Knee Pain: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment
Knee problems are very common. At their worst, they cause pain that interferes with daily activities, including walking. You may feel this pain when bending your knee, while putting weight on it, or all the time.
Do you experience chronic or acute knee pain? If so, you aren’t alone, visit the emergency room near to you. ER of Texas has top-rated freestanding emergency rooms in the DFW area, including Highland Village, Little Elm, Frisco, Hurst, Colleyville, Mansfield, Hillcrest, Sherman, and Uptown. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, more than 12 million visits to the doctor’s office each year are due to knee pain. In addition, more people visit an orthopedic surgeon in the U.S. for knee pain than any other complaint.
What Causes Knee Pain?
There are many potential causes for knee pain, including knee osteoarthritis, a torn meniscus, and other injuries. While you cannot stop the aging process, there are several actions you can take to help decrease the risk of knee pain and injuries.
Your knee joint is made of bone, cartilage, ligaments, and fluid. Muscles and tendons help the knee joint move. When any of these structures is damaged, you have knee problems.
These are some of the more common causes of knee pain:
- Osteoarthritis. The cartilage in the knee gradually wears away.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. The knee may become swollen and cartilage may be destroyed.
- Ligament injuries. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries usually result from a sudden twisting motion. Injuries to the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) are usually caused by a direct impact, like impact from a car accident or sports activities.
- Tendon injuries. These can range from inflammation to a tear, most likely from overuse in sports or from a fall.
- Cartilage injuries and disorders. Injury, overuse, muscle weakness, or misalignment of the knee can soften the cartilage of the kneecap, or a blow to the knee may tear off a piece of cartilage.
- Broken kneecap. The small, round bone (patella) that sits over the front of your knee joint breaks, usually as the result of a fall or a direct blow to the knee.
Additional Causes of Knee Pain Might Include:
- Baker cyst — A fluid-filled swelling behind your knee that may occur with swelling from arthritis or other causes.
- Bursitis — Inflammation from continual pressure on the knee due to overuse, injury, or kneeling for an extended time.
- Fracture of the kneecap or other bones.
- Patellofemoral syndrome — Pain in the front of your knee around the kneecap.
- Dislocation of the kneecap.
- Iliotibial band syndrome — Injury to the thick band that runs from your hip to the outside of your knee.
- Cancers that either begin in the bones or spread to your bones.
- Osgood-Schlatter disease — A condition that causes pain and swelling below the knee joint, where the patellar tendon attaches to the top of the shinbone (the tibial tuberosity).
- Infection in the bones of the knee.
- Infection in the knee joint.
What Treatments Can Provide Knee Pain?
The nature of your injury will guide the treatment. So will your preferences. It is best to consider the full menu of options available. These include:
- RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). This can work for acute pain, but treatment is different for chronic pain. For chronic pain, rest may weaken muscles that need strengthening to reduce or eliminate the pain.
- Exercise and physical therapy. Some exercises help build or stretch muscles and ease pain. You also need to know which exercises should be avoided because they could cause further damage to your knee.
- Lifestyle changes. There are changes you can make to reduce your pain. For example, maintaining a healthy weight lessens stress on your knees. You may also need to avoid activities, such as running, that exert too much force on the knees.
- Genicular nerve blocks. This treatment blocks pain signals that the genicular nerves transmit between the knee joint and the brain. This is first done with an injection of an anesthetic for short-term relief. If it is effective, the patient can get longer-term relief with a nonsurgical procedure called radiofrequency ablation. This procedure generates heat to coagulate the proteins in the nerve, which stops the pain signals.
- Peripheral nerve stimulation. A surgeon implants electrodes and a small battery pack near the peripheral nerves that transmit pain signals from the knee. The electrodes deliver a weak electrical current to the nerve (producing a tingling sensation) that tricks it into turning off pain signals to the brain. The patient controls the frequency of electrical stimulation.
- Complementary therapies. Some people find relief using massage, biofeedback, relaxation, meditation, acupuncture, yoga, or visualization.
- Medication. This includes over-the-counter remedies, such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and more powerful drugs like opioids. Other medications can help too, including steroids. Because opioids can be addictive, it’s important to have a qualified pain management specialist oversee your medication plan. Some caution is also required with anti-inflammatory medications and steroids, which can weaken cartilage and knee joints.
- Surgery. This is primarily used to fix structural damage. Surgery should not be the first choice, but sometimes it is the only solution. The Made for This Moment knee surgery page provides details on options and pain management considerations.
- Regenerative therapies. Researchers continue to explore options such as plasma injections and stem cell treatments. The research is still in its early stages and is not yet conclusive.
When to Visit ER for Knee Pain
As with most injuries, it can be difficult to know when to go to the ER for knee pain or if you should schedule an appointment with your doctor or specialist. If the pain and swelling intensify, pain is severe, or you cannot reach your doctor, visit your nearest ER of Texas emergency center emergency room immediately.
Other signs you need an ER visit include:
- You experience severe pain, even when not bearing weight.
- Your knee is deformed or misshapen.
- You cannot bear any weight on your knee.
- Your knee clicks, buckles, or locks.
- You cannot straighten your knee all the way out or flex it.
- You have a fever, redness, or warmth around the knee.
- You experience pain and swelling, bluish discoloration, tingling, or numbness in the calf below the injured knee.
- You still experience pain after two to three days of treatment.
Sometimes, your knee injury can’t wait for a doctor’s visit, and knowing when to go to the ER for knee pain can make a significant difference long term. ER of Texas offers no wait time and superior concierge service. Emergency treatment is available for both children and adults anytime you need it.
Our ER is open 24/7 to help treat and diagnose your knee pain or injury. Schedule an emergency room appointment with us. Our board-certified physicians are available 24 hours.