General Information About Knee Pain
Knee pain is a very common ailment, which is especially prevalent among older adults. In the US, knee pain accounts for nearly 20% of all cases of chronic pain. Because the knee carries the load of the entire body, it is susceptible to a number of issues that can cause pain. Many knee-related complaints tend to be minor, which can be solved by a few sessions of in-person or online physical therapy for knee pain. But not all knee issues are the same and even treatments including knee brace or surgery may be necessary to address some severe cases.
Understanding The Knee
The knee, also known as the tibiofemoral joint, is a complex joint that connects the thigh with the legs. It is crucial for enabling the body to move and stand upright. As a hinge joint, the knee allows the leg to extend and bend back and forth with a minimal side-to-side motion. Situated at the bottom of the thigh and the upper portion of the lower leg, the knee’s overall structure includes bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and other tissues.
There are three bones meeting and moving against each other at the knee joint, which include the femur (which is also the biggest bone in the body), the patella (also called the kneecap), and the tibia (also called the shin bone). The bones are cushioned by two thick pads of cartilage, which are called the knee menisci. Of the two menisci, the one present in the inside of the knee is called the medial meniscus, and the one on the outer side is called the lateral meniscus. The bones are held together by ligaments, which include a pair of stretchy cruciate ligaments in the interior and a pair of collateral ligaments on the outer side. Further, a large connecting tendon at the front of the thigh called the quadriceps bridges the different bones and muscles.
Common Knee Pain Issues
The most common knee issues are often attributed to injuries and structural problems. However, injuries across other parts of the body, as well as undiagnosed causes can also cause pain around the knee. Some of the most common knee issues are summarized below:
- Sprained or strained knee ligaments/muscles: Among the most commonly reported knee issues, sprained or strained knee ligaments/muscles are usually caused by sudden twisting of the knee and can cause swelling and mobility issues. Sprains generally tend to be minor and can heal after a few days of rest, accompanied by active physical therapy. However, some sprains can be serious as well and delayed treatment can result in severe pain and may even need surgery.
- Torn cartilage: Torn cartilage is the result of damage to the menisci and can also come together with sprains. This condition can also result in severe pain and the treatment can involve surgery as well as the use of braces.
- Tendinitis: Tendinitis is caused by the overuse of a tendon, usually during intensive activities like running and jumping, which results in inflammation of the tendons. Most tendinitis can be healed at home with exercise or passive online physical therapy for knee pain.
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are among the most common kinds of arthritis that can affect the knee joints. Cases of arthritis are usually observed in middle-aged and older patients. Arthritis causes the cartilages to gradually wear away and bring inflammation and pain to the knees. Depending upon the extent of the pain, arthritis treatment can range from a simple painkiller medication regime to extensive joint repair surgery and pain rehabilitation procedures.
- Dislocated kneecap: Dislocated kneecap is the result of the kneecap bone (patella) slipping out of place and shifting away from the knee. During the process of dislocation, the connective tissues holding the bone in its place can stretch and tear, resulting in inflammation and pain.
Knee pain is a fairly common musculoskeletal condition, and it can affect people from all ages and backgrounds. Although knee pain is quite common across all ages and backgrounds, it is observed that some knee pain conditions affect certain demographics more than others. Some major risk factors that can increase your risk of having knee problems include the following:
- Age: The risk of specific degenerative knee injury conditions like arthritis is observed to be higher among people above 50. On the other hand, sudden injury conditions like ACL injury are observed to be more common among physically active younger demographics.
- Female: On average, females report more knee injuries than males. Some estimates suggest that females report at least 25% more knee pain issues than males.
- Malnutrition: Lack of adequate nutrition in the body is often linked with several musculoskeletal issues, including knee injuries. The deficiency of essential nutrients like Vitamin D, Calcium, and Protein weakens the muscles and joints, and consequently increase the risk of injury.
- Obesity: Obesity can hugely increase the pressure on the knee joints because of which the risk of muscular, tendon and ligament damage in the knee can also increase.
- Inactivity: An inactive or sedentary lifestyle can cause the muscles around the knee to lose their flexibility and strength, and put the knee and other joints in the body at a higher risk of injury.
- Specific occupations: Athletes of a few sports are very prone to knee injury due to high stress on the knee areas. Football, basketball, skiing, high jump, etc are sports with high incidences of knee injuries. Similarly, occupations like construction and farming that require people to make dynamic movements while standing for long hours without rest are also considered among high-risk factors for knee pain.
- Previous injury: The risk of recurrence of knee pain in people who have previously had a knee injury remains fairly high, with some studies suggesting that at least 50% of people who have recovered from knee injuries report a minor or major pain in the knee within a year of recovery.
- Smoking: Smokers are generally at risk of several musculoskeletal conditions including knee pain. Nicotine and other chemicals present in tobacco can weaken the joints, and also delay healing in recovering knee injury patients.
Physical Therapy For Knee Pain
Physical therapy is considered to be an effective and non-invasive treatment procedure for many conditions of knee pain. However, not all knee pain is the same and the ideal knee treatment method applied by the physical therapist can differ from one patient to another. In some severe cases, physical therapy may not even be advised by physicians, especially during the early recovery stages.
Normally, a physical therapist works together with the physician to determine the effective active and passive physical therapy strategies that will help patients in achieving a reduction in their pain and resuming normal life activities. Physical therapy is also commonly used for post-surgery rehabilitation, with passive physical therapy methods used in early recovery stages for pain relief, and active therapy and exercises applied in the later stages to achieve recovery, endurance, and full motion. Some physical therapists may also recommend online physical therapy for knee pain to aid faster recovery.