Knee pain is a common complaint resulting from disease or injury.Additional symptoms often accompany knee pain including decreased range of motion, mobility issues, swelling, redness and locking of the knee joint.
The largest joint in the body, the knee is made-up of three bones, four major ligaments, cartilage, tendons and the meniscus. Damage to any of these structures can result in pain.
- Fracture – an acute injury to the knee can result in broken bones. Breaks in the fibula (thigh bone), tibia (shinbone), and patella (kneecap) can cause knee pain
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – injuries to the ACL, one of the ligaments connecting the fibula and tibia, is a common sports injury. Abrupt changes in direction, landing a jump or direct blows can tear or stretch the ACL
- Collateral & posterior ligament – direct blows to the front or sides of the knee can lead to injury or tear of these ligaments
- Dislocation – less commonly, the bones in the knee can become displaced due to serious trauma
- Tendon injuries – the patellar tendons and quadriceps can be damaged as a result of direct impact or incorrectly landing a jump, particularly in middle aged adults.
Medical reasons for knee pain
Not all knee pain is caused by injury. There are also medical conditions reasons for pain, including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis – a disabling autoimmune condition associated with swelling and pain
- Septic arthritis – infection of the joint
- Patellar tendonitis – inflammation of kneecap tendons
- Overuse–inflammation of the bursa (fluid filled sac near the knee joint) or synovial lining (a thin membrane in the joint), and tissue thickening in the knee
- Referred pain –since the obturator nerve supplies both the hip and the knee, problems with the hip can mimic knee pain
Treatment for knee pain
When swelling is present, knee pain is severe and/or persists several days, your ability to walk or bend your knee is inhibited or the knee is deformed, you should seek medical treatment.
Non-surgical knee pain treatment options
Treating knee pain doesn’t necessarily mean surgery. Medical treatment includes:
- Immobilization – a cast or knee brace can protect the knee and allow injuries to heal
- Medications –some medications can be injected directly into the knee joint including: anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain and inflammation, hyaluronic acid for knee joint lubrication or platelet-rich plasma, blood from a patient that is drawn, enhanced with a stronger concentration of platelets and infused back into the patient to promote healing
Surgical knee pain treatment
Some knee injuries require surgical repair to regain mobility and provide stability. Depending on the diagnosis, surgical options include:
- Arthroscopic knee surgery – this minimally invasive procedure is performed through a series of small incisions around the knee. After inserting a tiny camera into the knee joint, the orthopedic surgeon uses miniature instruments to operate. Repairs of meniscus tears, cartilage and ligament issues, kneecap problems and infection can sometimes be treated with arthroscopy
- Unicompartmental knee replacement – also known as partial knee replacement, this procedure is performed when only one of the three major compartments of the knee needs repair. Damaged portions of the knee are replaced with plastic and metal components
- Total knee replacement – in cases where the entire knee joint is affected, damaged portions of bones and cartilage are removed and metal implants inserted. The underside of the patella (kneecap) is smoothed and may be resurfaced. A spacer is then placed between the metal components, allowing the joint to move freely and smoothly
It is important to remember, pain is a symptom, and all persistent knee pain should be evaluated by a health care professional.