Your knees are an essential part of your life. Whether playing sports or just walking around the grocery store, your knees help keep you moving. It’s no surprise, that knee pain can very quickly affect your daily routine. According to the Cleveland Clinic, around 18 million people a year seek treatment from a physician or hospital for knee pain. That’s people of all ages, genders, and activity levels, who for one reason or another, are limited by knee-pain. It only makes sense that no one singular cause is responsible. Understanding some simple facts about knee pain can help guide you in choosing the best treatment and prevention methods.
Many of us already know the signs and symptoms of Osteoarthritis (OA) such as stiffness, grinding, swelling, or poor range of motion; but what about other causes? “More often than not, people with OA have additional issues going on contributing to their knee pain that they may not be aware of,” says Russ Riggs, MD, clinic director of Reflex. In some cases, a previous condition may even increase the likelihood of developing OA later in life. OA affects over 30 percent of the population but being proactive in seeking treatment can still help. “Early effective treatment of conditions related to injury of inflammation can be one of the best ways to prevent significant OA down the road,” Riggs says.
Common Causes of Knee Pain We Typically See in the Clinic
Common Signs: Tenderness, swelling (also “tight or full feeling) and warm to the touch.
There are small, fluid-filled sacs that surround the knee joint at different points called bursae. Bursae provide cushioning and a lubricating effect at various pressure points between the bones in the knees, which reduces friction when you move. Inflamed bursae can swell up causing pain. Possible causes are overuse (even standing for long periods), trauma (such as a fall), or even infection.
Possible Treatments: Rest, ice and steroid injections.
IT Band Syndrome
Common Signs: Pain along the upper outside edge of the knee, possibly up to the hip.
Regular athletes like cyclists, runners, and anyone else who repeatedly bends and straightens their knees are those most likely to have issues with the IT band. The iliotibial band (or IT band) is simply a long band of tissue that runs down the side of the hip and attaches to the side of the knee.
Although the pain can be quite cumbersome, the IT band can be easily treated with a little-reduced activity, using a foam roller along the outside of the leg and knee, and seeking help from your physical therapist, says Dr. Riggs.
Possible Treatments: Foam Rolling and Physical Therapy.
Common Signs: Sensation of “locking or catching”, sharp pain with specific movements and swelling.
The meniscus is a C-shaped cartilaginous cushion that sits between the leg and thigh bone of the knee. For younger, or active people a tear is most often caused by some sort of trauma or aggressive pivoting of the knee, such as in athletes playing baseball, tennis, or soccer.
As we age a torn meniscus can be from normal wear-and-tear degeneration or a sign of untreated Osteoarthritis.
Common Signs: Sudden popping followed by pain and instability and swelling.
Athletes are the people most likely to tear or rupture their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
This injury is commonly seen in sports that involve sudden stops, pivoting, jumping, or planting the foot too quickly (such as basketball, soccer, tennis, and volleyball).
Over 50% of ACL ruptures are associated with meniscal tears and both are commonly associated with the development of osteoarthritis.
Common Signs: Specific pain below the knee or above the kneecap.
Tendinitis is an overuse injury caused by inflammation most commonly in the patellar tendon or quadriceps tendon. Small tears or inflammation of the knee tendons can also occur if the surrounding muscles have been trained improperly or underused. It’s not uncommon to see someone who’s been relatively inactive develop tendinitis. This is because their muscles have weakened, and it puts a great deal of stress on the tendons. Reducing or modifying repetitive activity for a short time can help give the tendon time to cool down.
Possible Treatments: Rest, Ice, Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) and Athletic Bracing