Knee Pain: Symptoms and Causes
Knee pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions suffered by many people. It usually causes disability and functional limitations in people, especially in older adults.
What Is Knee Pain?
Knee pain is a common medical condition that affects people of all age groups. There can be various reasons that can cause knee pain like physical injuries such as a ruptured ligament, mechanical problems such as a dislocated knee cap, and medical conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, or tendinitis, among others.
What Are the Types of Knee Pain?
Knee pain can be broadly divided into three major categories depending on its causes.
- Those caused by acute injuries such as a meniscal tear, a torn ligament, or a broken bone.
- Knee pain caused by medical conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or infections.
- Chronic overuse conditions, including osteoarthritis, IT band syndrome, tendinitis, patellar syndromes, and bursitis
What Are the Symptoms of Knee Pain?
The knee is the largest joint in your body and comprises bones, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons. Therefore, your knee pain often varies depending on which structure is involved. For example, if your knee is infected, your whole knee might be painful and swollen, while a fracture of a bone or a torn meniscus gives symptoms only in that particular location.
The severity of your pain can also vary, from slight discomfort to disabling pain. Some of the other knee pain symptoms are:
- Instability of the knee leading to difficulty in walking and weight-bearing
- Limping due to uneasiness
- Difficulty using stairs due to ligament damage
- Inability to bend the knee
- Swelling and redness
- Difficulty in extending the knee
- Shifting your weight to the opposite foot
What Are the Causes/Reasons for Knee Pain?
A common reason for knee pain is various types of injuries that affect any of the tendons, ligaments or fluid-filled sacs (also known as bursae) that enclose your knee joint. Injuries can also happen to the bones, cartilage, and ligaments that form the knee. Some of the more common knee injuries include:
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury
An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four ligaments that connect your thigh bone to your shinbone. An ACL injury is one of the knee pain reasons and is common in people who play soccer, basketball or other sports requiring fast changes in direction.
Fractures that happen in the knee bones or kneecap when a person suffers severe falls or motor vehicle accidents can also be one of the knee pain reasons.
The meniscus consists of rubbery, tough cartilage, and it acts as a shock absorber between your thigh bone and shinbone. You can end up tearing your meniscus if you unexpectedly twist your knee while bearing weight.
Apart from such physical injuries, some mechanical issues in your knee can also cause knee pain. Some examples are:
Sometimes, degeneration or injury of a bone or cartilage can cause a small piece of that bone or cartilage to detach and hover in the joint space. These are called loose bodies and can be one of the causes of knee pain when bending.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The iliotibial band is the tough band of tissue that stretches from the exterior of your pelvis to the outside of your knee. Cyclists and distance runners are more susceptible to iliotibial band syndrome because of its overuse.
This is a common injury that occurs when the triangular bone covering the front side of your knee slips out of its place. It is a very painful condition.
What Causes Sudden Knee Pain without Injury?
There are also several other sudden joint pain causes that occur without an injury. If you are wondering what can cause knee pain without injury, here are some examples:
The tiny sacs of fluid that cushion the bones in your knee joint are called bursae, and when they become inflamed, it leads to a condition called bursitis. This condition is often accompanied by pain, redness around the knee joint, and sometimes fever.
Tendons are the tissue that attaches muscle to bones, and tendinitis is a condition caused when tendons get inflamed. It is a common condition and is often characterized by a dull ache that worsens with continued use.
Baker’s cyst is a fluid-filled swelling often found at the back of the knee. The swelling can restrict the movement of the knee and often points at an undiagnosed knee injury.
Osteoarthritis is the swelling and inflammation of the knee joint and is often caused by the deterioration of the knee. It can develop due to different reasons, such as poor posture, past injury, or obesity.
This is an autoimmune disease that is similar to osteoarthritis. However, it is often not restricted to a single joint. Some of the main symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are swelling, stiffness, and pain.
How to Treat Knee Pain
If your knee pain is minor, it will often respond well to self-care measures. Knee braces and physical therapy are also found to be helpful in relieving knee pain. However, in some cases, your knee may need surgical repair.
Here are some treatment options for knee pain –
Pain-relieving medications are a straightforward method to manage pain. However, make sure you see your doctor and get your condition evaluated before starting any over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medications repeatedly for your knee pain.
Physical therapy sessions can strengthen the muscles around your knee and make it more stable and give you a better motion range. Always seek the help of a physical therapist for this so that you can avoid further worsening of an injury by doing it wrong.
You might need to get medications injected directly into your knee for pain relief in certain situations. The two most common injections used for this purpose are lubricants and corticosteroids.
When none of the above methods relieves your knee pain, you may need knee surgery. You might need arthroscopic knee surgery or a total knee replacement depending upon the severity of your pain.
Arthroscopic knee surgery is an outpatient surgical procedure in which your doctor examines the inside of your knee by making small holes in it and inserting a fibre-optic camera. He will then remove loose bones or cartilage that might be causing your pain. You might need to replace the damaged portions of your knee, either partially or totally, with metal and plastic parts in more severe cases.
You need to keep in mind that the treatment options vary depending upon the conditions that caused the pain.