Chronic knee pain is long-lasting pain, sensitivity, and swelling in one or both knees. You will find that there are several conditions that can cause or affect your chronic knee pain and there are several treatment options. The symptoms you experience will depend on what is causing your chronic knee pain. It is important to keep in mind that everyone is different and will therefore have a different experience with knee pain.
In this article, we’re going to explore the knee joint, as well as the causes, symptoms, and treatments for chronic knee pain. If you are experiencing any type of knee pain, it’s important to consult with your physician to learn more about your condition.
All About the Knee Joint
Before we can get too far into discussing chronic knee pain, it’s important that you take the time to learn more about the knee joint. After all, as we mentioned, chronic knee pain can be the result of several things from accidents to health conditions. In order to understand these causes, you need to know what makes up your knee joint.
Your knee is where the shinbone, thighbone, and patella (also known as kneecap) connect. It also involves tendons, cartilage, menisci, and ligaments.
- Tendons: connective tissues attaching the muscles in the leg to the bones they operate.
- Cartilage: slippery substance on the ends of your bones that allows them to rub or pass over each other smoothly as your joint bends and straightens.
- Menisci: the cushion between the tibia and femur, acts as a shock absorber.
- Ligaments: structures that hold the bones together, providing the knee with stability. Ligaments can be damaged from being overused or from a traumatic injury.
When everything is working together as it should, the knee functions properly and you can move freely. However, if you have chronic knee pain, this is not the case.
Common Causes of Chronic Knee Pain
First of all, it’s important to understand that temporary knee pain, such as from an injury or accident, is much different than chronic knee pain. Temporary knee pain will typically resolve on its own without targeted treatment- a day or two of rest and you should be fine.
Chronic knee pain, on the other hand, rarely resolves without some kind of treatment and it’s not always the result of one particular incident. In most cases, it is due to several different causes or conditions.
There are certain physical conditions or diseases that can cause or contribute to your chronic knee pain, including the following:
- Osteoarthritis: degeneration/deterioration of the joint resulting in pain, inflammation, and destruction of the joint.
- Tendinitis: pain located in the front of your knee which worsens when walking up an incline, climbing, or taking stairs.
- Bursitis: repeated overuse/injury of your knee resulting in inflammation of the joint.
- Chondromalacia patella: occurs when the cartilage under your kneecap is damaged.
- Gout: arthritis due to uric acid
- Baker’s cyst: accrual of synovial fluid behind the knee. Synovial fluid is what lubricates the knee joint.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: also referred to as RA, chronic autoimmune inflammatory disorder causing painful swelling- may eventually lead to deformity of joints and erosion of bones.
- Dislocation: occurs when kneecap is knocked out of place, typically due to some kind of trauma.
- Meniscus tear: occurs when one or more of the cartilage located in the knee is ruptured.
- Torn ligament: when 1 of the 4 ligaments in the knee is torn, most commonly it is the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament.
- Osteosarcoma: second most common form of bone cancer, most commonly found in the knee joint.
What Worsens Chronic Knee Pain?
If you already have chronic knee pain, it’s important to understand that there are some factors that could cause knee pain to worsen. These things include:
- Injuries to the structure of the knee may cause bleeding/swelling and could eventually result in a chronic issue if not treated properly
- Bad posture when engaging in physical activity
- Not warming up prior to working out or cooling down following a workout
- Not properly stretching muscles
Who is at Risk for Chronic Knee Pain?
As with anything else, there are certain things that can increase your risk of experiencing chronic knee pain. First of all, individuals who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of knee issues due to the excess strain being put on them. For every 1 pound that you are overweight, your knee absorbs an additional 4 pounds when climbing stairs, walking, or running.
Some of the other common factors that can increase your risk of chronic knee pain:
- Athletic activity
- Physical exercise
- Previous injuries/trauma
Common Symptoms of Chronic Knee Pain
As we briefly mentioned in the beginning, everyone is different and therefore, the symptoms of chronic knee pain will be different. The cause of the knee pain influences how you experience the pain. Chronic knee pain may present in a variety of ways, including:
- Dull, burning discomfort
- Constant ache
- Sharp, shooting pain when being used
In addition, some people experience swelling of the knee joint and tenderness when the knee is touched.
How to Diagnose Chronic Knee Pain
When it comes to diagnosing chronic knee pain, each cause requires a different type of diagnostic testing. This may include things like:
- Blood testing
- Physical exam
- CT scan
In addition, your physician may prescribe other diagnostic and imaging tests. The types of testing your medical provider uses will be determined by what they feel like is the cause of your chronic knee pain.
How to Treat Chronic Knee Pain
When it comes to treating your chronic knee pain, the proper treatment will be determined by the underlying cause. Some of the most common treatments for chronic knee pain include the following:
- Physical therapy
- Knee sleeves
Bursitis, which is one of the most common causes of chronic knee pain, is treated by:
Putting ice on the knee for 15 minutes every hour for 3 to 4 hours. It is important to note that you should never apply ice directly to your skin because it could cause a burn. Use a cotton towel to cover the area and place the ice in a bag that zips close or get an ice pack and place it on the towel.
In addition, if you have chronic knee pain, keep the following in mind:
- Always wear cushioned, flat shoes that offer good support for your feet and don’t aggravate your knee pain.
- Don’t sleep on your side. If necessary, place pillows on each side of your body to keep you from rolling over. If you must lie on your side, make sure to place a pillow between your knees.
- When possible, sit down. If you must stand, try to avoid standing on hard surfaces and make sure that your weight is evenly distributed on both legs.
- If you are overweight/obese, make an effort to lose some weight.
Long-Term Outlook for Chronic Knee Pain
In some cases, knee pain is permanent- especially in the case of conditions such as osteoarthritis. This is because the structure of the knee has sustained damage. If you do not have surgery or other extensive treatment, you will always experience pain, swelling, and inflammation in your knee joint.
Therefore, the long-term outlook for chronic knee pain entails finding ways to manage the pain, avoiding flare-ups, and doing what you can to reduce irritations to your knee.
Tips for Preventing Chronic Knee Pain
While it’s true that you can prevent some- not all- potential causes of knee pain, it’s not possible to prevent chronic knee pain. That being said, there are a few things you can do to reduce the pain.
If your chronic knee pain gets worse due to physical activity or overuse, it is possible for you to make a few changes to your lifestyle to help with the pain. This includes things such as:
- Warm up: take the time to stretch your quads and hamstrings prior to and following your workout.
- Low-impact workouts: instead of running or playing tennis, try to go swimming or ride a bicycle- or combine low-impact with high-impact exercises so that your knees can take a break.
- Lose weight if you need to
- Running puts additional, unnecessary force on your knees. Therefore, walk instead of running down inclines.
- Stay on paved surfaces because rough roads/pocked walkways can harm your knees.
- Use shoe inserts to treat foot/gait issues that could be causing or adding to your chronic knee pain.
- Regularly replace your running shoes to make sure that they have the support and cushioning you need.
Chronic knee pain is long-lasting and will not resolve without some kind of treatment. The most appropriate treatment depends on what is causing your issues. It’s important to understand the symptoms and causes of chronic knee pain. If you notice that you are having problems, contact your medical provider so that they can set up an appointment to find a proper diagnosis. Chronic knee pain is not fun, but it is something you can deal with.