Back to Basics - Knee Pain
Our knees are often forgotten when we consider our health. They aren’t particularly glamorous and rarely cause pain when they are working well. But knee pain can be debilitating when it does happen – but what actually causes the pain?
Put simply, your knees are the joints between the lower leg bones (the tibia and fibula) and the large bone in your thigh called the femur. Sat over the joint is the patella – more commonly known as the kneecap.
As with every bone in the body, these bones can fracture if too much force is applied. Furthermore, with increasing age, and the day to day pressure the knees are placed under, the joints begin to wear down. This wear and tear is more commonly known as osteoarthritis which can become very painful.
Signs of osteoarthritis can include joint stiffness, crunching sounds, locking of the knee and recurrent swelling of the knee.
The knee joints and how they function is largely affected by the surrounding muscles. Whenever the knee moves it relies upon the balance between these surrounding muscle groups. As one muscle contracts to produce a movement another muscle relaxes; this type of partnership is seen throughout the body . If one muscle is injured, tight, or simply overpowers its partner this delicate relationship breaks down and the knee joint can suffer as a consequence.
Muscle imbalances can cause constant aching or pulling sensations around the knee joint, cramping sensations and can actually lead to muscle strains and tears.
Ligaments and tendons
Ligaments and tendons hold the bones and muscles of the knee in place.
The slightest incorrect movement can cause significant structural damage: twisting actions in particular can result in the ligaments and tendons tearing or tightening causing further pain and damage to the knee joint.
Ligament and tendon injuries can result in sharp pains, instability of the knee joint including the joint giving way and can increase the rate at which arthritic changes occur.
Within the knee joint are the lubricating surfaces of the cartilage - known as the meniscus. The meniscus helps facilitate the smooth movement of the bones within the joint without them rubbing against each other.
As with the ligaments and tendons, twisting movements can cause damage to the meniscus. So can trauma to the knee and natural degenerative changes.
Symptoms of meniscal damage can include knee locking, giving way, sharp pinching and occasional clicking within the knee joint.
There are numerous structures of the knee joint which can cause knee pain. Furthermore, we cannot just rely upon the types of symptoms a person is suffering to establish an accurate diagnosis as a number of different injuries can cause the same type of pain.
So what can you do about this?
With any knee pain the most vital part of the recovery is an ACCURATE diagnosis in the first place. Once we identify which structure is causing the pain a plan of action can be put into place which is SPECIFIC for the injury. For example treating a cartilage injury as if it were a muscular injury would be futile. With the exception of fractures, we can diagnose and help to treat injuries to all of the structures mentioned in this blog.
Our Top Tips for good knee health
Here are some simple ways to keep your knees in tip-top condition:
· If you are carrying a few extra pounds, losing weight will reduce the stress placed upon the knees and can help alleviate pain dramatically.
· Gentle non-weight bearing exercise such as swimming and cycling will strengthen the muscles and help stabilise the joint.
· Supplements such as glucosamine sulphate have been proven to reduce the rate of arthritic changes of the knee.
· Good, cushioned footwear will absorb pressure placed on the knee, especially for those of you who exercise regularly.