Treating Knee Pain

Posted on January 29 2019

Knee pain is the most common musculoskeletal complaint that brings people to the doctor. In today's increasingly active society, the number of knee problems is also increasing. Knee pain has a wide variety of specific causes and treatments that depend on the problem. 

The knee joint's main function is to bend, straighten, and bear the weight of the body, along with the ankles and hips. The knee is more than just a simple hinged joint. It also twists and rotates. But, in order to perform all of these actions and to support the entire body while doing so, the knee relies on several structures - including, bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. 

Inflammation is the body's response to an injury. In treating many types of knee pain, a common goal is to decrease inflammation. Inflammation begins with an injury, then after the injury, substances that cause inflammation invade the knee to assist in healing. However, if the injury and inflammation is not resolved, inflammation can become a chronic issue, which can lead to further injury.

There are actually several common home care techniques for knee pain that will help you control inflammation. It's a pneumonic device called PRICE: Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Protect the knee from further trauma by:

Rest the knee:

  • Rest reduces the repetitive strain placed on the knee by activity
  • Rest gives the knee time to heal and helps to prevent further injury

Ice the knee:

  • Icing the knee reduces swelling and can be used for both acute and chronic knee injuries
  • Most recommend icing the knee 2 to 3 times a day for 20-30 minutes each time
  • Use an ice bag, ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables to place on the knee

Compress the knee with a knee brace or wrap:

  • Compression reduces swelling
  • In some knee injuries, compression can be used to keep the patella aligned and to keep joint mechanics intact

Elevate the knee:

  • Elevation also helps reduce swelling
  • Elevation works with gravity to help fluid flow back to the central circulation
  • Prop your leg up when you are sitting. Elevation works best when the knee is higher than the level of the heart.

Over the counter pain medicine: In treating knee pain, commonly used pain relievers, such as NSAIDs are used. Aleve, naproxen, ibuprofen, Advil, or Motrin aid in controlling pain and act as anti-inflammatory agents. Acetaminophen, or Tylenol can also be used to control knee pain, but doesn't have the anti-inflammatory properties of the NSAIDs. 

When to Call the Doctor for Knee Pain

If your symptoms have not gone away after trying a week of at home therapy and over the counter medications, you should set up an appointment with your doctor, physical therapist, or sports medicine orthopedic specialist to further evaluate the source of the pain. However, you should always contact a doctor right away if you are concerned about pain.

If you cannot put weight on your knee, feel sick, have a fever, or if your knee is red and hot, you should immediately seek care from a doctor or other qualified health care professional, as that signifies the possibility of a fracture or infection. Many fractures may require immobilization or surgery. Remember that infections need immediate attention and prompt care. Putting off seeing a doctor may only hinder healing.

Other signs and symptoms that demand emergency evaluation include:

  • Unbearable pain
  • Pain that doesn't improve with rest
  • Pain that wakes you
  • Drainage
  • Large wounds
  • Puncture wounds
  • Swelling  

Types of Knee Pain

In general, knee pain is either immediate (acute) or long term (chronic). Acute knee pains can be caused by an acute injury or infection. Chronic knee pain is often from injuries or inflammation, such as arthritis, but can also be caused by infection. 

Acute Knee Pain includes the following:

  • Sprained and torn cruciate ligaments, such as your ACL or PCL.
  • Tendon ruptures, such as a quadriceps tendon rupture.
  • Meniscal injuries, which is an injury to the meniscus.
  • Knee dislocation, which is a medical emergency.
  • Dislocated kneecap (patella)

Chronic Knee Pain includes the following:

  • Arthritis of the knee, which is an inflammatory disorder of the knee joint.
  • Knee Osteoarthritis, which is caused by degeneration of knee cartilage.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is a connective tissue disease of the knee.
  • Crystalline Arthritis, which include gout and pseudo gout.
  • Bursitis, which results from trauma, an infection, or crystalline deposits.
  • Infectious Arthritis
  • Patellofemoral Syndrome & Chondromalacia Patella
  • Jumper's Knee, also known as tendonitis
  • Osgood-Schlatter Disease
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome

How to Prevent Knee Pain

Knee pain has a whole host of causes. Many types of knee pain are difficult to prevent, but there are some general things that you can do to reduce the likelihood of sustaining a knee injury. 

Stay Slim: Staying slim reduces the forces placed on the knee during athletics and everyday walking. It may even help reduce osteoarthritis. Keeping your weight managed may also reduce the number of ligament and tendon injuries for similar reasons. 

Stay Limber & Fit: Many knee problems are caused by tight or imbalanced musculature. Stretching and strengthening also help prevent knee pain, as stretching keeps your knee from being too tight and aids in preventing both patellofemoral syndrome and iliotibial band syndrome. Strengthening exercises, particularly of the quadriceps, can help prevent knee injury and are essential to reducing arthritis and associated complications. 

Exercise Wisely: If you have chronic knee pain, consider swimming or water exercises. In water, the force of buoyancy supports some of our weight, so our knees aren't burdened. Try to limit hard pounding and twisting activities, such as basketball, tennis or jogging. Respect and listen to your body, if it hurts, change what you are doing. If you are fatigued, consider stopping and resting, as many injuries occur when people are tired. 

Protect the Knee: Wearing proper protection for the activity at hand can help avoid knee injuries. Knee pads, knee braces, knee wraps, are all good sources of protection when participating in activities where your knee is vulnerable.  

PLEASE CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR OR OTHER QUALIFIED HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE TAKING ANY MEDICATION, SUPPLEMENT, OR BEGINNING ANY HEALTH REGIMEN.

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