Coping with Chronic Knee Pain
Cases of chronic knee pain have increased a lot in the last 20 years. As the knee is the main joint people use for walking, a good understanding of long-lasting knee pain can be important.
Knee injuries are so common partly because of how complex the joint is. The knee is the joint where the thighbone, shinbone, and kneecap (patella) connect. In addition to these bones, the knee includes cartilage, ligaments, menisci and tendons.
Cartilage is a slippery substance on the ends of the bones in the knee. It lets the bones rub smoothly over one another as the leg bends and straightens.
Ligaments are the connective tissues that hold the bones of the knee together and give the knee its stability. The menisci are the cushions between the femur and tibia that also act as shock absorbers. There is one along the outer aspect called the lateral meniscus and one along the inner aspect called the medial meniscus.
Tendons are the connective tissues that attach the muscles in the leg to the bones they control. When all these pieces work together, the knee works as it is supposed to. It protects the bones from impact and allows people to move around freely.
When the components of the knee are not working properly, people are likely to experience pain, inflammation, and many of the other symptoms of chronic knee pain.
Causes of chronic knee pain
There are many things that can contribute to knee pain. Though the outcome is the same, the causes are very different. Knowing what is causing chronic knee pain can help people properly treat it.
Long-lasting knee pain can be caused by injuries such as bone fractures and torn ligaments.
Here is a short presentation of some of the common causes of chronic knee pain, such as trauma, degenerative tissue disorders, infections, connective tissue disorders, and metabolic disorders.
Traumatic knee injuries are usually caused by accidents, falls, and physical activities. Traumatic injuries usually happen because the knee has been put under extreme strain. Falling from a height, being hit directly on the knee, or making a sudden change in direction are all causes of traumatic knee injuries.
Common traumatic knee injuries include bone fractures, dislocated kneecaps, and torn ligaments.
Metabolic disorders are illnesses that affect how the cells of the body convert food to energy. There may be a metabolic connection to chronic knee pain.
People with metabolic disorders like gout may often experience knee pain. This is because gout causes uric acid crystals to build up in the joints. The result can be painful inflammation, which can also affect how the knee moves.
Degenerative tissue disorders
According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of the joints. It is a degenerative disease, caused by the "wear and tear" of the joints over time.
Common symptoms are pain and stiffness after long periods of rest. The knees may also get swollen after extended activity.
Osteoporosis is another common disorder. Osteoporosis also damages the cartilage and connecting tissues of the knee because the supporting bone is lost.
Connective tissue disorders
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common connective tissue disorder that causes knee pain. It is a disease that causes the body's immune system to attack its own tissues. In the case of knee pain, RA attacks the tissues of the knee.
RA causes pain, joint inflammation, fatigue, fevers, and appetite loss.
Risk factors of chronic knee pain
Stretching before physical activity is very important for preventing knee injuries.
A doctor may ask questions about lifestyle to help diagnose the cause of chronic knee pain. The different causes of chronic knee pain have different risk factors associated with them.
Trauma: Physical activity without proper stretching can put you at risk for a traumatic knee injury. Intense sports like basketball and football can also put people at risk for traumatic injury.
Metabolic disorders: Disorders like gout may be caused by lifestyle choices or genetics. Excessive alcohol use, obesity, and dietary factors may contribute to knee pain caused by metabolic disorders.
Degenerative disorders: Degenerative disorders are commonly linked to an aging body, though there are other factors. The risk of osteoporosis increases with age, specific genes, lack of exercise, and dietary factors.
Obesity puts people at a higher risk for osteoarthritis, especially in the large joints such as the knees. Other possible factors include age, overuse of the joints, and genetics.
Connective tissue disorders: Risk factors for RA include a family history of RA, being over 40, smoking, and obesity. Women are also more likely to develop RA than men.
Diagnosis of chronic knee pain
While it is important to know what may be causing chronic knee pain, people should always rely on the experience of a licensed doctor. If someone is uncertain what may be causing their pain, a full physical examination can help their doctor diagnose it for them.
After accounting for risk factors, an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is often needed to diagnose the cause of chronic knee pain. Laboratory work is usually necessary also.
Treatment and prevention of chronic knee pain
Treatment for chronic knee pain may come in the form of prescription drugs or an exercise plan. In the case of injuries and serious degenerative conditions, surgery may be needed.
No matter what the diagnosis, patients will likely be given immediate measures to take to begin reducing symptoms. These can include using anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the pain and swelling, resting the knee, and doing low-stress exercises.
Prevention and long-term care
Preventing or reducing chronic knee pain in the long term is a simple commitment. It is as easy as taking care of the body and making healthy lifestyle choices.
Adjusting lifestyle to reduce the risk of chronic knee pain can also help care for knee and joint conditions.
Reducing alcohol intake and quitting smoking may reduce the risk of many disorders that lead to knee pain.
Obesity is a risk factor for many of the disorders that cause chronic knee pain. Because of this, keeping body weight in check can greatly reduce the risk of chronic knee pain.
Adequate exercise is an important part of life. Daily exercise directly decreases the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, obesity, and osteoporosis.
Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent or reduce the symptoms of many diseases. When coping with chronic knee pain, people should be sure to include exercises that strengthen the knees.
Low-stress exercises such as swimming, cycling, and walking are best for caring for or preventing chronic knee pain
Author: Jon Johnson/ 27 June 2016
Text abridged and adapted
With kind permission to publish from MNT
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