The knee is one of the most pain-susceptible body parts. Whether it’s excessive walking, an injury, or aging, knee pain seems to be inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to live in pain. Prevention and knee pain relief are entirely possible if you know the cause of pain.
We may not be doctors, but we have done our research and can at least help push you in the right direction in your search for answers. This article will cover some of the questions you may have about knee pain and its causes, treatment, and prevention.
What Causes Knee Pain?
There can be many different causes of knee pain, depending on both your age and on how you go about your daily activities. As we’ve mentioned earlier, the right diagnosis should come from your doctor, but let’s take a look at some of the most common roots of this issue.
Sprained Knee Ligaments
The knee has four major ligaments—tissues that connect the bones and make your knee strong and stable. The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is generally the one most prone to tears and most likely to cause knee pain. One of the easiest ways to tear this ligament is a sudden twisting motion of the knee. This is why people who do sports such as soccer, skiing, or basketball are more likely to have ligament sprains or tears.
You can also easily sprain the PCL (posterior cruciate ligament). The difference between the two types of sprains is that PCL injuries are usually caused by direct impact instead of sudden twisting. Sports that involve a lot of player-on-player contact, such as tackling, could be fatal for the PCL.
If you’ve got sprained ligaments, you’ll likely experience these symptoms:
- Popping sound when the injury happens
- Buckling leg
The strongest indicator that you have torn or sprained a ligament is experiencing sudden knee pain a bit after getting injured, not at the actual moment of injury. However, people can experience these symptoms differently depending on the nature of the injury, which is why it can be hard for you to diagnose the condition yourself.
You may have heard of this condition under a different name—jumper’s knee. It’s what happens when the tendon that connects your kneecap and shinbone becomes inflamed. Not only does the condition weaken the tendon but it can also cause tears if you don’t treat it.
Knee joint pain is common in this case, as tendonitis is typically caused by overusing the joint. The reason it’s colloquially called jumper’s knee is because people who often jump on hard surfaces are more likely to suffer from it. This is, therefore, a problem associated with certain sports.
Other symptoms of tendonitis include:
- Knee pain when walking or running
- Tenderness in the lower part of your kneecap
- Knee pain when bending and straightening the leg.
You may also experience medial knee pain, also known as inner knee pain. Consequently, usual everyday activities will become harder to do.
There are many types of arthritis, and the most common one that affects the knees is osteoarthritis. This condition develops gradually over time and breaks down the joint cartilage.
Aside from knees, this condition usually affects the spine, hands, and hips. If you’re experiencing pain in other parts of your body, specifically your shoulders, you might want to check out our other article about shoulder pain, since arthritis can cause pain in this case, too.
It should be noted that osteoarthritis is classified as primary or secondary. The difference is significant because it further points to the cause of the issue. If you have secondary osteoarthritis, it means causes of knee pain can include injury, disease, deformity, or infection. However, it’s unknown what triggers primary osteoarthritis.
While age is a significant factor in developing this condition, so is being overweight, having a genetic predisposition for it, and overusing or injuring the knee.
There are other symptoms that accompany the pain one might experience with osteoarthritis:
- Stiff joints, especially after you’ve been resting
- Limited range of motion of the knee
- Knee grinding
- Pain behind the knee.
Since these can also be symptoms of other medical conditions affecting the knee, it’s always best to let your doctor determine the correct diagnosis.
Cartilage protects the leg from shock and helps it carry body weight. Most often, cartilage tears happen to athletes when they perform moves which involve abrupt turns or twists while the knee is bent and the foot stays planted to the ground.
Some of the symptoms likely to accompany this issue are:
- Knee joint lock-up
- Inability to bend or extend the knee
Experiencing lateral and/or inner knee pain is also possible, but doesn’t necessarily happen in every case of such tears.
How Can Your Doctor Determine the Cause of Knee Pain?
There are different foolproof ways your doctor can diagnose the issue and give you the treatment you need. A medical professional will most likely start with a physical exam and look into your medical history.
In order to determine the diagnosis, your doctor might request that you do the following:
- Arthroscopy – A small optic tube will be inserted into the joint after an incision has been made. The tube will broadcast the images inside the knee onto a screen, which will help your doctor pinpoint the causes of knee pain in your particular case.
- X-ray – Thanks to electromagnetic energy, your doctor will be able to see images of your bones, organs, and tissues.
- CT scan – A CT scan is more detailed than an X-ray, thanks to computer technology. It will provide your doctor with images of the inside of your knee.
- MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging uses radio frequencies, computers, and magnets to create images of the tissues and organs in the body. The high level of detail lets your doctor clearly see what the cause of the pain is.
Knee Pain Treatment Options
Different treatment options are available depending on the diagnosed issue. In this segment, we’ll familiarize you with the available treatment options your doctor might suggest.
Here are some of the ways to treat sprained knee ligaments.
- Put some ice on the affected knee. To reduce swelling, do so every few hours and keep the ice pack on for about 20 minutes.
