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Knee Pain

Information about knee pain causes and treatment

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Updated April 07, 2014

Man grasping his injured knee Stockbyte/Getty Images
Knee Osteoarthritis diagram

Knee pain has many causes including arthritis.

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Knee pain is an extremely common complaint, and there are many causes. It is important to make an accurate diagnosis of the cause of your symptoms so that appropriate treatment can be directed at the cause. If you have knee pain, some common causes include:

  • Arthritis
    Arthritis is among the most common causes of knee pain, and there are many treatments available.

     

  • Ligament Injuries
    Ligament injuries commonly occur during athletic activities and can cause discomfort and instability.

     

  • Cartilage Injuries | Meniscal Tear
    Cartilage tears are seen in young and old patients alike, and are also an extremely common cause of knee pain.

     

  • Patellar Tendonitis
    Tendonitis around the joint is most commonly of the patellar tendon, the large tendon over the front of the knee.

     

  • Chondromalacia Patella
    Chondromalacia causes knee pain under the kneecap and is due to softening of the cartilage. It is most common in younger patients (15-35 years old).

     

  • Dislocating Kneecap
    A dislocating kneecap causes acute symptoms during the dislocation, but can also lead to chronic knee pain.

     

  • Baker's Cyst
    A Baker's cyst is swelling in the back of the joint, and is usually a sign of another underlying problem such as a meniscus tear.

     

  • Bursitis
    The most common bursa affected around the joint is just above the kneecap. This is most common in people who kneel for work, such as gardeners or carpetlayers.

     

  • Plica Syndrome
    Plica syndrome is an uncommon cause of knee pain, and can be difficult to diagnose. The diagnosis is usually made at the time of arthroscopy.

     

  • Osgood-Schlatter Disease
    Osgood-Schlatter disease is a condition seen in adolescents and is due to irritation of the growth plate just at the front of the joint.

     

  • Osteochondritis Dissecans
    Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is another condition seen in adolescents due to the growth of the bone around the joint.

     

  • Gout
    Gout is an uncommon cause of knee pain. However, in patients who have a diagnosis of gout, it must be considered as a cause for new onset knee pain.

When do you need to call your doctor about your knee pain?
If you are unsure of the cause of your symptoms, or if you do not know the specific treatment recommendations for your condition, you should seek medical attention. Treatment of knee pain must be directed at the specific cause of your problem. Some signs that you should be seen by a doctor include:

    • Inability to walk comfortably on the affected side
    • Injury that causes deformity around the joint
    • Knee pain that occurs at night or while resting
    • Knee pain that persists beyond a few days
    • Locking (inability to bend) the knee
    • Swelling of the joint or the calf area
    • Signs of an infection, including fever, redness, warmth
    • Any other unusual symptoms

 

Treatments for Knee Pain

Treatment of knee pain depends entirely on the cause of the problem. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you understand the cause of your symptoms before embarking on a treatment program. If you are unsure of your diagnosis, or the severity of your condition, you should seek medical advice before beginning any treatment plan.

Some common treatments for knee pain are listed here. Not all of these treatments are appropriate for every condition, but they may be helpful in your situation.

 

  • Rest: The first treatment for most common conditions that cause knee pain is to rest the joint, and allow the acute inflammation to subside. Often this is the only step needed to relieve knee pain. If the symptoms are severe, crutches may be helpful as well.

     

  • Ice and Heat Application: Ice packs and heat pads are among the most commonly used treatments for knee pain. So which one is the right one to use, ice or heat? And how long should the ice or heat treatments last?

     

  • Stretching: Stretching the muscles and tendons that surround the joint can help with some causes of knee pain.

     

  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is an important aspect of treatment of almost all orthopedic conditions. Physical therapists use different techniques to increase strength, regain mobility, and help return patients to their pre-injury level of activity.

     

  • Anti-Inflammatory Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, commonly referred to as NSAIDs, are some of the most commonly prescribed medications, especially for patients with knee pain caused by problems such as arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis.

     

  • Cortisone injections: Cortisone is a powerful medication that treats inflammation, and inflammation is a common problem in patients with knee pain. Discuss with your doctor the possible benefits of a cortisone injection for your condition.
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