There are days when people wake up in the morning and feel that sharp pain in their knees and this, unfortunately, will dictate what kind of day he will have. Many, especially the elders, have undergone the experience of chronic knee pain which can happen on one or worse, on both of the knees. The pain usually lingers, accompanied by some sensitivity and swelling. There are many factors that can contribute to chronic knee pain and each person’s experience can be different from others. Fortunately these days, we have many treatments that can alleviate the condition of those who suffer from knee pain.
Chronic knee pain should not be confused with temporary knee pain. The latter usually involves pain caused by an accident or injury. And as it describes itself, the pain is temporary and will eventually go away even without treatment. Chronic knee pain, on the other hand, won’t go away that easy and it’s not caused by accidents or injuries. Treatment is required to alleviate the pain and the cause is usually the result of different conditions. Physical diseases or conditions may cause chronic knee pain. Also, here are some of the most common factors that can make chronic knee pain worse:
- Bad posture and form when engaging in physical activities.
- Improper stretching of the muscles.
- Not warming up or cooling down before and after any physical activities.
- Strains and sprains
Most Common Causes of Chronic Knee Pain
The knee is one part of the body that’s always prone to injuries. Its structure is complex as it’s where the kneecap, the thighbone, and the shinbone all connect. Aside from these bones mentioned, the knee also includes:
Cartilages. This is a resilient and smooth elastic tissue, a rubber-like padding that covers and protects the end parts of long bones at the joints. This tissue allows the bones to smoothly rub over each other as the person straightens and bends his legs.
Ligaments. This refers to a short band of tough, flexible fibrous connective tissue which connects two bones or cartilages or holds together a joint, giving the stability to the knee.
Menisci. Generally, the term ‘meniscus’ is used to refer to the cartilage of the knee and serves as a cushion between the tibia and femur that also act as shock absorbers. Each person has two of these menisci. First, there’s one located at the exterior aspect known as the lateral meniscus. The other one is located on the interior aspect and it’s known as the medial meniscus.
Tendons. These are connective tissues which attach the leg muscles to the bones which they control. As long as the muscles and tendons work hand-in-hand, the knee is expected to work as it’s supposed to. Tendons protect the bones from any impact to prevent injury. Also, they allow people to freely move.
When any of these components aren’t working as they should, the person may start to notice inflammation, pain, and a lot of other symptoms associated with chronic knee pain. Here are the most common causes of chronic knee pain:
Trauma. These are often associated with physical activities, accidents, and falls. Usually, traumatic injuries occur when the knee is exposed to extreme strain. Injuries from falling from heights, getting a direct hit on the person’s knee, making abrupt directional changes are a few samples of situations which can cause trauma. As a result of these, a person can incur dislocated kneecaps, torn ligaments, and bone fractures.
Metabolic Disorders. This type of disorder is associated with how the body converts food into energy. All organisms need the energy to function and they get the energy from food. There could be a link between metabolism and chronic knee pain. For instance, let us talk about gout. This is a metabolic disorder that can cause a lot of knee pain since gout causes a build-up of uric acid crystals in a person’s joints. As a result, painful inflammation would set in which affects the knee movements.
Degenerative Tissue Disorders. One very common chronic condition which involves the joints is osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative disease that occurs because of the “wear and tear” of a person’s joints over long periods of time. Stiffness and pain of the joints, especially after long resting periods, are the disease’s most common symptoms. Aside from that, the person may also experience swollen knees after some extended activities. Osteoporosis is also a common disorder which can bring damage to cartilages and connecting tissue of the knee since the supporting bone has been lost.
Connective Tissue Disorders. The most common connective tissue disorder is rheumatoid arthritis and this can cause chronic knee pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues. For knee pains, arthritis would be attacking the tissues of the knees.
Bacterial Infection. Infections caused by bacteria like cellulitis may also cause chronic knee pain. This is a bacterial infection involving the inner layers of the skin. It specifically affects the dermis and subcutaneous fat. Bacteria usually are present on the outer part of the person’s skin. In some instances, they find their way underneath the protective surface of the skin and infect the underlying tissues.
Cellulitis can invade the knee and may cause an infection of the joint, especially when there is no immediate treatment. The infection can cause swelling, pain, stiffness, and redness. Eventually, this can result in chronic knee pain.
