The Top Causes of Knee Pain (And What We Can Do About Them)

Your knees are essential to your health. They have an incredibly important job of supporting and stabilizing your body as you walk, run, dance, or play sports. You don’t think about them until they start hurting. 

Sports injuries and aging are common reasons for knee pain. Dr. Michael Hood, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, and his team at Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine diagnose and treat knee pain daily. Following are the most common reasons for knee pain, and what you can do to tame that pain. 

Arthritis 

More than 20% of adults in the United States have arthritis. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is associated with aging. Your body produces less protein in your cartilage, causing it to become weak and brittle. In some cases, it disappears altogether, leaving you with bone-on-bone pain. 

Arthritis in your knees can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness. It’s one of the leading causes of disability claims. Osteoarthritis can also result from obesity or the aftereffects of trauma from an accident or sports injury. Rheumatoid arthritis is another form of arthritis, but it’s an autoimmune disease.  

Sprained knee ligament 

You have four knee ligaments, tough bands of connective tissue that link bones together at the knee. You can injure any of the four, but you most commonly hear about anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries; they can sideline you or a player for your favorite sports team for a season. The ACL joins your thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone. 

An ACL sprain, which can be a stretched ligament or a full or partial tear, can happen from suddenly twisting or pivoting, often during sports. Pain from an ACL sprain can be intense depending on the severity of the injury, as well as difficulty walking.  

Torn or damaged cartilage 

Damage to your cartilage can come from a sports injury or accident, from progressive arthritis, or from overuse. Tearing the meniscus occurs more frequently after age 50 because your cartilage isn’t as healthy as it was when you were younger. As it becomes more brittle, it can tear more easily. 

Tendonitis

If you’re a runner or you play basketball, you may be more prone to tendonitis in the knee, especially if you’ve reached 50 years old. The force of your foot hitting the ground repeatedly, such as from running or jumping, can cause your knee tendons to become inflamed, stretched, or torn.  

Treating knee pain 

It’s important to seek professional treatment to determine the cause of your knee pain. The following are general guidelines for treating common types of knee pain.

Arthritis

Dr. Hood discusses possible lifestyle changes you can make to minimize your discomfort. If it hurts to run or play tennis, switching to lower-impact physical exercise such as swimming or cycling can reduce your pain. If you’re obese, Dr. Hood recommends losing weight to take pressure off your knee joints.  

If your condition has limited your mobility, Dr. Hood prescribes physical therapy to help you regain as much range of motion as possible. He also may recommend a cane or other device to increase your mobility. 

If all or most of your cartilage between the bones in your knees is gone, Dr. Hood recommends knee replacement surgery

Minor ligament, tendon, and meniscus injuries

If you have only a minor meniscus, ligament or tendon injury, you’re likely to recover well, starting with the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the leg). If you have a significant amount of pain, Dr. Hood can inject a steroid and prescribe pain relievers. 

Once the initial inflammation subsides, he determines whether physical therapy is a next step for you. Therapy helps you regain range of motion and strengthens the surrounding knee muscles that help to support it. 

Tears in ligaments, menisci, or tendons

A small ACL tear may be treated as noted above. However, Dr. Hood follows up to determine if you have any instability after your physical therapy is completed. 

If you have a larger tear, or a complete tear, in a ligament or tendon, surgery is almost always needed for complete recovery. 

If you have a significant tendon tear, the condition usually involves surgery. A small, partial tendon tear around the kneecap may be treated with rest, physical therapy, and a brace. 

If the cartilage damage from an accident is extensive, you may need surgery. However, if you’re older and your meniscus cartilage is damaged from arthritis, surgery is usually not the best answer because it may give you no discernible benefit or very little benefit versus the cost and time involved.  

Reach out to Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, which has locations in West Memphis, Arkansas, and Collierville, Tennessee, for all of your musculoskeletal needs. Call or book your appointment online, or send a message to Dr. Hood and the team here on the website.

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