What causes knee pain?
The knee functions as a hinge and a shock absorber during walking, running, jumping, kicking, and climbing. Ligaments, tendons, and muscles give the knee stability and hold it together. Because the joint is weak, the knee is at risk for many types of injuries.
The most common causes of knee pain are sprains, overuse injuries, cartilage tears, and arthritis.
A knee sprain is an injury that causes a stretch or tear in a ligament. A ligament is a strong band of tissue connecting one bone to the other. Knee sprains can occur by wrenching or twisting or by a violent blow. Ligaments may tear slightly, or completely pull away from the bone.
Cartilage is a rubbery tissue that cushions your joints. A tear in the knee cartilage can occur from a sudden move or twist when there is weight on the knee. Long-term wear and tear can also break down the cartilage. The cartilage can also break down from arthritis. Cartilage damage causes joint injury and pain.
Overuse injuries such as runner's knee, tendonitis, and iliotibial band syndrome happen from overtraining or overworking your knee. Runner's knee develops when the shock absorbing ability of the knee begins to break down. To prevent this, you need to cut back your activity level. Tendinosis (formerly called tendonitis) is caused by overused muscle tendons that become irritated and cause pain and swelling. The iliotibial band runs down the outer side of the knee. When it is tight, doing the same motion over and over causes the tendon to rub against the bony area on the outside of the knee, causing irritation and pain.
How are knee injuries treated?
Knee injuries are usually treated in the following way:
- Rest the knee.
- Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
- Raise your knee on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
- Take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
- Wear an elastic bandage to reduce swelling.
- See your healthcare provider if your knee pain lasts for more than 72 hours.
Many injuries can take weeks or months to heal and treatment may include doing physical therapy exercises. If you have torn cartilage or a torn ligament, sometimes surgery is needed.
How can I prevent knee injuries?
To reduce your risk for knee injury, follow these simple tips:
- Warm up before and cool down after vigorous exercise by walking and stretching the leg muscles.
- Strengthen the muscles in the upper thigh and lower leg to give the knee more stability.
- Gradually increase how hard you exercise for several weeks. For example, do not double the amount of exercise you do from one week to the next.
- Properly align your knees with your feet while exercising.
- Wear shoes with proper arch supports and cushioning.
- Avoid exercising on hard surfaces.
- When cycling, make sure the seat height is correct for the length of your legs.
- Switch the kinds of exercises you do. For example, swim or bike instead of run every day.
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Published by RelayHealth.
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