Risk Factors and Symptoms of Chronic Knee Pain
Those who are either obese or overweight will have greater risks of developing knee problems. This is because a person’s weight alone can put constant strain on the knees. By calculation, for each pound of excess weight, the knees will be absorbing as much as four pounds of pressure as the person runs, walks or climbs the stairs. There are other factors which can contribute to a higher risk for chronic knee pain including:
- A person’s age
- Any previous trauma or injuries
- Physical exercise, sports or athletic activities
The Symptoms will depend on each person’s condition. The cause of the pain can also affect how the pain would feel. In general, chronic knee pain might be present when there is:
- Constant pain
- Sharp and shooting pains when the knee is in use
- A dull, burning sensation
- Chronic pain and swelling, especially when touching the knee
Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Knee Pain
Chronic knee pain may be caused by different factors and each of which may require different diagnostic tests. The doctor will then base the diagnosis depending on the results of those tests. The tests are conducted to determine what is causing the chronic knee problem. Every underlying cause of knee pain will have its own specific treatment which may include:
- Physical therapy
Bursitis, which can cause chronic knee pain, can be treated in different ways such as:
- Icing the knee for about 15 minutes every hour. Repeat this for about 3 or 4 hours.
- Don’t place the ice pack directly on the knee. Cover the knee first with a towel.
- Place the ice in a closed zip-bag then place this on the towel.
Here are some other tips to minimize chronic knee pains:
- Wear flat, well-cushioned shoes.
- Try not to sleep on the side. Use a pillow on each side to avoid rolling on one’s side. If the person has to lie on his side, place a pillow between the knees.
- Remain seated whenever possible.
- If one needs to stand, stay away from hard surfaces. Keep the weight divided equally on both legs.
- Lose some weight if one is either obese or overweight.
If a person is suffering from chronic knee pain, the outlook isn’t too bright because the pain that’s caused by the disease is most likely permanent. This is because the knee’s structure has been damaged. It is a certainty that one will keep on feeling the agony of pain, swelling, and inflammation on his knees. But there are treatments that are now available that can perhaps offer relief like surgery and other extensive treatments. Otherwise, the long-term outlook will involve preventing flare-ups, managing the pain, and more to reduce irritations to the person’s knee.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Knee Pain in General
Chronic knee pain has always been a problem through the years and there has always been a constant effort to find ways to ease the pain. Here are some tips for the chronic knee pain sufferers:
Don’t: Rest Too Much. Obviously, too much of a good thing, like rest, is not good at all. Such habit will weaken the muscles which may lead to joint pain. Try looking for an exercise that won’t put too much pressure on the knees. If one isn’t sure if a certain exercise would work for him, seek advice from a physical therapist or a doctor.
Do: Exercise Regularly. Cardio workouts are the best type of exercise that can strengthen the muscles supporting the knees. Such can also increase muscle flexibility. Add some stretching and weight training as well. The most common cardio exercises are walking, water aerobics, stationary cycling, swimming, and using elliptical machines. To improve balance and decrease stiffness, Tai Chi is recommended.
Don’t: Risk Falling. If one has a bad or an unstable knee, the chances of falling become greater and this can cause more damage. Reduce the chances of falls by making the home safe. Add more lights, use handrails when climbing the stairs, get a steady ladder or a safe footstool when reaching out for objects.
Do: The R.I.C.E. Method. This is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and is recommended for chronic knee pain that’s caused by minor injuries or arthritis flares. It’s simple. After an incident, just rest then apply ice to the knee to reduce swelling. After that, wrap the knee with a compressive bandage, and elevate the knee.
Do: Watch One’s Weight. Too much weight will add more stress on the knees. But the loss shouldn’t be abrupt. Don’t aspire too much about the “ideal” weight. Small changes can already spell the difference.
Don’t: Be Too Vain as to Not Use a Walking Cane. This simple stick can take so much pressure off the knees. If there is a need for braces and knee splints to help one stay stable, don’t hesitate to have them. Give the knees a break.
Do: Acupuncture but Only If It Will Help Relieve Knee Pain. This practice has been used by Chinese for generations where fine needles are inserted at specific points in the body to relieve pain. Many have been satisfied with the results.
Do: Choose the Right Kind of Shoes. Cushioned insoles can make a lot of difference by reducing stress on the knees. Doctors recommend for chronic knee pain, special insoles which the person inserts in his shoes. If in doubt about the right insole, consult with a physical therapist or a doctor.
