It can be as simple as an awkward twist that causes a sprained muscle or strained ligament in one of your knees. Maybe the wear and tear over a long life has led to arthritis. Perhaps a misstep on the playing field resulted in torn ligaments or cartilage damage. The common thread is when you have knee pain, you know it.
The key questions to dealing with knee pain are:
- Can you bear weight on your knee without discomfort?
- Do you have significant swelling?
- Can you extend your knee fully?
- Do you see some deformity in your leg or knee?
- Do you have significant pain associated with a current or previous knee injury?
If the answers to these questions are cause for concern and affect your daily activities, it’s important to see a doctor.
Causes of knee pain
“There are numerous causes for knee pain, anything from a football injury to wear and tear with age,” says orthopedic surgeon Karl Helmold, MD, with LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine–Mauch Chunk Street in Pottsville. “If you’re a laborer, it can involve an injury on the job. If you’re a runner, your running motion may be putting more pressure on your knees than other runners experience. Maybe you’re carrying too much weight and that stress is affecting your knees. In other words, dealing with knee pain is quite common.”
Sports medicine physician Stephen Evans, DO, with LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine–Mauch Chunk Street in Pottsville, has a simple rule of thumb when it comes to knee pain and joint pain in general.
“If you live long enough and perform everyday physical activities, joints will eventually wear out,” Evans says. “We start by hearing the patient’s story – what were you doing and when did the pain begin? I’ve had patients who have been feeling knee pain for years and gotten by taking ibuprofen every night before bed. That’s a tough way to go.”
Range of knee treatments
For mild injuries, self-treatment includes knee braces for support, over-the-counter medication and ointments designed to reduce pain. Physicians may opt for anti-inflammatory drugs or steroidal injections to manage chronic pain and arthritic conditions. And for injuries and more advanced arthritic conditions, surgery is usually indicated, perhaps even knee replacement. There are more than 600,000 knee replacement surgeries performed in the U.S. annually.
“There are a lot of different treatments available in our toolbox to get a patient back to a high level of activity,” says orthopedic surgeon Nicholas Slenker, MD, with Coordinated Health Allentown–1621 N. Cedar Crest Blvd. “We diagnose what’s going on in the knee area and come up with the best treatment plan possible for that patient. The key is getting you moving again. The body wants to stay in motion. Once we stop moving, that’s when more problems can begin, like weight gain.”
The good news is knee surgery has advanced to the point where an athlete tearing knee ligaments or damaging cartilage is often able to return to peak form, where years ago such an injury was generally career-altering. Most knee surgeries performed today also have less invasive (arthroscopic) options, which reduce your recovery time.
“I’ve known patients who are willing to walk around bow-legged to compensate for their knee pain, where it’s been caused by injury or arthritis,” Helmold says. “There’s no reason to do something like that when we have treatments that can really help.”
Having joint pain? Take our free joint pain assessment to find out your next steps at LVHN.org/jointpain.