Six causes of knee pain and what to do about it

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Whether it is just slowing you down or stopping you from doing the most basic of activities, knee pain can be debilitating and if left untreated can continue to get worse, leading to further restrictions in your movement.

There are a number of causes of knee pain, some are much more treatable than others, but there are actions you can take, no matter what is causing your suffering.

Arthritis

This is the most common cause of knee pain for older adults, whether it be osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or post-trauma arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent among the three types of arthritis and is caused by the knee cartilage breaking down and wearing away. This occurs most often in people aged 65 and over and the condition can be genetic, but risk factors such as previous injury to the knee, weak thigh muscles and obesity can also play a role.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling or warmth in the joints and any pain usually lasts much longer than those suffering from osteoarthritis, where the condition is less painful once you have started using the joint.

Post-trauma arthritis develops after an injury to the knee such as a torn meniscus (the cartilage that cushions the knee joint) or dislocated knee cap. These injuries can cause instability and wear down the knee joint, leading to pain, swelling and fluid in the joint.

Osteonecrosis

The word literally means ‘bone death’ and is caused when a segment of bone loses its blood supply and starts to die. This condition affects women more frequently than men (around three times more likely in women according to the latest studies) and the knobby portion of the thighbone on the inside of the knee is most often the culprit. Pain is usually sudden and is triggered by a specific injury or minor injury.

Tendinitis

This is a condition that inflames the tendon (the tissue that connects muscles to bones). Older adults who run, ride or dance may be particularly prone to this type of knee pain as tendons get weaker and stiffer as we age. The condition, which causes pain just outside the joint, can also be inflamed by innocuous activities like gardening.

Bursitis

The bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between a bone and other moving parts. Kneeling for long periods of time on hard surfaces can cause this area to be become inflamed and cause pain.

Gout

While we often associate gout as being more of a foot problem, it can also manifest itself in the knee joint.  Gout is caused by the build-up of calcium urate crystals and can be extremely painful.

Torn cartilage or ligament damage

Any sports fan will know that tears in the anterior cruciate ligament or medial collateral ligament can be quite painful and extremely restrictive. These injuries are usually accompanied by a large popping sound and immediate pain and knee instability, making walking difficult. Either of these injuries will usually require a complete knee reconstruction.

Non-surgical treatments

While any structural damage, for example ligament damage, may require surgery, a lot of the other causes of knee pain can be treated effectively without going under the knife.

All surgery presents a certain level of risk and a recent Danish study suggested that people in their 50s who had arthroscopic surgery for knee pain showed no lasting benefits.

Some of the causes that result in inflammation can be treated with common anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen), the application of ice as well as rest to ease the condition.

You may also consider physical therapy of bracing or strapping the knee to provide support. It is important not to ignore the pain and consult your doctor about the best course of action, in order to prevent unnecessary wear and tear if a simpler solution can be found.

Have you ever suffered from knee pain? What did you do to combat the problem?

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Written by Ben



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