- Rest up. To avoid further injuries and stronger knee pain, avoid using the knee. To reduce the swelling, keep your leg elevated while lying down or sitting.
- Wrap the affected knee with an elastic bandage. This may help reduce the swelling and pain, but you have to be careful not to do it too tightly so as not to cut off your blood flow.
- Wear a knee brace. Your doctor might suggest this method because it can help stabilize your knee, so it doesn’t move too much when you use that leg.
For worse injuries like ligament tears, surgery can sometimes offer complete knee pain relief. The most common type of surgery involves using part of a healthy tendon to replace the ligament, or reattaching the torn ligament.
If you suffer from tendonitis, the following options might be available to you.
- Strapping the knee. A patellar tendon strap puts pressure on the tendon and takes in the force imposed by your movement, so the tendon doesn’t have to. That way, you won’t feel as much pain behind the knee.
- Iontophoresis. This process implies using low electricity to push corticosteroid medicine to the inside of your knee.
- Oscillating needle procedure. A small oscillating needle is guided into your knee with the help of ultrasound technology, and then cuts and removes the damaged tendon area. While being relatively new, this procedure seems promising so far.
- Corticosteroid injection. While a corticosteroid injection can do wonders for knee pain relief, it also has the potential to weaken your tendons. This could eventually lead to rupturing.
- Surgery. The last resort in case other treatments don’t work is the patellar tendon debridement.
Aside from non-inflammatory medication and exercises, you can alleviate arthritis pain in the knee with surgery.
- Osteotomy. The bone beneath or above the knee is cut across, and a wedge of bone is either added or removed. This procedure is recommended in cases where arthritis affects one part of the knee more than the other, as it shifts the body weight and rests the damaged knee part.
- Cortisone injections. Much like with tendonitis, corticosteroids can be injected for additional knee pain relief. However, you can only get the injections a few times a year because they might damage the bone further in the long run.
- Hyaluronic acid injections. Similar to the natural joint fluid created in our body, the acid provides comfort by cushioning the knee and lubricating the joints. Some people suffering from arthritis find these injections more effective than painkillers. However, doctors only administer them if pain relievers and other (more subtle) treatment methods don’t work.
- Joint replacement. Plastic and metal parts are used to replace the parts of the joint damaged by arthritis. Bear in mind that this isn’t a permanent solution since artificial joints can become loose over time.
When it comes to inside knee pain caused by a damaged or torn cartilage, resting, taking pain killers, using a knee brace, and elevating your leg can help. The leg should heal on its own if the symptoms are mild. For severe symptoms, your doctor might recommend surgery.
These are the most common surgical options:
- Drilling small holes in a nearby bone to encourage cartilage growth
- Replacing your knee with artificial parts
- Using healthy cartilage from another point in the knee to replace the damaged part.
Prevention & Exercises for Knee Pain
One of the best ways to keep your knees healthy, regain strength, and weaken discomfort or pain is to exercise. These exercises should help you feel noticeably better if you’re persistent and determined. The most crucial part is not to skip them.
The leg raise is one of the most effective stretches for knee pain, and it’s relatively simple to do. First, lie down on the floor or the bed with your toes up and your arms by your sides. Then, keep both legs straight but tighten the muscles of the injured leg, and lift it several inches. Remember to go slowly.
You’ll have to engage your core muscles too, so keep your lower back on the floor by tightening your stomach muscles. Hold your leg up in the air for five seconds, then lower it back all the way down. The trick here is to lower your leg as slowly as possible. This exercise is perfect for those struggling with knee arthritis.
Those who have knee tendonitis or a torn cartilage will benefit most from these knee pain exercises. To do half squats, you’ll need to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and place your hands on your hips.
Bend your knees slowly and start lowering your body, but only go one-half of the way. The important thing is to tighten your buttocks and keep your back straight at all times. Your pelvis shouldn’t tilt or go beyond the tip of your toes, either.
Ideally, you should repeat the exercise eight to twelve times. You can also face the back of a chair and use it for balance when you squat. This tactic can help if you’re experiencing pain in the back of the knee.
Heel Dig Bridge
For this exercise, you’ll need to lie on your back and bend both of your knees while keeping your heels on the floor. Next, you’ll need to engage your core muscles again by tightening the stomach.
Push the heels firmer against the floor and lift your hips at the same time. Keep pushing until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line. These kinds of stretches for knee pain can be very hard, so take it slow.
Remember to tighten your butt, too. You should remain in this position for around six seconds, then slowly lower your body back down.
While your hips are in the air, you should continue to breathe normally. You can rest for ten seconds after each time you do the exercise.
There shouldn’t be any pain during this exercise, so stop if you start experiencing it. While everyone can do this one, those who have a torn cartilage can benefit from it the most.
When it comes to knee pain, relief may take a while to achieve since it requires a significant amount of effort. Consistency is key and doing exercises regularly will benefit you to a great extent. Finally, try not to stray from your doctor’s suggestions and course of therapy because it will only slow down your recovery.
If you’re interested in other similar topics, feel free to dive deeper into our site for our chronic pain statistics and other intriguing pieces!