The human knee supports the majority of our body weight and is involved with almost every form of movement. As such, the knee joint is one of the largest and most complicated joints in the human body. Knee joint pain is common and can be experienced by men and women, the young and the elderly, athletes and non-athletes... basically anyone can experience knee joint pain.
Anatomy of the Knee Joint
The knee joint is comprised of the following:
Bones - The bones of the knee joint include the tibia and fibula (shin bones), the femur (thigh bone) and the patella (knee cap).
Cartilage - The C-shaped structure known as the meniscus is cartilage, which helps cushion the knee joint.
Ligaments - The inner ligaments which crisscross near the center of the knee are known as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and the outer ligaments which go down either side of the knee are the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL). These ligaments provide stability to the knee joint.
Patellar Tendon - This tendon goes over the knee cap and functions with your thigh muscles to bend and straighten your leg.
Additionally, there are muscles all around the knee joint which help with movement.
Causes of Knee Joint Pain
Arthritis - Especially common in elderly individuals, osteoarthritis of the knee is the natural wear and tear of the knee joint. Younger patients may also experience forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which may be a source of knee joint pain.
Trauma to the Knee - Athletes and other active individuals are at risk for injuring the knee joint, especially those in contact sports. Knee joint injury may occur during running, pivoting, jumping, landing or impact with the ground or another athlete.
Overuse Injuries or Tendonitis- Any repetitive motion with the knees such as consistent bending on the job, carrying heavy items, or running (causing impact with the ground) may cause stress to the knee joint.
There are many other possible causes of joint pain in knees, such as gout or bursitis, but the ones listed above are the most common reasons behind painful knee joints.
Diagnosing Pain in Knee Joints
To determine the cause of your knee joint pain, your doctor will first review your medical history and discuss any recent injuries you may have had. In older patients, the natural wear and tear of the joint may indicate arthritis, though other injuries may be present, such as meniscus tears.
For injuries, your doctor will likely perform imaging test such as a X-ray or MRI. Lab tests, such as blood work, may also be requested to check for infection.
Knee Joint Pain Relief and Treatment
Since there are many potential causes of knee joint pain, there are almost as many potential treatments. Since we listed three primary suspects of painful knee joints above, below are the typical treatments for those conditions.
Treatment for arthritis - Your doctor may suggest a combination of the following: light exercise, icing the joint, weight loss, wearing osteoarthritis knee braces, physical therapy, injections to reduce pain, or surgery. Most treatment for arthritis involves pain management so that you can continue with daily activities and minimize wear and tear in the knee joint.
Treatment for traumatic injury - Immediate treatment typically involves RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and use of NSAIDs (over the counter medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen) to reduce inflammation. The severity of the injury will be evaluated, and further knee joint treatments such as aspiration (to remove fluid) or arthroscopic surgery may be considered.
Treatment for overuse injuries or tendonitis - Rest is usually recommended to manage the pain. Physical therapy is typically suggested after that to help strengthen the muscles around the knee which helps prevent the reoccurrence of sore knee joints. Wearing knee braces can sometimes help reduce the strain on the knee and may minimize knee joint pain.
Speak with your doctor for the best options for knee joint pain relief for your situation.