Are you making your knee pain worse by ignoring it?
Knee pain varies in intensity and seriousness and can affect people of all ages. It is frequently the result of underlying health issues or long-term lifestyle habits, such as being overweight, muscle weakness or stiffness, repetitive activities or arthritis. These issues eventually catch up with people and when that happens, their knee will start to hurt.
“By the time somebody has knee pain, they’ve probably been dealing with the issues responsible for it for years,” says Brett Young, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Orthopaedics. “We need to unwind many factors to get to the root cause of the knee pain, and sometimes it’s more of a lifestyle issue than anything else.”
How do you know if your knee pain is something serious and it’s time to see a doctor?
When evaluating your knee pain there are two things to consider: the pain’s severity and duration. When your knee pain prevents you from doing the activities of daily life, such as walking or standing up from a seated position, it is serious and you should get help.
Other signs that knee pain is serious include:
- Slight pain that persists for several weeks.
- Nighttime knee pain that wakes you up from sleep.
- Pain that is associated with a fever or feeling sick.
What causes knee pain?
Dr. Young classifies knee pain in one of three general categories:
- Pain from the knee’s breakdown over time, resulting from health issues such as osteoarthritis, obesity and muscle deterioration.
- Pain resulting from injuries from overuse and repetitive activities that require twisting, pivoting or pounding.
- Pain resulting from a traumatic event, such as a car accident or workplace injury.
When an overuse injury causes knee pain there is often an underlying issue, such as relative weakness of one muscle group compared to another, or a relative stiffness in one muscle group or joint relative to another.
These deficiencies are usually seen in patients who did not develop natural strength and coordination while growing up because of a lack of physical fitness or activity. Over time, the knee will start to bear the burden of that deficiency. You might not notice any pain at first, but it will lead to pain if the deficiency persists.
Staying fit, healthy and active throughout your life can prevent knee pain from manifesting later in life as a more significant problem.
Getting help for knee pain
If you are experiencing any type of knee pain, talk first to your primary care doctor. They know you best and can help you determine if your knee pain will likely get better without treatment or is something more serious.
For knee pain that is significant enough to need the next level of expertise and intervention, your doctor may recommend that you consult with an orthopedic surgeon.
How to keep knees healthy and strong
If you are at risk for developing knee pain, take better care of your knees by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Being physically active — walking, swimming, water aerobics and yoga build muscle strength. Squats and lunges, when done properly, can help develop strength around the knee. Also take the opportunity to use stairs instead of the elevator.
- Avoiding processed foods like junk food, pre-packaged meats, sugary cereals and soda that are high in inflammatory preservatives.
However, Dr. Young cautions against jumping into an overly strenuous exercise routine without proper conditioning. This could lead to even more serious pain.
“If you’ve never been physically active, look for guidance on getting started,” he says. “This could be as simple as talking to a family member or friend who has been through a similar situation or joining a local exercise group or sports club to find advice and support.”
For patients with additional concerns about how to exercise safely, Dr. Young suggests seeking a personal trainer or a physical therapist for an evaluation. They can teach you foundational exercises to build your strength to get into better shape at a healthy pace.
When you need surgery for knee pain
When your knee pain keeps you from your day-to-day activities, and isn’t improving with therapy, exercise or medication, your doctor may recommend surgery. One of the most common knee surgeries is arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, usually a sports-related injury caused by repeated twisting and squatting motions. This is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure.
At the other end of the spectrum is knee replacement surgery. It’s also one of the most common knee procedures, typically done for degenerative knee pain such as that caused by arthritis.
“If we have to do knee replacement surgery, we want to do it as late in a person’s life as possible so that we only have to do it once,” says Dr. Young.
Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Orthopaedics specializes in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases involving the musculoskeletal system, including the knees. So if you are experiencing knee pain that’s keeping you from doing what you love to do and need to do, we can help. Take our Joint Pain Assessment to help determine the nature of your knee pain and call us at (844) 975-MOVE for a consultation.