome: This syndrome is often the result of long-term overuse and stress, such as in runners. It is an inflammatory condition. It can cause a burning pain in the side of the knee, that may radiate up the leg.

  • Osteochondritis dissecans: This can result from a lack of blood flow to an area of bone beneath a joint surface. This is often a spontaneous condition that affects young, active adults or adolescents. It can cause sharp knee pain, weakness, and locking.

  • Plica syndrome: This syndrome occurs when the plicae tissue of the knee become irritated, usually by injury or overuse. This leads to knee locking, clicking, weakness, pain, and swelling.

HOW TO HELP PREVENT KNEE PAIN?

  • Avoid repetitive stress on your knee joints, such as that sustained during running or jumping
  • Lose weight if you need to. Every one pound you lose can reduce the burden on your knees
  • Physical therapy and strengthening exercises for lower body muscles can often be helpful in promoting knee recovery and preventing future injury. Increasing the strength of the muscles on the front and back of your thighs can help to make your knee more stable. Improving your techniques and movement patterns can also be helpful in preventing a knee injury

Other prevention methods include muscle conditioning, and improving patterns of movement and technique for sports, practicing good technique, building muscle, and maintaining flexibility, and possibly switching to a low-impact sports, sport (such as swimming) to reduce undue stress on your knees.

HOW TO RELIEVE KNEE PAIN?

Your best knee pain treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the pain. Often, a combination of rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the affected knee can help to alleviate some symptoms. Over-the-counter pain medications can also help to provide some knee pain relief.

Unless you have a more serious, chronic condition, there are some simple tips that can help you get the knee pain relief you need:

  • Use insoles or inserts that provide a combination of shock absorption, cushioning and support for your feet, which in turn can help relieve knee pain and move more comfortably. Dr. Scholl’s Orthotics for Knee Pain are clinically proven to relieve and help prevent general knee pain as well as Runner’s Knee and Knee Osteoarthritis.
  • For those with flat feet, orthotics prescribed by healthcare professionals may provide relief for sore knees, by reducing the physical stress on the knee and improving foot and leg alignment. Braces may also be used to support and protect the knee.
  • It is best to contact your doctor if you are:
    • Having difficulty putting weight on your knee.
    • Unable to flex or extend your knee to its full extent.
    • Experiencing significant swelling.
    • Experiencing a fever alongside knee swelling, redness, and pain.
    • Finding your knee gives-way or can’t support your weight.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What to do for knee pain

If you have knee pain that’s persistent and making it difficult for you to perform daily tasks, it’s important to see a doctor in order to determine the cause of the pain and come up with a treatment plan that helps knee pain. It can be difficult to get rid of knee pain completely. However, depending on the nature of your injury or condition, your doctor can help put together a treatment plan. While there’s no easy way to fix knee pain, there are a number of effective ways to treat knee pain. Treatment and therapy may include:

  • Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs – Medications that address pain and inflammation associated with knee pain are available over-the-counter. If the pain doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medications, a doctor may recommend prescription medications.
  • Physical therapy – Your doctor may recommend a physical therapist if you have knee pain. A physical therapist knows what’s good for knee pain and can craft an exercise routine to help improve strength and stability in order to reduce pressure on the knees.
  • Insoles and orthotics – Along with wearing well-fitting shoes with good padding and arch support, it can be helpful to use insoles or orthotics in order to absorb shock and reduce impact on the knees. Your doctor may also recommend a brace.
  • Cortisone injections – Cortisone injections may be recommended in some cases in order to reduce inflammation, a primary source of pain. Other types of medicines can be injected directly into the knee as well.
  • Surgery – In more severe cases of knee pain due to injury or a medical condition, surgery may be recommended. There are a number of different types of knee surgery available depending on the condition of the knee as well as a number of other considerations.

What can cause knee pain without injury?

There are a number of causes of knee pain that don’t involve an injury to the knee. These include:

  • Pain in other areas – If there’s another area of your lower body such as the feet or hips where you’re experiencing pain, you may alter the way you walk in order to compensate. This can put extra pressure on your knees, resulting in pain.
  • Mechanical issues – Certain types of mechanical problems can cause pain despite there being no actual injury to the knee. Examples include a dislocated or loose knee cap and Iliotibial band syndrome which is commonly referred to as IT band syndrome. This is where the iliotibial band (a band of connective tissue that runs along the thigh from just above the hip area to below the knee) becomes tight and rubs against the thigh bone. This can cause inflammation, irritation and pain.
  • Arthritis – Specific types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis affect the joints, including the knees, and can contribute to pain.
  • Being overweight – Excess weight can put additional pressure on the knees, resulting in pain.

How do I know if my knee pain is serious?

In order to know if your knee pain is serious, you’ll need an evaluation by a doctor who may recommend certain tests in order to determine the cause of the knee pain. These tests may include an ultrasound, MRI, CT scan or X-ray. Blood and fluid tests may also be recommended in order to make a diagnosis

What causes pain behind the knee?

There are a number of potential causes of pain behind the knee. It’s important for severe or persistent pain to be evaluated by a doctor in order to determine what causes pain in the back of the knee. Some common causes include:

  • Baker’s cyst – This type of cyst forms behind the knee, creating a bulge. This can lead to tightness and pain behind the knee.
  • Hamstring injury or inflammation – Because the hamstring muscles run along the back of the thigh to the area below the knee, inflammation or injury can lead to pain in the back of the knee.
  • Ligament tears – Injuries that involve tears to ligaments, such as the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), can result in pain in the back of the knee.
  • Iliotibial band syndrome – Also called IT band syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome occurs when a band of tissue called the iliotibial band rubs against the bone of the thigh and becomes irritated or inflamed. This can lead to pain behind the knee.
  • Arthritis – Specific types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis and gout can cause pain in all areas of the knee, including the area in the back of the knee.

Torn meniscus – It’s common for athletes who make repeated twisting and turning movements to experience a torn meniscus (a tear in a piece of cartilage located in the knee). A torn meniscus can lead to pain in several areas of the knee, including behind the knee.

Can sciatica cause knee pain?

Yes, sciatica can cause knee pain. Because the sciatic nerve runs all the way from the lower back down through the legs, pain can be experienced anywhere in this area, including in the knees.

How long does pain last after knee replacement?

It can take several weeks to several months for pain to resolve following knee replacement surgery as the condition of the knee gradually improves over time. The duration of pain will vary greatly between individuals based on a number of factors including the type of surgery, rate of healing, degree of swelling and consistency with a physical therapy regimen. It will take time, possibly as long as a year to heal knee pain completely and for the knee to be fully functional.

How to stop knee pain

There’s no clear solution for stopping knee pain completely. However, there are lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of knee pain. These include:

  • Healthy body weight – Excess weight exerts pressure on the knees and over time, it can contribute to pain. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can help you avoid knee pain.
  • Strengthening exercises – When the muscles that support the knee are stronger, the knee is more resistant to injury and stress. This can help reduce the risk of knee pain.
  • Low impact sports – Healthy activities like walking, cycling and swimming are easier on the knees than high impact activities like running and are therefore less likely to cause knee pain.
  • Proper foot attire – Well-fitted shoes with good support can improve alignment and absorb shock in order to minimize the risk of knee pain. For added support, you can add insoles, inserts or orthotics to your shoes. Avoid wearing high heels whenever possible as this type of shoe throws off body alignment and puts pressure on the knees.

How to relieve knee pain at night

If knee pain is making it difficult for you to sleep, try placing a pillow between your knees when you’re on your side or under your knees if you sleep on your back. This keeps the knees bent which can help ease knee pain at night.