Treatment Options for Knee Pain
Knee pain is a common condition that unfortunately affects most people at some point in their lifetime. It can manifest in a number of different ways, and can result from a variety of stressors, including sudden injury, poor movement mechanics, overuse, or even an underlying health condition.
In this article we’ll take a look at some of the most common causes of knee pain, and the most effective treatment options available to you.
Knee Pain Causes
Some of the most common conditions associated with knee pain include:
- Tendonitis: This is characterized by the swelling of the tendons of the knee joint, and is commonly the result of an overuse injury. It is often seen in people who perform regular exercise that involves repetitive movements such as running or jumping.
- I-T band syndrome - I-T band syndrome is another overuse injury, often associated with running. Due to repetitive movements, the soft tissue running down the outside of the leg becomes stiff and painful.
- Bursitis: Fluid builds up in the sac of fluid that usually cushions the knee joints, often long periods of kneeling or repetitive knee strain.
- Patellar subluxation - Typically caused by a genetic dysfunction, patella subluxation is characterised by the kneecap sliding out of its normal position, often causing pain and swelling.
- Ligament/tendon sprain - Sprains are most often seen in those who regularly play sport, but are becoming increasingly common amongst the general public. They are often caused by a sudden shearing motion or change in force around the knee, which severs or partly severs the ligaments or tendons. Depending on the severity, a sprain may require surgical intervention.
- Arthritis: According to Healthline, there are three types of arthritis that can occur in your knees, the most common being osteoarthritis. This usually occurs after middle age, and slowly wears away joint cartilage, the substance that usually protects the end of your bones. Post-traumatic arthritis can also develop following an acute injury to the knee. Finally, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes swelling and pain in the joint, and it can strike at any age.
If you begin to experience uncharacteristic knee pain or any of the symptoms above, it is best to consult a medical professional who can help you identify the specific issue ad recommend suitable treatment. However, you may also benefit from applying some of the guidelines mentioned below.
Treating an Acute Knee Injury
Acute injuries are those that occur as a result of a traumatic event, such as a fall or a direct impact. Injuries can range from being severe and debilitating (which should require immediate medical attention) to those that are less severe and can instead be treated at home. Note that in this section we’ll focus more on the latter.
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The RICE Protocol
In the event of a non-life threatening acute injury such as a sprain or a muscular strain, it is generally agreed upon by GPs and physical therapists that you should follow the RICE protocols:
Rest – immediately after the injury occurs, take the weight off of the injured leg and protect it as best as you can. Remove yourself from any environments that may aggravate the pain until it subsides.
Ice - apply ice or cold packs as soon as possible to minimize swelling of the knee. Apply it for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
Compression – wrap your injured knee with an elastic bandage or mobility band to bring down swelling and speed up recovery. The guys at Mobility WOD have a great video all about the Voodoo Flossing technique that can really speed the healing process along.
Elevation – place your knee on pillows to elevate it above your heart whenever you are sitting or lying down. Again, this will help to minimise the swelling.
Recommended Reading: The Top 25 Herbal Remedies for Pain Relief
Chronic knee pain occurs as a result of overuse and chronic conditions such as arthritis or tendonitis. This is where the cartilage, tendons or ligaments of the knee joint are damaged or inflamed, causing low to moderate pain.
Aside from surgical interventions, there are there are currently few ways to completely reverse chronic conditions such as arthritis, but there are still many home remedy options to control symptoms that are worth exploring.
1. Heat and Cold Therapy
As mentioned above, using a cold pack can help to reduce swelling and inflammation of the knee joint.
The opposite can also bring a number of benefits - using a heat pad on your knee can help to increase blood flow and prevent the joint from stiffening up.
Not sure which one to pick and when? The Cleveland Clinic has you covered with this useful infographic.
Bonus: Download This 21-Day Inflammation Reset that will show you how to tackle your worst joint pain symptoms quickly.
2. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TENS units send a low level electrical current through electrodes placed on the skin. As the guys at the Arthritis Foundation explain:
“TENS is believed to stop messages from pain receptors from reaching the brain. It has been shown to help with short-term pain control in some patients with knee or hip arthritis.”
TENS units are now widely available online and in health stores at fairly reasonable prices.
3. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can help to reduce pain associated with swelling and inflammation.
However, they do not come without their potential side effects, and should therefore be used with caution.
Acupuncture has long been used in the east to treat a variety of ailments. It involves the placement of thin needles at specific points in the body, with the aim of unblocking any restrictions to the body’s natural flow of energy.
Acupuncture certainly has its skeptics, however recent research suggests that regular treatment from a trained practitioner may help relieve chronic knee pain associated with conditions such as arthritis.
There are a number of supplements that can help to bring down inflammation levels and the pain associated with chronic knee conditions. Here are some of the most widely used and effective:
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate: A combination of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate has been scientifically proven to help reduce pain from osteoarthritis of the knee.
- Willow Bark: Willow bark is another supplement often used by herbalists to treat pain and inflammation. A study published in 2001 showed that arthritis sufferers experienced a notable reduction in after taking the supplement.
- Ginger: Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory food. Available fresh, dried, and as an extract, it has been shown to help reduce joint pain when used alongside traditional prescriptions for treating arthritis.
- Turmeric: The compound curcumin found in turmeric has incredible anti-inflammatory characteristics, and has been shown to help significantly reduce inflammation and pain stemming from osteoarthritis.
Minimizing Your Knee Injury Risk
It’s long been said that prevention is the best cure, and the same adage applies to knee pain. If you can make sure that your body is in a good state of health to begin with, you’re less likely to suffer from a chronic knee injury, and more likely to bounce back from an acute one.
Here are a few things that you might want to consider to maintain your overall health:
1. Weight management
The more weight that you are carrying, the more force that goes through your joints every time you move. As the guys at the Mayo Clinic explain:
"Being overweight or obese increases stress on your knee joints, even during ordinary activities such as walking or going up and down stairs. It also puts you at increased risk of osteoarthritis by accelerating the breakdown of joint cartilage."
Do your best to eat a healthy diet and engage in plenty of exercise to maintain a favorable body composition.
2. Shoe choices
Elevated heel shoes can place a big stress on the knee joints. Not only do they alter your normal gait pattern, they can also encourage an anterior pelvic tilt, which in turn often causes internal rotation of the femurs, placing extra strain on the knee joint.
Over time this can lead to arthritis, tendonitis, and other chronic knee conditions.
Do your best to avoid heeled shoes when possible, and transition slowly to more minimal, flat footwear.
3. Muscular imbalances
Tight muscles surrounding the knee joint (the quads, hamstrings, and calves) can increase the pressure on the joint capsule, eventually wearing down the cartilage. Just like a tight hinge on a door will leave dust marks on the floor, the same process occurs in the knee joint, with the dust being formed from your connective tissues.
Introduce a regular stretching routine into your daily life, and if possible visit a physical therapist to address any muscular imbalances.
Although it may seem like a tenuous link, the food you put in your mouth can have a direct impact on your joint health.
The standard western diet is rich in acidic foods, which some believe creates a more acidic environment in the body. Acidity in turn promotes inflammation, which can manifest in many different ways, including joint pain.
As well as considering some of the supplements mentioned earlier, ensure you’re eating a healthy diet rich in healthy, alkaline promoting plant foods.