Finding Relief for Chronic Knee Pain
Studies have shown that our knees are the number one joints which get replaced and this doesn’t really come as a surprise. A person’s knees are vulnerable to injuries because of their complex structure of cartilage and joints coupled with a lack of adequate protection. Therefore, chronic knee pain is quite common as well as other conditions which affect the knees. While it’s not possible to reverse the effects of aging, wear and tear or even knee damage, on can slow them down. In performing certain steps, one can even avoid having surgery just to get rid of the pain or at least alleviate it. Consider these tips:
Visit the Doctor. If a person starts noticing pain in his knees, then he should visit the doctor. This is especially true if the pain doesn’t go away for a couple of days. The sooner a doctor can diagnose the cause of the pain, the sooner he can recommend treatment. Sometimes, doctors may refer their patients to physical therapists who, in turn, can teach some specific exercises which may alleviate the chronic knee pain. These are usually strengthening exercises which will make the knees stronger and improve one’s range of motion too.
When Exercising Focus on the Key Muscles. Exercise is an important part of one’s life especially for those who want to stay healthy all the time. If one wants to prevent the occurrence of chronic knee pain and other types of knee-related ailments, one should strengthen the right muscles namely the hamstrings and the quadriceps. There are specific types of exercises which can be very beneficial for the knees such as the short arc quad, wall slides, and bridge exercises. Short arc quads are perfect for those who need to just ease into exercises involving the knees. Wall slides are gentle and they’re a safe way to build up a person’s quadriceps. Finally, bridge exercises are good for the hamstrings and all these will promote the strength of the legs and the knees.
Be Gentle When It Comes to Exercising. Running and jogging activities have the tendency to jar a person’s knees. And when one jogs on uneven terrain, he may be at risk for injuries such as falls and slips. If one prefers these types of exercises, it’s better to run on a track or a treadmill. Or one can even alternate running or jogging exercises with walking. Also, the person can try biking as an alternate activity since this doesn’t put too much pressure or strain on the knees. When biking outdoors, one should opt for a professional bike fitting first so that the height of the handlebar, the seats, and the pedal strokes would fit the person well. No matter what activity one does, he should warm up first to prime his body for the workout ahead.
Lose Some Weight. It’s a fact that the knees bear the brunt of a person’s body weight. So the more weight a person gains, the more pressure it puts on the knees. Because of this, people who are overweight or obese should think about shedding some pounds especially when they start feeling chronic knee pain. Also, maintaining a healthy weight comes with a lot of health benefits aside from preventing chronic knee pain.
Spice It Up. Inflammation has the tendency to aggravate chronic knee pain and also increase the risk of other types of chronic conditions. Although pain relievers can help alleviate pain, there are certain spices which can help reduce inflammation which causes the pain. One of the most beneficial components of such spices is quercetin which is found in onions, green tea, and apples. Other spices which have anti-inflammatory properties are ginger, cumin, capsicum, and turmeric.
Start a Food Diary. There are some types of food which can exacerbate chronic knee pain. If one suffers from this condition, it would be helpful to keep a food diary in order to keep track of everything he eats. Then he can monitor which foods don’t have adverse effects on his condition and which foods do. In the diary, one can record what he eats and how he feels each and every day. After some time, he will be able to determine which types of food are good for him and which ones he should avoid.
Tips for Coping and Living with Chronic Knee Pain
Chronic knee pain has been with us since we can remember and it has been a bane, especially for the elderly. In older times, people have just to bear the pain because they didn’t know what was causing it. Without treatment, the knee pain will linger on. Fortunately these days, there are available venues of treatment, most of which will involve only a change in lifestyle. Exercise and diets are important too. And there are also medications to bring relief. Here are some tips for coping with chronic knee pain:
Learn Meditation or Deep Breathing Techniques to Help One Relax. These are simple (and free) techniques that can help the body relax and ease the pain. Deep breathing and meditations, when done properly, can ease the tightness and tension of the muscles, leading to relaxation.
There are different ways one can meditate but the most important thing about the discipline is the power of repetition that’s soothing. Do this as a part of a daily routine. Focus on the breathing, clear one’s mind, and repeat a phrase or word. This will cause one’s body to relax. One can meditate by himself in the comforts of home but the discipline can yield the best results if taken with a class.
Also, deep breathing is a discipline that needs to be done properly to become effective. Find a suitable place, a body position that’s comfortable, then block out all distracting thoughts from one’s mind. Think about a point just underneath the navel, then breathe into that point filling the abdomen with air. The air should fill the person from his abdomen up. After that, the person can release the air, like a balloon deflating.
Lessen the Stress in Life Because Stress Makes Chronic Pain Worse. Avoid getting into feelings of negativity. Anxiety, stress, depression, and anger will just aggravate one’s pain sensitivity. If a person can find ways to control these negative feelings, he may find relief from chronic knee pain.
