What is Causing Knee Pain? PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 May 2010 08:24

by_Kriss_SzkurlatowskiKnee pain is incredibly common. It is responsible for about 1/3 of all doctor's visits for muscle and bone pain. Knee pain is a special problem for athletes and old people.

Some of the most common reasons for knee pain are swollen or torn ligaments, meniscus (cartilage) tears, and runner's knee. But the knee is a complex joint, and there's plenty more that can go wrong.

Other conditions that cause knee pain are:

  • Bone chips. Sometimes, a knee injury can break off fragments from the bone or cartilage. These pieces can get stuck in the joint, causing it to freeze up. You may also have pain and swelling.
  • Bursitis. A bursa is a sac of fluid that cushions and protects your joints. There are several in different parts of your knee. Overuse, a fall, or repeated bending can irritate the bursa, causing pain and swelling. Two types of bursitis are called ''housemaid's knee'' and ''preacher's knee,'' since they are often caused by kneeling. A ''Baker's cyst'' -- a swelling of one of the bursa in the knee -- can also result from injuries and from conditions like arthritis.


  • Iliotibial band syndrome. The iliotibial band is a piece of tough tissue that runs from your hip down to your shin. If it's irritated by overuse or other problems, it can get swollen and cause pain on the outside of the knee.
  • Medial plica syndrome. The plica is a fold of tissue in the knee joint. When it gets irritated from overuse, swelling and knee pain can result.
  • Osgood- Schlatter Disease. This condition causes a painful bump below the knee, where a tendon from the kneecap connects to the shin. It's usually caused by overuse and irritation of the tendon. The pain may come and go over time. It's especially common in teenage boys and girls (13 and 14 years of age).
  • Osteoarthritis. This condition is a frequent cause of knee pain in athletes and non-athletes alike who are over 60.
  • Partially dislocated kneecap (or patellar subluxation). In this condition, the kneecap slides out of position, causing knee pain and swelling. It's often the result of physical defect in your legs, rather than an injury. It's particularly common in teenage girls.
  • Tendonitis or swelling of the tendons. Tendons are tough bands of tissue that connect your bones and muscles. Overuse can make the tendons inflamed and sore. One type of knee tendonitis is called ''jumper's knee.''

If an old knee injury was not properly treated, it may keep causing occasional -- or constant -- knee pain.

What Does a Knee Injury Feels Like?

knee_x-ray_2Of course, the symptoms vary depending on your specific knee injury. But things to look out for are:

  • Pain, often when bending or straightening the knee.
  • Swelling.

If you have either of these symptoms, see your orthopedic doctor. Together, you can figure out the cause. To diagnose what's causing your knee pain, your doctor will need to do a thorough exam. You may need X-rays, MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or MR arthrogram -- a special type of MRI in which a dye is injected into the knee to see more detail of the joint.

What's the best thing to do if I have knee Pain?

Again, treatment for knee pain depends on your specific injury which your doctor can help determine. Mild to moderate injuries that cause knee pain will often heal on their own, given time. To speed the healing, you can:


  • Rest your knee. Give your knee a rest for a few days and avoid intense activity.
  • Ice your knee to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days or until the pain is gone.
  • Compress your knee. Use an elastic bandage, straps or sleeves to keep down swelling or add support.first_aid_kit
  • Elevate your knee on a pillow when you're sitting or lying down to reduce swelling.
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Your orthopedics doctor can recommend the right prescription of Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which can also help with pain and swelling. Note that it would be appropriate to discuss with your doctor which medicines are best for you, especially if you are taking other medications.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.

To resolve some cases of knee pain, you may need a procedure. People with bursitis sometimes need to have excess fluid drawn from the knee. Surgery might be needed to remove bone chips or fix a dislocated kneecap.

When Will My Knee Pain Feel Better?

Recovery time from knee pain depends on your specific injury. Further, people heal at different rates. While you get better, ask your doctor if you should take up a new activity that won't aggravate your knee pain. For instance, runners could try swimming.

Whatever you do, don't rush things. Do not try to return to your old level of physical activity until:

  • You feel no pain in your knee when you bend or straighten it.
  • You feel no pain in your knee when you walk, jog, sprint, or jump.
  • Your knee feels as strong as your uninjured knee.

If you start using your knee before it's healed, you could cause permanent damage.

Can I Prevent Knee Pain?

Knee pain can be hard to prevent, since it's often caused by an accident. But there are still some precautions you can take to reduce the risk of a knee injury:stretching

  • Stop exercising if you feel pain in your knee.
  • Always gradually increase the intensity of your workout.
  • Stretch your legs before and after physical activity.
  • Use kneepads to prevent bursitis.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and offer enough support.
  • Keep your thigh muscles strong with regular stretching and strengthening.
Source: WebMD, LLC, AAOS
Reviewed February 08, 2009

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