Knee pain is a common complaint, and can affect anyone at any age. Sometimes knee pain comes on gradually, or it may appear suddenly after an injury. Regardless, there are some things you can do to help ease the pain.
Symptoms of Knee Pain
Symptoms of knee pain may include one or more of the following:
- Pain or aching
- Decreased range of motion
Ligaments of the Knee
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of developing a disease or condition. Risk factors for knee pain include:
- Being overweight. Even a small amount of weight loss can help alleviate knee pain.
- Overusing your knee, often in sports, or in a job that requires a lot of kneeling.
In addition to risk factors, some knee pain is caused by underlying conditions, such as:
- Having arthritis, including osteoarthritis, lupus, and gout. The breakdown of cartilage around the joints can cause pain.
- Baker cysts, fluid-filled swelling behind the knee that may occur with inflammation.
- 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.
- Dislocation or fracture of the kneecap or other bones.
- Injury to the iliotibial band, the thick band that runs from your hip to the outside of your knee.
- 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.
Mild knee pain can be treated at home, and often resolves over a short time period. If your knee pain is due to an accident or injury, you should contact your health care provider to determine if more serious damage has occurred.
If you have new knee pain that seems mild, you can try these at-home treatments:
- R.I.C.E. Method:
- REST—avoid activities that aggravate the pain and avoid putting weight on your knee. Keep your knee raised as much as possible to bring down any swelling.
- 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.
- COMPRESSION—To help reduce swelling and provide some support, wear an elastic bandage or elastic sleeve. These are available at most pharmacies.
- ELEVATION— Keep your knee raised as much as possible to bring down any swelling.
- Take ibuprofen or naproxyn to help ease pain and swelling. Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol®, may 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 couple days.
- Sleep with a pillow underneath or between your knees.
To help prevent knee pain, follow these tips:
- Improve range of motion and flexibility by always warming up before exercise and cooling down after exercise. Stretch the muscles in the front of your thigh (quadriceps) and in the back of your thigh (hamstrings).
- Avoid running down hills—walk instead.
- Bicycle or swim instead of running.
- Reduce the amount of exercise you do.
- Run on a smooth, soft surface, like 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 doctor for ways to help lose weight.
- If you have flat feet, try special shoe inserts and arch supports called orthotics.
- An unloader knee brace may provide support and reduce the need for medication.
- Make sure your running shoes are well made, fit well, and have good cushioning.
When to Call the Doctor
If at-home remedies fail to work after 3 days, or if pain seems more extreme, contact your doctor for further evaluation. This is especially true if you:
- You cannot bear weight on your knee.
- You have severe pain, even when not bearing weight.
- Your knee buckles, clicks, or locks.
- Your knee is deformed or misshapen.
- You have a fever, redness, or warmth around the knee, or a lot of swelling.
- You have pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, or bluish discoloration in the calf below the sore knee.
What to Expect at Your Visit
Your physician will perform a physical exam and look at your knees, hips, legs, and other joints. He or she also may do one or more of the following tests:
- X-ray of the knee.
- MRI of the knee if a ligament or meniscus tear could be the cause.
- CT scan of the knee.
- Joint fluid culture (fluid taken from the knee and examined under a microscope).
Your doctor may inject cortisone or hyaluronic acid into your knee to reduce pain and inflammation. In addition, you may be given stretching and strengthening exercises, and/or be referred to a podiatrist to be fitted for orthotics. More severe knee pain may require surgery, depending on the cause.
National Institutes of Health (NIH): www.medlineplus.gov