An introduction to knee pain
Knee pain is a common complaint. Your knee is a hinge joint halfway down your leg and joins your femur to your tibia. It is supported by tendons, ligaments and muscles which give stability to the structure allowing flexion, extension and slight lateral (sideways) movement of your leg. It is a complicated joint which bears most of the weight of the body, making it vulnerable and susceptible to injury.
It is not uncommon to experience pain in this joint, although the causes and symptoms may vary significantly. Most often knee pain is a minor injury which clears up by itself. Sometimes, however, it is an indication of a more serious condition such as arthritis.
What causes knee pain?
There is a range of causes of knee pain. Often it is important to look at how you hurt your knee, how long your symptoms have been present and what symptoms you are experiencing, and these will give you strong indications as to the cause of your pain.
Your knee can be easily injured by straining the tendons or ligaments or spraining the muscles , and this is the most common cause of knee pain. This happens if the soft tissue is overstretched, inflamed or torn, and often occurs following running and jumping, particularly with poor technique or from landing the wrong way. It can also happen if a lateral stress is put on the knee joint, as this would force it outwith of its usual range of movement.
Another cause of knee pain is a dislocated knee cap. The knee cap is a triangular bone which covers the front of the knee. This bone can slip out of position and to the side of the joint. This is most likely to happen if you twist your leg but your foot stays firmly planted on the ground. For this reason, it is common in sports where sudden changes in direction are frequent.
There are also long-standing health problems such as arthritis which can cause knee pain. There are many causes for arthritis, but the condition generally means that the cartilage between two bones wears away and causes friction and pain when the joint is moved. A common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also called ‘wear-and-tear’ arthritis. This is more common among the elder generation and is a frequent cause of knee replacements.
Sometimes knee pain is actually referred pain from some other part of your body, most often your hip or back. If it seems that you can find no reason why your knee may be causing you discomfort, then it is worth investigating into your hip and back for a cause.
What are the symptoms of knee pain?
The symptoms you experience often depend on the cause of your knee pain. For some, pain may be sharp and stabbing, particularly when moving or putting weight on the joint in a particular way, for others it may be a dull ache which erratically comes and goes.
An injury, such as one which occurs in a sports incident is likely to be felt sharply and immediately at the time of injury. It will often be too painful to put weight on it soon after the injury, although this may only last a few minutes in a minor injury. In a more severe injury, this may be painful for several weeks or even months. There may be swelling or bruising, particularly if you have received an impact to your joint. In this case, it may also be tender to touch at the site of the injury.
Long term problems such as arthritis tend to come on gradually and worsen with time. Often the joint will feel stiff and the pain will increase as you try to move it or bear weight. At the start of the condition, the pain may be intermittent, occurring for weeks or even months before disappearing for a time. Arthritis is best identified and treated in the initial stages of the condition, so if you feel that your symptoms are typical of arthritis, then this should be checked by your doctor.
Another common symptom is a locked knee. This is when your leg cannot straighten. If you do move it, it will audibly click as you straighten or bend your leg. This is often a symptom of cartilage damage.
How can I prevent knee pain?
While there is no easy way to completely eliminate your chances of developing knee pain, there are certain preventative measures you can take. Knee pain from sporting injuries such as a sprain can be largely prevented by wearing proper equipment such as good supportive trainers, and playing sports with the correct technique. If you do experience a knee injury, or any other kind of injury, it is important to give yourself proper recovery time as putting stress on an injury too soon will only worsen the problem.
To prevent wear and tear to your knee joint, avoid spending too much time standing, walking or running on hard ground, as this increases the stress on your joints. Kneeling for a long time, such as when gardening or carrying out jobs such as pruning which require crouching for long periods of time, also increase your chances of developing knee pain.
What are the treatments for knee pain?
This depends on what is causing your pain. If you are suffering from a dislocated knee, for example, the treatment is unlikely to be the same as for arthritis. Therefore, the first step towards stopping your pain is finding out what is wrong.
If you have suffered a sporting injury, then it is important to follow the PRICE procedure and prevent any further HARM. You will be able to identify if you have done serious damage which needs treatment from the doctor, or if it is going to clear by itself within a few days.
If you are suffering from an underlying health condition causing your knee pain, then you will need to go to your doctor to have the cause identified. Your doctor will also be able to prescribe the best course of treatment for your symptoms, or refer you to an appropriate medical professional such as a physiotherapist or an orthopaedic surgeon.
There are herbal remedies which may help with your symptoms of knee pain. These remedies can be used as the sole means of treatment for some types of knee pain, or to complement other treatments. Arnica gel can be applied externally to the site of the pain and it has anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties to offer you relief from your symptoms. Devil’s Claw can be taken internally and is effective for general joint pain such as from arthritis.