Knee pain is a common reality afflicting many people of various ages each day. A healthy knee absorbs shock from walking and running, and provides a smooth joint surface for leg movement and flexibility. When our knees hurt, our mobility is hindered to various degrees. That is why it is very important not to ignore what our bodies are telling us and to find out what is causing this pain.
Most people have only a basic understanding of how our knees work. This can make it difficult for the person experiencing pain to diagnose its source. Our knee joints actually have many integral parts, which work closely in connection with one another and an issue with any one of them may cause mild to severe pain.
The knee is the largest joint in the human body. Our knees joints are made up of three areas where our thighbones (femur) and shinbones (tibia) meet at the kneecap (patella). The knee joint is surrounded by ligaments, which wrap both the inside and the outside of the joint, giving it the strength and stability it needs. There is also a relatively thick crescent-shaped pad of cartilage between the femur and tibia called the meniscus. The meniscus performs the function of absorbing the vast majority of your weight whenever you stand. Also, within the knee joint, are sacs containing fluid called, bursa. These bursa sacs also help to reduce friction by lubricating the knee joint.
So, our knees are actually made up of many small joints buffering and connecting with our bones and tendons, but an issue with any one of those parts will cause joint pain. The knee joint is one of the most commonly injured joints due to its continual weight-bearing function. The most common cause of knee pain is a sudden or acute direct impact, abnormal twist, or fall on the knee. Within moments of the knee injury there will be a combination of symptoms such as pain, bruising, or swelling, and the knee or lower leg may lose feeling, go limp, and become cold. The knee injury can also damage the knee bones and surrounding nerves and blood vessels, which may cause a tingling sensation and cause areas of the leg appear pale or blue.
The repeated overuse of the knee joint can cause injuries that develop over time. Repetitive activities that involve running, biking, stair climbing, or jumping will cause stress and put pressure on the legs, which will eventually lead to knee pain.
Any size tear in one of the ligaments will cause pain, even while at rest, and can often cause swelling and will be warm to the touch. Often an accompanying “popping” sound can be heard when a ligament has suffered an injury. Pain from a ligament tear only worsens from movement.
The meniscus can also be torn, often due to sharp rotating movements, making it a common sports injury. With age, comes cartilage degeneration, allowing the meniscus to tear more easily.
Bursitis describes the painful condition of an inflamed bursa sac. There are 160 bursae found within the human body, most notably located near large joints such as the elbows, hips, shoulders, and knees. Bursitis can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness. The skin is often flush red and warm to the touch.
The condition of an inflamed tendon is known as, tendonitis. Tendonitis of the knee is found either the tendon below the kneecap (patellar tendonitis) or in the back of the knee (popliteal tendonitis) and is often caused by some type of strenuous event.
In addition to physical injury, knee discomfort may also be due to a condition or disease concerning the joints, tissue, bones, or nerves within or surrounding the knee joint. The knee joint is the most common joint involved in rheumatic diseases; the most notable of these is arthritis.
Essentially, arthritis is inflammation within a joint itself. Many people suffer from arthritis and there are different types, such as osteoarthritis, which is a non-inflammatory type of arthritis caused by the degeneration of cartilage in the knee joint. Conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis are inflammatory types of arthritis. Arthritis of the knee can be so painful and debilitating that a surgical replacement of the knee joint is sometimes necessary.
Chondromalacia is a condition referring to an abnormal softening of the cartilage under the kneecap. This is the most common joint involved with chronic knee pain and a very common cause of knee discomfort in young women.
Treatments for many forms of knee pain include rest, therapeutic massage, immobilization, ice pack, and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin. However, some knee conditions may be treated with physical therapy, additional medications and surgery.
Home knee pain treatment can be utilized through a variety of different methods. Resting and placing a soft pillow under your knee will help soothe and relax the joint. Temperature therapies with ice or heat packs are also very useful – for the first 48 hours avoid heat, and once the swelling is gone apply heat. Compression and wrapping the injured or sore area with a elastic bandage will help decrease swelling, but don’t wrap too tight! Elevation of the injured area on pillows when applying ice or heat is also a great way to heal the area when you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the injured area at or above the level of your heart center to minimize swelling.
Self-massage the area gently and send healing thoughts to the area to increase blood flow and healing. You can also perform a variety of self-stretches to maintain and extend your flexibility in the area. Two great exercises are a hamstring stretch, and a knee-to-chest exercise. Avoid rigorous exercises such as running, skiing, jumping, and anything else that might cause stress or impact to your knee joint.
During the course of healing your knee pain take care to watch for signs of infection, numbness, tingling, weakness, and a pale or blue color. If the symptoms do not improve with home treatment or become severe or more frequent you should seek further medical attention.
Remember to always stay positive and believe that you will heal your pain, and you have already won half the battle.