Knee pain is a common complaint that affects people of all ages. Knee pain may be the result of an injury, such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. Medical conditions including arthritis, gout and infections also can cause knee pain. Many types of minor knee pain respond well to self-care measures. Physical therapy and knee braces also can help relieve knee pain. In some cases, however, your knee may require surgical repair.
Symptoms That May Accompany Knee Pains
The location and severity of knee pain may vary, depending on the cause of the problem. Signs and symptoms that sometimes accompany knee pain include:
- Swelling and stiffness
- Redness and warmth to the touch
- Weakness or instability
- Popping or crunching noises
- Inability to fully straighten the knee
What Causes Knee Pains?
Knee pain can be caused by injuries, mechanical problems, types of arthritis and other problems.
A knee injury can affect any of the ligaments, tendons or fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that surround your knee joint as well as the bones, cartilage and ligaments that form the joint itself. Some of the more common knee injuries include:
- ACL injury – An ACL injury is the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of four ligaments that connect your shinbone to your thighbone. An ACL injury is particularly common in people who play basketball, soccer or other sports that require sudden changes in direction.
- Fractures – The bones of the knee, including the knee cap (patella), can be broken during motor vehicle collisions or falls. People whose bones have been weakened by osteoporosis can sometimes sustain a knee fracture simply by stepping wrong.
- Torn meniscus – The meniscus is formed of tough, rubbery cartilage and acts as a shock absorber between your shinbone and thighbone. It can be torn if you suddenly twist your knee while bearing weight on it.
- Knee bursitis – Some knee injuries cause inflammation in the bursae, the small sacs of fluid that cushion the outside of your knee joint so that tendons and ligaments glide smoothly over the joint.
- Patellar tendinitis – Tendinitis is irritation and inflammation of one or more tendons (the thick, fibrous tissues that attach muscles to bones). Runners, skiers, cyclists, and those involved in jumping sports and activities are prone to develop inflammation in the patellar tendon, which connects the quadriceps muscle on the front of the thigh to the shinbone.
- Excess weight – Being overweight or obese increases stress on your knee joints, even during ordinary activities such as walking or going up and down stairs. It also puts you at increased risk of osteoarthritis by accelerating the breakdown of joint cartilage.
- Lack of muscle flexibility or strength – A lack of strength and flexibility are among the leading causes of knee injuries. Tight or weak muscles offer less support for your knee because they don’t absorb enough of the stress exerted on the joint.
- Certain sports – Some sports put greater stress on your knees than do others. Alpine skiing with its rigid ski boots and potential for falls, basketball’s jumps and pivots, and the repeated pounding your knees take when you run or jog all increase your risk of knee injury.
- Previous injury – Having a previous knee injury makes it more likely that you’ll injure your knee again.
How to Treat Knee Pains
Treatments will vary, depending upon what exactly is causing your knee pain. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help relieve pain and to treat underlying conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout. In some cases, your doctor may however, choose certain injections like corticosteroids to help with inflammation and pain around the knee. If the need be, there are certain surgical procedures thay can be done to correct the underlying cause of the knee pains.
Therapies like strengthening the muscles around your knee will make it more stable. Training is likely to focus on the muscles on the front of your thigh (quadriceps) and the muscles in the back of your thigh (hamstrings). Establishing good technique during your sport or activity and exercises to improve your balance also are important.
Home remedies like using over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen may help ease knee pain. Some people find relief by rubbing their knees with creams containing a numbing agent, such as lidocaine, or capsaicin, the substance that makes chili peppers hot.
How You Can Stop Repeated Knee Pains
- Rest – Take a break from your normal activities to reduce repetitive strain on your knee, give the injury time to heal and help prevent further damage. A day or two of rest may be all you need for a minor injury. More-severe damage is likely to need a longer recovery time.
- Use Ice – Ice reduces both pain and inflammation. A bag of frozen peas works well because it covers your whole knee. You also can use an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel to protect your skin. Although ice therapy is generally safe and effective, don’t use ice for longer than 20 minutes at a time because of the risk of damage to your nerves and skin.
- Compression – This helps prevent fluid buildup in damaged tissues and maintains knee alignment and stability. Look for a compression bandage that’s lightweight, breathable and self-adhesive. It should be tight enough to support your knee without interfering with circulation.
- Elevation – To help reduce swelling, try propping your injured leg on pillows or sitting in a recliner.
How to Prevent Knee Pains
Although it’s not always possible to prevent knee pain, here are some suggestions that may help forestall injuries and joint deterioration. Try to maintain a healthy weight, it is one of the best things you can do for your knees. Every extra pound puts additional strain on your joints, increasing the risk of injuries and osteoarthritis.
Secondly, to prepare your muscles for the demands of sports participation, take time for conditioning. Work with a coach or trainer to ensure that your technique and movement are the best they can be. Lessons from a professional can be very helpful.
Thirdly, because weak muscles are a leading cause of knee injuries, you’ll benefit from building up your quadriceps and hamstrings, which support your knees. Balance and stability training helps the muscles around your knees work together more effectively. And because tight muscles also can contribute to injury, stretching is important. Try to include flexibility exercises in your workouts.
Finally, you should be smart about exercise. If you have osteoarthritis, chronic knee pain or recurring injuries, you may need to change the way you exercise. Consider switching to swimming, water aerobics or other low-impact activities at least for a few days a week. Sometimes simply limiting high-impact activities will provide relief.