Basic movements like walking and getting up from a couch are activities we can take for granted until we have knee pain. If your knees are aching, you are not alone. Theprevalence of knee pain and knee replacement surgeries has risen substantially during the last 20 years according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
It's not a condition of the elderly either. "The knee is the most commonly injured joint by adolescent athletes with an estimated 2.5 million sports related injuries presenting to emergency departments annually..." according to a 2012 article by the Academy of Emergency Medicine.
Although surgery and pain medication can be necessary, there are many conservative treatments available to manage your pain and help maintain function. Knee pain can start for a multitude of reasons, and knowing where the pain began is a good start for developing a proper treatment plan with your doctor.
Common Causes of Knee Pain
- ACL injury - An ACL injury is the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament. ACL injuries are particularly common in people who play basketball, soccer or other sports that require sudden changes in direction.
- Torn meniscus - The meniscus is formed of tough, rubbery cartilage and acts as a shock absorber in your knee. It can be torn if you suddenly twist your knee while bearing weight on it.
- Knee bursitis - Some knee injuries cause inflammation in the bursae, the small sacs of fluid that cushion the outside of your knee joint so that tendons and ligaments glide smoothly over the joint.
- Patellar tendinitis - Tendinitis is irritation and inflammation of one or more tendons. Runners, skiers, cyclists, and those involved in jumping sports and activities are prone to develop inflammation in the patellar tendon, which connects the quadriceps muscle on the front of the thigh to the lower leg.
- Iliotibial band (IT band) syndrome - This occurs when the ligament that extends from the outside of your pelvic bone to the outside of your tibia (iliotibial band) becomes so tight that it rubs against the outer portion of your femur. Distance runners are especially susceptible to iliotibial band syndrome.
- Hip or foot pain - If you have hip or foot pain, you may change the way you walk to spare these painful joints. But this altered gait can place more stress on your knee joint. In some cases, problems in the hip or foot can refer pain to the knee.
- Osteoarthritis - Sometimes called degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It's a wear-and-tear condition that occurs when the cartilage in your knee deteriorates with use and age.
- Post Surgical knee pain - Surgery is invasive and with it comes swelling, damaged soft tissue, pain, bruising, and stiffness.
Treatments for Knee Pain
- Chiropractic care - Chiropractic care for knee pain is typically most focused onremoving pain and restoring motion in the knee. Typically, the doctor will instill movement in the knee joint by distraction. This technique is similar to treatment for a jammed finger - a slight distraction or pulling apart of the joint to release pressure and restore proper movement. This type of treatment is beneficial for arthritis sufferers as it allows for more joint motion. A 2008 study showed that a short-term manual therapy knee protocol significantly reduced pain suffered by participants with osteoarthritic knee pain and resulted in improvements in self-reported knee function immediately after the end of the 2 week treatment period. In arthritis, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Maintaining mobility is key.
- Deep Tissue Laser Therapy (AKA Cold laser therapy) - This type of treatment is beneficial for post surgical knee pain and stiffness, and for repetitive stress injuries such as those that can occur during running. Laser therapy works similarly to how sunlight is converted into Vitamin D in our bodies. The light enters the deep tissues of the muscle or joint and is converted into energy by specific markers inside of the cells. From there, the body’s natural healing processes are accelerated, blood flow is increased, and pain is decreased.
- Myofascial Release - There are many specific techniques that fall under this umbrella, but they all have the main goal of reducing soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament) adhesions, scar tissue buildup, restoring motion, and reducing pain. This type of therapy has been found effective for IT band syndrome, patellar tendonitis, and even arthritis as it works to increase motion by loosening tight tissue around the joint.
Although it's not always possible to prevent knee pain, the following suggestions may help prevent injuries and delay joint deterioration:
- Maintaining a healthy weight - It’s one of the best things you can do for your knees. Every extra pound puts additional strain on your joints, increasing the risk of injuries and osteoarthritis.
- Be in shape to play your sport - To prepare your muscles for the demands of sports participation, take time for conditioning.
- Get strong - Because weak muscles are a leading cause of knee injuries, you'll benefit from building up your quadriceps and hamstrings, which support your knees. Balance and stability training helps the muscles around your knees work together more effectively.
- Watch what you eat - Inflammation runs rampant in painful joints. Try incorporating anti-inflammatory herbs and spices into your daily diet, and eliminate processed foods and refined sugars.
- Be smart about exercise - If you have osteoarthritis, chronic knee pain or recurring injuries, you may need to change the way you exercise. Consider switching to swimming, water aerobics or other low-impact activities — at least for a few days a week. Sometimes simply limiting high-impact activities will provide relief.