Knee pain is a common complaint affecting the young and the old. The pain is usually caused by osteoarthritis, trauma, or excessive weight. Though management of minor knee pain is done at home, there are times when postponing a professional consultation does a lot of harm. It can even be irreversible.
The knee is a complex part of the body composed of bone, tendon, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, bursae (lining), synovial fluid, and fat. The bursa absorbs friction, the synovial fluid acts like a lubricant, and the fat acts like a shock-absorbing cushion. It’s a remarkable piece of ‘machinery,’ but any component injury can cause pain and disability. Fortunately, developments in modern medicine and surgery have lessened debilitation.
While the knee serves us well 24/7, and we may have gotten accustomed to some discomfort here and there, some painful knee conditions need professional attention. Click here to find out about professionals who can help you and what treatment options are possible for your state.
Signs And Symptoms That Need Medical Attention
You may suffer knee pains after a fall or rigorous exercise, but the signs and symptoms should be temporary and subside with little intervention. If you’re experiencing persistent and/or severe discomfort, however, you must see a doctor for an evaluation and proper diagnosis.
Consult a doctor if you experience the following, especially if they have worsened over time or have lasted over three weeks:
1. Persistent Pain
Knee pain that continues for a few days and does not improve with rest or over-the-counter pain medications may be a sign of a more severe problem. The same goes for pain that prevents you from having a restful sleep.
Here’s what might be causing the pain:
If you've had a recent injury, it can be due to a fracture. Hairline fractures may not be visible but cause symptoms. Athletes who overwork themselves or do not warm up before an intense workout can suffer muscle and tendon injuries.
A popping or cracking sound following trauma or sudden buckling of the knees must be seen since it may be a surgical case.
If the pain is longstanding and you belong to an older group, this can be a sign of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a chronic, degenerative condition caused by cartilage wear and tear. As the cartilage deteriorates, the bones rub together, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness.
You’re at risk if you are overweight, usually carry heavy loads, have a job that requires a lot of kneeling, or have a family history positive for osteoarthritis. You may experience difficulty when rising from a sitting position or experience stiffness when standing for a long time.
Creaking or grating sounds in the knee, limitation of movement, swelling, and tenderness can occur as the condition advances. It’s necessary to seek medical attention so pain can be managed and the condition does not progress to a more debilitating stage.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune condition, also presents with persistent pain and inflammation. When knee joint pain is accompanied by tenderness and no infection, the doctor will likely try to rule out RA, as this condition also affects other organs like the heart and lungs.
Gout also presents with stiffness and pain. It’s a hereditary form of arthritis that usually manifests in the toes, fingers, and knees. Accumulating uric crystals in the knees can cause an affected person to limp in pain.
2. Inability To Bear Weight
If you can’t put weight on one knee or have difficulty walking, this could signify a severe knee problem. When this happens, you tend to favor the ‘good’ side.
This could signify a type of patellar or kneecap instability called subluxation, in which the patella does not slide out of place entirely, resulting in an incomplete dislocation, but the knee feels unstable and may buckle spontaneously.
If you feel like your knee is giving out or unstable, this could signify a knee ligament injury. Other ligament problems or injuries and some health conditions can also cause this type of weakness.
3. Joint Deformity Or Misalignment Of The Knees
Not all knee misalignment issues need to be treated. However, once accompanied by pain, they may signal something abnormal, which could worsen if left untreated. Asymmetrical alignment is likewise a concern.
This could happen when the kneecap or the patella rubs against one side of the groove where it rests when the knee is bent. Frequent episodes lead to a painful condition because there’s no protection or cushion. The two most common causes of this type of pain are:
- Leg and hip misalignment
- Weak thigh muscles
4. Stiffness And Difficulty In Walking
A knee that’s stiff and difficult to move may indicate a problem with the joint, such as arthritis. Pain gets worse and may cause you to limp. It may even affect job performance and the ability to care for yourself. Even mundane activities can be excruciating. Though this is a degenerative condition that’s not quickly nipped in the bud, it can be managed.
5. Limited Range Of Motion (ROM)
One's range of motion declines with age, partly due to slower elastin production. However, when the limitation of movement is severe or progresses rapidly, it’s time to seek professional advice. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are common causes of reduced ROM. Doctors may also suspect sepsis, ankylosing spondylitis, and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, but they’re not necessarily the most common causes.
Doctors and therapists can do a lot to improve the range of motion. The doctor may suggest a program for active assistance and passive exercises alongside therapeutic drugs.
6. Reduced Knee Sensation
Reduced sensory perception of the knee may signal a severe problem. This symptom may be accompanied by a tingling or ‘pins and needles’ sensation. A lack of sensation can mean nerve damage, such as a pinched nerve. Furthermore, problems with the bone, cartilage, or ligament can also contribute to nerve compression and result in reduced sensory perception.
7. Swelling And Redness
If your knee is swollen and painful, this could be a sign of an injury or an underlying condition like an infection. Infections and bursitis are often accompanied by warmth, swelling, tenderness, and pain, even while resting. Fever can be present in severe infection of the knee bursa.
8. Popping Or Clicking Knee Sounds
While a popping sound from the knees sounds ominous, it may not necessarily mean that there’s severe damage. It may not require medical treatment unless accompanied by other symptoms like pain, discoloration, difficulty in getting up or walking, or numbness. Seek a consultation if the pain is not relieved by over-the-counter drugs.
Meniscus (cartilage) tear symptoms include knee pain, especially when twisting or rotating the knee. Other symptoms are swelling and stiffness in the knee, popping or clicking sensation in the knees, difficulty straightening or bending the knee, and a feeling of the knee ‘giving out.’
These are some common causes of knee pain. A doctor or a physical therapist can make a proper diagnosis after an appropriate examination and review of the medical history of the patient. For chronic pain, knee replacement surgery is effective in restoring function and reducing pain.
See a professional if your knee pain persists for more than a few days, is severe or accompanied by swelling or redness, or interferes with daily activities. Additionally, if a specific injury or trauma causes the pain, it’s essential to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Long-Term Solutions For Knee Pain
Long-term management for knee pain goes beyond taking over-the-counter drugs, getting enough rest, using liniments, or applying a warm or cold compress.
Doctors usually recommend weight loss to decrease the pressure on the joints, including the hips and knees. Stress management, lifestyle modification with an anti-inflammatory diet, and exercise are also recommended.
Physical therapy helps keep joints flexible, while surgery repairs damaged joints to be more functional and less painful. Surgery includes repairing damaged joints and knee replacement. This makes the joints more useful and less painful.
Early intervention is recommended not just for pain relief but also for the prevention of more cartilage damage. Knee replacement surgery has helped those with arthritis who had to deal with pain and loss of function.
After surgery, they’re freed from having difficulties getting in and out of a chair, climbing out of bed, walking or climbing the stairs. It doesn’t even have to be a total knee replacement. Surgeons also work along the principles of fixing only what’s broken. They only replace parts that have been damaged.
It’s generally recommended to see a healthcare professional if you experience knee pain that’s persistent, severe, or accompanied by other symptoms such as swelling, stiffness, or difficulty bearing weight.
Additionally, if an injury or trauma causes pain, it’s essential to seek medical attention. However, if the pain is mild or occasional, it may be managed through self-care measures such as rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medication.
Lifestyle management includes weight loss, diet, and exercise. It’s best to deal with persistent pain early to prevent irreversible damage. Knee replacement surgery is recommended for the appropriate patients to restore functional capacity and ease the pain.