Chronic knee pain affects many people, but the underlying conditions that cause it can vary widely. Learning more about the common causes of knee pain can help you narrow down your available treatment options.
Everyone experiences twinges of knee and joint pain as they age, but for some people, knee pain persists over a long period. Chronic knee pain can make it hard to complete everyday activities or even perform simple movements, such as bending down. The exact symptoms associated with your chronic knee pain and the types of treatment available to you vary depending on the underlying cause.
This form of arthritis is the most common cause of chronic knee pain. Although osteoarthritis most often occurs in people over the age of 50, younger people can develop it as well. When you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage in your knee gradually wears away, leading to pain and inflammation.
Other common knee symptoms include swelling, stiffness and weakness in the affected joint. Knee pain linked to osteoarthritis is usually worse when you get out of bed in the morning and when you get up after being seated for a while.
If your physician determines that your knee pain in caused by osteoarthritis, there are several treatment options available, including:
- Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, can provide short-term relief from inflammation related aches. Stronger pain relievers that require a prescription, such as corticosteroids, can offer stronger relief from more severe symptoms, but they are sometimes associated with negative side effects.
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy involves doing exercises designed to build up the muscles around your knees and help restore your normal range of motion, which should decrease some pain over time. However, physical therapy cannot help pain caused by bone degeneration and bones grinding against each other.
- Surgery: Arthroscopy, total or partial knee replacement, and osteotomy are surgical procedures meant to relieve chronic knee pain in those with osteoarthritis. When medication and physical therapy no longer work, surgery may be your best option for dealing with knee pain.
Several types of injuries can lead to chronic knee pain that lasts years after the initial damage occurred. One of the most common types of knee injury that causes persistent pain is a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). When this ligament connecting your shinbone and thighbone is torn, you can experience ongoing pain in the affected knee.
Other symptoms of a torn ACL include tenderness, restricted range of motion and a feeling of instability when putting pressure on the injured knee. You can tear your ACL while playing contact sports, landing wrong after jumping; coming to sudden stops or making abrupt turns. If you have a torn ACL, your physician may recommend one or more of the following knee pain treatment methods:
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy involves performing strengthening exercises and other activities to help restore flexibility in your injured knee.
- Brace: Wearing a knee brace helps prevent your knee from becoming unstable when you put pressure on it, which helps prevent pain from further damage and inflammation.
- Surgery: Torn ACL injuries usually do not heal properly with nonsurgical treatment. Surgical procedures that repair ACLs reduce chronic knee pain by reconstructing the damaged ligament.
Meniscal tears occur in the cartilage that connects your shinbone and thighbone and can happen when you twist your knee, lift heavy objects incorrectly or come to a sudden stop. In addition to persistent pain that tends to flare up when you rotate your knee, you may also experience a feeling that your knee is locked in place, as well as stiffness, swelling and difficulty holding your knee straight.
If you have a torn meniscus, your physician may recommend the following forms of knee pain treatment:
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy helps strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee, which can help stabilize it, but this is usually prescribed in conjunction with surgical repair because a torn meniscus will not properly heal on its own.
- Surgery: Minimally invasive arthroscopic knee surgery can repair a torn meniscus by trimming the affected area through the use of a tiny viewing device and surgical instruments inserted into the knee.
If you have chronic knee pain, consult with an orthopedic surgeon about your treatment options. Never undertake physical therapy or a medication treatment plan without first consulting your physician.
If you are interested in knee pain treatment in Arkansas, contact Arkansas Surgical Hospital at 877-918-7020 to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic surgeons.