Knee

What Causes Knee Pain?

Knee pain is common among adults and is usually associated with both age and wear and tear from regular activities. These activities can include walking, standing and lifting.

Common causes of knee pain can also happen due to tears in a variety of ligaments caused by sports that involve quick pivots and jumping:

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL): The ACL is one of the major ligaments in your knee. It connects your thigh bone to your shinbone at the knee. ACL injuries commonly happen during sports that involve sudden stops, changes in direction, jumping or landing.
  • Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL): The MCL connects your thigh bone to the bone of your lower leg and prevents the knee from bending inward. MCL injuries also happen during activities that involve bending, twisting or quick changes in direction.
  • Meniscus: The meniscus is the cartilage that cushions your shin and thigh at the knee. A torn meniscus can happen after forceful rotation or twisting of the knee. Learn more about having a torn meniscus.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Knee pain can come on slowly and is often the result of strenuous activity. Typically, it is a minor injury that goes away within a few days and can be helped with self-care measures, including:

  • Weight loss and exercises to strengthen muscles around the joint
  • Resting and avoiding strenuous activity
  • Compression
  • Elevation
  • Applying ice
  • Pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the pain

Schedule a doctor’s visit if your knee pain was caused by forceful impact or if your knee pain is not improving after a few days of conservative treatment and includes any of the following symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Fever
  • Significant swelling and pain
  • Tenderness and warmth around the joint

Seek immediate medical attention if your knee pain is caused by an injury and is accompanied by:

  • A popping noise at the time the knee was injured
  • Inability to bear weight on the affected leg
  • A joint that appears to be deformed
  • Sudden swelling
  • Intense pain

How Is Knee Pain Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose hip pain, your doctor will likely need to perform a physical exam. This exam will likely include:

  • An inspection of the knee that looks for swelling, redness, warmth and bruising
  • Pushing or pulling on the knee
  • Checking to see how far you can move your knee in certain directions

Your doctor may also suggest imaging tests, such as:

  • An MRI
  • A CT scan
  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound

In the case your doctor suspects an infection or inflammation, they will also likely recommend blood tests or a process called arthrocentesis, where a small amount of fluid is removed from the joint and sent to a lab for analysis.

How to Treat Knee Pain

Knee pain treatments vary depending on what is causing your knee pain.

Non-Surgical

Your doctor may prescribe medications to relieve and treat knee pain caused by gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

Your doctor might also recommend physical therapy or strengthening exercises based on the condition that is causing your pain. In some cases, you may need arch support or other shoe inserts that will shift pressure away from the side of the knee that is being affected.

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend injecting medications and other substances into the knee, such as corticosteroids, platelet-rich plasma or hyaluronic acid.

Surgical

In the case that your knee pain is caused by an injury that requires surgery, your doctor may recommend:

ACL Surgery - This type of surgery involves reconstructing or repairing the ACL using a graft to replace the ligament.

MCL Repair - This surgery involves repairing the ligament and reattaching it by way of stitches, a suture anchor, bone staples or a metal screw.

Knee Arthroscopy - This treatment helps diagnose and treat problems in the knee joint by making a small incision and using a small camera to view the inside of your joint. Arthroscopy can help diagnose knee problems, such as a torn meniscus, and can repair the ligaments of the joint.

Partial or Total Knee Replacement - Depending on the extent of your injury, you may only need surgery to replace only one affected compartment of the knee or replacement of all three knee compartments.

How Can I Prevent Knee Pain?

There are several preventative measures you can take to prevent knee pain, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Stretching the knee muscles regularly
  • Wearing supportive, stable and well-fitting shoes
  • Avoiding kneeling on hard surfaces without cushioning