Knee pain is a common complaint. The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. The knee joins the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). The smaller bone that runs alongside the tibia (fibula) and the kneecap (patella) are the other bones that make up the knee joint.
Tendons connect the knee bones to the leg muscles that move the knee joint. Ligaments join the knee bones together and provide stability to the knee:
- The anterior cruciate ligament prevents the femur from sliding backward on the tibia (or the tibia sliding forward on the femur).
- The posterior cruciate ligament prevents the femur from sliding forward on the tibia (or the tibia from sliding backward on the femur).
- The medial and lateral collateral ligaments prevent the femur from sliding side to side.
Two C-shaped pieces of cartilage called the medial and lateral menisci act as shock absorbers between the femur and tibia. Numerous bursae, or fluid-filled sacs, help the knee move smoothly.
Knee pain can be caused by injuries, mechanical problems, types of arthritis and other problems. This article is an overview, since each of these conditions would require an entire article to cover.
The location and severity of knee pain may vary, depending on the cause of the problem. Signs and symptoms that sometimes accompany knee pain include:
- Swelling and stiffness
- Redness and warmth to the touch
- Weakness or instability
- Popping or crunching noises
- Inability to fully straighten the knee
A knee injury can affect any of the ligaments, tendons or fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that surround your knee joint as well as the bones, cartilage and ligaments that form the joint itself. Some of the more common knee injuries include:
- ACL injury.
- Torn meniscus.
- Knee bursitis.
- Patellar tendinitis.
- Mechanical problems
Some examples of mechanical problems that can cause knee pain include:
- Loose body.
- Iliotibial band syndrome.
- Dislocated kneecap.
- Hip or foot pain.
More than 100 different types of arthritis exist. The varieties most likely to affect the knee include:
- Osteoarthritis. .
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Septic arthritis.
Chondromalacia patellae (patellofemoral pain syndrome) is a general term that refers to pain arising between your patella and the underlying thighbone (femur). It’s common in athletes; in young adults, especially those who have a slight misalignment of the kneecap; and in older adults, who usually develop the condition as a result of arthritis of the kneecap.
Risk Factors for Knee Pain.
A number of factors can increase your risk of having knee problems, including:
- Excess weight. 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.
- Biomechanical problems. Certain structural abnormalities — such as having one leg shorter than the other, misaligned knees and even flat feet — can make you more prone to knee problems.
- Lack of muscle flexibility or strength. A lack of strength and flexibility are among the leading causes of knee injuries. Tight or weak muscles offer less support for your knee because they don’t absorb enough of the stress exerted on the joint.
- Certain sports. Some sports put greater stress on your knees than do others. Alpine skiing with its rigid ski boots and potential for falls, basketball’s jumps and pivots, and the repeated pounding your knees take when you run or jog all increase your risk of knee injury.
- Previous injury. Having a previous knee injury makes it more likely that you’ll injure your knee again.
Not all knee pain is serious. But some knee injuries and medical conditions, such as osteoarthritis, can lead to increasing pain, joint damage and disability if left untreated. And having a knee injury — even a minor one — makes it more likely that you’ll have similar injuries in the future.
See a doctor if
- the pain is severe
- there is paralysis
- there is numbness or constant pins and needles in the arms, hands, legs or feet
- the area is swollen
- a snapping sound or tearing sensation accompanied the injury
- there is weakness of the injured body part
- there is extreme limitation of movement or inability to use the injured area
- there is malfunction of the bladder or bowel
- there is associated nausea, vomiting or blurred vision
- the person is disoriented, dizzy or cannot perform normal activities because of the injury
As an afternote, I have a fun little story to relate: A couple of years ago, a regular client came in for her regularly scheduled appointment on a day when Tuli (my Airedale Terrier) was with me at the office. Tuli’s ‘degree’ is in detecting health problems. Tuli immediately alerted on my client’s knee. I ran a battery of tests to determine that, indeed, Tuli was correct, even though the client was feeling no pain. I sent her to an orthopedist for an evaluation, which came back as a meniscus tear requiring surgery. Following surgery and recovery, my client asked Tuli to recheck her knee. She passed with flying colors!
Adding regular sessions of hands-on therapies to your healthcare routine before your body starts complaining will help to keep injuries at bay, improve your musculoskeletal health, and help you maintain a state of homeostasis (or the ability to maintain a stable environment in your body). You can even request a body scan by Tuli! And, don’t worry, Tuli is 100% hypoallergenic!