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Knee pain can be caused by injury, overuse, medical conditions or age. Some knee pain can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications or ice. More serious joint conditions may need more intensive medication or even surgery. Here’s what you should know about knee pain and what you can do about it.
Clearly describing knee pain or knee issues to your health care team is an important tool in helping you feel better. Knee pain can originate in one place and be felt in another. (This is called referred pain.) It may be in the front, back or side of the joint. It may feel sharp and stabbing or dull and achy. Being able to identify where the pain is and what it feels like will help your provider effectively treat your knee pain.
Knee pain really can affect your quality of life. Understanding the cause of your pain will help you get the best treatment for your condition.
First, you should know knee anatomy. The knee is made of skin, bones and muscles. Ligaments and tendons connect the bones to muscles and other bones. The meniscus is a cushion of cartilage in the joint that protects the knee. The bursae are fluid-filled pads that also cushion the joint. Damage to any of these parts of the knee can cause the symptoms of knee pain mentioned above.
This type of pain comes from damage to the parts of the knee. These can include:
Some medical conditions cause inflammation and pain in the soft tissues in the knee. These include:
Repeating movements the same way many times can put stress on the bones, joints and muscles. The movement may be related to your job, exercise or how your body naturally moves. This can cause such injuries as a stress fracture, which is a tiny crack in the bone, or conditions such as runner’s knee, which is called that because it is common in people who run or play sports that involve running and jumping.
Other injuries that cause knee pain include:
Septic arthritis occurs when the joint fluid and surrounding tissue are infected. Septic arthritis can be caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses.
Systemic chronic diseases such as lupus and fibromyalgia also can cause joint pain in the knee.
Mild to moderate knee pain often can be treated at home. Pain due to inflammation, arthritis or minor injury often will resolve without medical help. Home remedies can improve your comfort levels and help you manage symptoms.
If pain is moderate to severe, however, or if symptoms persist or get worse, you may need to seek medical attention for a full assessment.
A strain or sprain can be soothed with the RICE method:
You may find relief in alternating cold and heat therapy. A heating pad can help relieve pain, while cold treatment can help reduce inflammation.
Over-the-counter medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) also can relieve pain.
You can treat many causes of knee pain at home, but some will need medical attention, especially if your symptoms aren’t responding to home treatments.
Contact your health care provider if you notice any of the following:
Seek treatment if you can’t walk or your knee feels unsteady, if you have severe swelling, bruising or redness, or if you have had a recent injury to the knee area.
This short online assessment will guide you on next steps for your knee or hip pain. Find out if it’s time to talk to one of our orthopedic specialists.
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The first step in diagnosing a knee condition is a physical exam and a health history. You will be asked questions about your current medical conditions, family health history and more. You may have blood taken to check for inflammation.
Although a thorough physical examination can help your health care provider understand your condition, sometimes more information is needed. There are several other types of tests your doctor may give you to help figure out what is going on. Those tests include:
Sometimes, an even more detailed look at what’s happening in the knee joint may be necessary. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgery that uses a tiny camera to look inside your knee. Small cuts are made to insert a camera, and small surgical tools are used inside your knee for the procedure.
Once your doctor has given you a diagnosis, you will have a better idea of what treatment options are available to you. Knee pain treatment falls into roughly two categories: nonsurgical and surgical. Many people try nonsurgical treatment first, hoping to avoid surgery, but your health care team will help you make those choices.
Surgery is a good option if the joint is badly damaged or all other treatments have been considered or tried.
While this can be a diagnosing tool, arthroscopy also can be used to perform surgery. A minimally invasive procedure where a tiny camera is inserted into your knee to allow the orthopedist precisely to trim damaged cartilage, remove loose debris, irrigate the inside of the knee and even reconstruct a damaged ligament such as a torn ACL — a common injury.
This procedure is usually done to correct joint damage from arthritis. The surgery realigns the knee by either cutting the top of the shinbone or the bottom of the thighbone, while reshaping to shift weight off the knee.
The surgeon removes either the inside or outside of the knee joint and replaces it with artificial parts.
The surgeon will replace the ends of the femur (both inside and outside parts of the joint) and tibia with metal and plastic pieces. The surgeon may place a plastic button on the back of the kneecap to replace worn-out cartilage.
Norton Orthopedic Institute surgeons are leaders in the use of robotics that help your surgeon implant the parts of your new knee with superior precision. Placing the metal parts of the new joint and attaching them to your bone requires skill and planning to provide the best possible feel.
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