Knee pain is a common problem. Global estimates suggest that more than one in five people over 40 suffer from some form of chronic knee pain.
This can have a huge impact on people’s lives, affecting not only their activity but also their emotional well-being.
But just because knee pain is common doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Regardless of the cause, treating knee pain is often relatively easy once you know what to do.
Knee pain is often caused by trauma—for example, an injury while playing sports or at work, especially if it involves physical or strenuous work.
Meniscus tears (damage to the cartilage in the knee) and cruciate ligament tear (which holds the knee together) are among the most common knee injuries that occur due to trauma.
While a torn meniscus can heal on its own, a torn cruciate ligament usually requires surgery.
In young people, pain in the front of the knee may be related to problems with the tendon in which the kneecap sits (called patella) or problems with the position of the kneecap (called patellofemoral pain syndrome).
Many young people, especially women, have very stretchy joints (a condition called hypermobility), which can cause pain where the tendons attach to the joints – including the knee.
From the age of 40 or 50 onwards, osteoarthritis is the most common cause of knee pain. Typically, osteoarthritis causes pain and stiffness for about five to ten minutes in the morning.
This pain may worsen depending on how active you are throughout the day. Chronic knee pain can also lead to muscle loss, especially in the thighs. This can make movement difficult and lead to further tendon and knee problems.
Sometimes knee pain can come from another part of the body. For example, hip osteoarthritis or pressure on the nerves in the lower back can also cause knee pain.
In rare cases, a spontaneously swollen and painful knee can occur following infections such as salmonella (so-called reactive arthritis) or infections in the knee joint (so-called septic arthritis).
People with inflammatory arthritis such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis may experience flare-ups that cause knee pain.
The best treatment for knee pain depends on the cause. If you have suffered trauma or your knee is very sore and swollen, it is important to seek professional advice to ensure you receive the correct treatment.
However, if you suffer from intermittent or chronic knee pain, here are some things you can do:
Stay strong and active: Strengthening the muscles around your knee will provide noticeable relief from pain and stiffness. If your knees are quite weak, a good way to build strength is to run laps in the pool.
As you get stronger, consider using an exercise bike or elliptical machine. It’s normal to feel some extra soreness when you start training. This will improve as you build strength.
If your knee pain is caused by osteoarthritis, you will likely benefit most from a supervised exercise program to ensure you are performing exercises tailored to your needs.
Exercises you may be given to build strength include step-ups (stepping onto a step or box and shifting your weight up through the raised leg) and chair squats (squatting backwards until your buttocks touch the chair and then straight back up again). raised to a standing position). .
It is important to maintain the exercises long-term to maintain the benefits.
Watch your weight: Being overweight or obese can put additional strain on your knees. Losing weight helps reduce this pressure and also reduces inflammation.
Any amount of weight loss can improve the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. However, it is recommended to lose at least 10% of your body weight – and the more body weight you lose, the more benefits you will see.
Currently, the benefits of weight loss for knee health have only been studied in people with osteoarthritis.
Change your activities: Some people find that they slow down their activities (e.g., doing certain tasks when their knee pain is no longer as severe, or stopping activities that they know can cause pain Keeping your distance), using walking aids, or wearing shoes with shock-absorbing soles (e.g. good trainers) may be useful. But these changes may only make a small difference in treating knee pain.
If you find that your knee pain is getting worse with work, you may also want to make some changes to the way you normally work to relieve the pain.
For example, if you sit a lot at work, try getting up and moving more often. However, if you spend a lot of time on your feet, take the time to sit down every now and then to take the pressure off your joints.
Most people can successfully manage their knee pain with exercise and other self-management measures (e.g., weight loss or stretching), so surgery is usually not necessary.
However, if your knee pain is due to a problem such as a torn ligament or advanced osteoarthritis, knee surgery may be recommended.
For people with advanced osteoarthritis, surgeries such as total knee replacement can result in significant improvements in pain, the ability to perform everyday activities, and overall well-being.
In certain circumstances, your GP may recommend painkillers – for example if your knee pain prevents you from exercising.
However, some of these medications can cause significant side effects when taken long-term. For example, ibuprofen can cause stomach ulcers.
If you want to prevent knee pain in the future, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are the best strategies. Keeping your thigh muscles strong will also help support your knees.
And many of these knee-strengthening exercises can be done at home without any equipment – such as the straight leg raise (sit in a chair with your back straight and lift your leg straight before lowering it).
Written by Philip Conaghan, Anna Anderson, Hemant Govind Pundit. The conversation.
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