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Knee Pain… The Most Common Culprits and When to Consult a Doctor?

Whether you are 18 or 88, knee pain does not discriminate when it comes to age. In fact, about 1 in 17 people visit their doctor every year due to some form of knee pain. It makes sense considering your knees are the largest joints in your body, they support the majority of your weight, and thereby bear some pretty serious abuse on a daily basis.

Popping, buckling, swelling – knee pain is associated with a variety of symptoms. However, you should contact your doctor if you experience the following, as it may be a sign of a serious issue that requires medical attention:

  • Your knee looks unusual or deformed (usually due to a fall)
  • Sudden swelling and/or a warm sensation around the knee following an injury
  • Your knee feels like it is locked, and you are unable to straighten it
  • You heard a popping noise accompanied by sudden pain
  • You struggle to walk due to severe knee pain

Bottom line – if your quality of life is being negatively impacted due to your knee pain and you cannot engage in everyday activities, consult your doctor.

While there are many causes of knee pain, following are the most common:

PATELLOFEMORAL PAIN SYNDROME (RUNNER’S KNEE) results from muscle tightness or imbalance around the knee. The quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh and hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh exert considerable pressure on the knee joint. It does not take much over-stress or imbalance from the muscles around the knee to start causing pain in this area. Pain is typically felt around and below the knee cap and usually worsens after prolonged sitting, stair-climbing, or activities such as running. Fortunately, this common condition can be completely relieved by doing simple exercises. For more information and exercises to help relieve runner’s knee, click here.

ACL TEAR: The ACL is one of the main ligaments that stabilize the knee. ACL injuries are common in sports and work activities. Patients usually experience a “popping” sensation and feeling of buckling or giving way in the knee as the injury occurs. Typically, there is immediate swelling and patients are unable to continue activity. ACL injuries can be debilitating and lead to recurrent instability of the knee, which prevents normal function. In active patients, most of these injuries require ACL reconstruction to repair the damaged ligament and stabilize the knee. The goal of surgery is to allow return of normal sports and high-stress recreational activity. Research shows that the risk of ACL injuries can be limited by doing regular exercises that strengthen the muscles that stabilize the knee. For more information and exercises to help prevent ACL injuries, click here.

MENISCUS TEAR: There are two meniscus cartilages in the knee and they are some of the most commonly injured structures in the body. Meniscus cartilages act like shock absorbers between the thigh bone and shin bone. Meniscus tears often cause painful catching or locking in the knee. Pain is usually sharp and felt on one side of the knee in a specific location. Unfortunately, meniscus cartilage naturally has a poor blood supply, and as such most meniscus tears will not heal on their own. The good news is that knee arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgery, is very effective at treating and alleviating pain from meniscus injuries. Patients generally return to normal function without pain just a few weeks after surgery.

KNEE ARTHRITIS is caused by wearing down of the normal cartilage cushion in the knee joint, similar to wearing of treads on a tire. Cartilage wear leads to swelling, stiffness and pain in the knee that usually gets worse with activity such as walking all day. Pain can also be felt at night when trying to sleep. Treatment includes ice, anti-inflammatiories, activity modification and cortisone injections to limit inflammation in the knee. Knee exercises are important to relieve stress on the knee and strengthen the muscles around the joint to help prevent recurrence of symptoms. Click here for easy knee arthritis exercises that can be performed at home.

Dr. Matthew Boes is a fellowship trained orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. He serves as team physician for the NC State University football team. His areas of expertise include sports medicine, shoulder arthroscopy, knee arthroscopy and reconstructive surgery of the shoulder, elbow and knee. For more information on Dr. Boes click here.


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