Knee pain is a common complaint that affects people of all ages. Knee pain may be the result of an injury, such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. Medical conditions — including arthritis, gout and infections — also can cause knee pain.

Many types of minor knee pain respond well to self-care measures. Physical therapy and knee braces also can help relieve knee pain. In some cases, however, your knee may require surgical repair.

Knee pain refers to pain that occurs in and around your knee joint. Knee pain can be caused by problems with the knee joint itself, or it can be caused by conditions affecting the soft tissues — ligaments, tendons or bursae — that surround the knee.

The severity of knee pain can vary widely. Some people may feel only a slight twinge, while others may experience debilitating knee pain that interferes with their day-to-day activities. In most cases, self-care measures can help you cope with knee pain.

Medical conditions

  • Arthritis — including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, and gout
  • Baker’s cyst — a fluid-filled swelling behind the knee that may occur with swelling (inflammation) from other causes, like arthritis
  • Cancers that either spread to your bones or begin in the bones
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease
  • Infection in the bones of the knee
  • Infection in the knee joint

Injuries and overuse

  • Bursitis — inflammation from repeated pressure on the knee, such as kneeling for a long time, overuse, or injury
  • Dislocation of the kneecap
  • Fracture of the kneecap or other bones
  • Iliotibial band syndrome — injury to the thick band that runs from your hip to the outside of your knee
  • Pain in the front of your knee around the kneecap
  • Torn ligament — an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, or medial collateral ligament (MCL)injury may cause bleeding into your knee, swelling, or an unstable knee
  • Torn cartilage (a meniscus tear) — pain felt on the inside or outside of the knee joint
  • Strain or sprain — minor injuries to the ligaments caused by sudden or unnatural twisting

Home Care

Simple causes of knee pain often clear up on their own while you take steps to manage your symptoms. If knee pain is caused by an accident or injury, you should contact your health care provider.

If your knee pain has just started and is not severe, you can:

  • Rest and avoid activities that cause pain. Avoid putting weight on your knee.
  • Apply ice. First, apply it every hour for up to 15 minutes. After the first day, apply it at least 4 times per day. Cover your knee with a towel before applying ice. Do not fall asleep while using ice. You can leave it on too long and get frostbite.
  • Keep your knee raised as much as possible to bring down any swelling.
  • Wear an elastic bandage or elastic sleeve, which you can buy at most pharmacies. This may reduce swelling and provide support.
  • Take ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxyn (Aleve) for pain and swelling. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help relieve pain, but not swelling. Talk to your provider before taking these medicines if you have medical problems, or if you have taken them for more than a day or two.
  • Sleep with a pillow underneath or between your knees.

Follow these general tips to help relieve and prevent knee pain:

  • Always warm up before exercising and cool down after exercising. Stretch the muscles in the front of your thigh (quadriceps) and in the back of your thigh (hamstrings).
  • Avoid running down hills — walk down instead.
  • Bicycle, or better yet, swim instead of run.
  • Reduce the amount of exercise you do.
  • Run on a smooth, soft surface, such as a track, instead of on cement or pavement.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Every pound that you are overweight puts about 5 extra pounds of pressure on your kneecap when you go up and down stairs. Ask your provider for help losing weight.
  • If you have flat feet, try special shoe inserts and arch supports (orthotics).
  • Make sure your running shoes are well made, fit well, and have good cushioning.
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