Soothing music is one of the most effective ways of calming and relaxing oneself which can make the pain more tolerable. Visit the local music store and ask for music or sounds that can make the person feel good. This can range from classical to theater and even sounds of nature.
Mental imagery is also a type of mental escape which can make one feel at peace and this involves creating peaceful and calming images in the mind. Another way to promote relaxation is through progressive muscle relaxation. The technique involves learning to monitor the tension in specific muscle groups by first tensing each muscle group. This tension is then released, as attention is directed towards the differences felt during tension and relaxation.
Give Chronic Knee Pain Relief a Boost Through Exercise. Exercise, as we have often discussed, can strengthen muscles, help prevent injuries and more pain, maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risks of heart disease, control the levels of blood sugar, and more. Not all exercises may be good for the person. Consult with a doctor about the best types of exercises that would benefit the person, especially if he has some health conditions such as diabetic neuropathy.
Aside from its physical benefits, exercise also has pain-reducing effects. When the body engages in physical activities, the brain releases endorphins. These are chemicals produced by the brain whose principal function is to inhibit the communication of pain signals and improving your mood while pain signals are being blocked.
Lessen Alcohol Consumption as This Can Aggravate Sleep Problems. Sleep doesn’t come easy for people with chronic knee pain and the predicament can even get worse if one adds alcohol into the equation. If the person really wants greater relief from the pain and perhaps can sleep better, cut on the alcohol intake. Or better still, drink no alcohol at all.
Look for a Support Group to Meet Others Who Also Live with Chronic Knee Pain. Always keep in mind that one isn’t alone in the world of chronic sufferers. Try to keep in touch with others or join groups who have the same chronic issues because each one will understand the pains each goes through. Furthermore, one may also benefit from the ideas for coping with chronic knee pain. The person can even talk to mental health professionals since Living with chronic knee pain can lead to depression and a counsel could help a person learn to deal with it better. Try to avoid any negative thoughts as these can only worsen the pain.
No Smoking, Please. This obnoxious habit can only make the pain worse. At this point, people should also know that smoking can cause a lot of health problems, like cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
Track the Activities and Pain Level Every Day. Keep a log of the daily pain episodes and use a scale for the pain from 1-10. Also, note the activties you do eaten. This log will immensely help the doctor understand the way the person is coping with chronic knee pain. The log will also inform the doctor about the person’s physical level of functioning.
Learn About Biofeedback. Have you ever heard about the concept of biofeedback? Many people believe that through biofeedback, one can consciously control the various functions of his body. This might sound like sci-fi but there is evidence that it actually works. Moreover, it isn’t that difficult to master. Here’s how biofeedback works:
- The person will wear sensors which will allow him to “see” or “hear” some bodily functions such as the pulse, muscle tension, digestion, and body temperature.
- The beeps or squiggly lines on the monitors will reflect what will be going on in the person’s body.
- Then he will learn how to control those beeps or squiggles.
- After a couple of seconds, the mind will be able to train the biological systems to learn those skills.
Get a Massage for Chronic Knee Pain Relief. Try getting a massage as it can relieve tension and reduce stress. This is now being utilized by those living with different types of chronic pain, including neck and back pains.
Follow a Healthy Diet. We all know the importance of healthy diets and we cannot emphasize it enough. A healthy diet will help the digestive system process foods, reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, maintains a healthy weight, and improves the levels of blood. Remember that sugars and high-carbs can spike sugar levels which isn’t conducive for people with chronic knee problems. People should try their best to eat healthy by choosing low-sodium and low-fat diets. Include in the food regimen fresh veggies and fruits, peas and beans, cereals and whole-grain bread, cheese and low-fat milk, lean meats, and yogurt.
Find Ways to Distract Oneself from the Pain. When one focuses too much on pain, it will get worse. Try to find some other venues which can keep the mind busy and forget about the pain. If one thinks too much about pain, it will control his life rather than him controlling it.
Avoiding Chronic Knee Pain and Other Knee-Related Injuries
The most common cause of chronic knee pain is either through a serious injury or through repetitive movements that continuously cause stress on the knee over periods of time. Avoiding the occurrence of such injuries could ensure that there won’t be any kind of chronic knee pain that would bother us in the future. There are several ways that one can observe to avoid any injuries that could cause pain in the knees:
Avoid the Runner’s Stretch. This is done by grabbing the foot then bringing the heel as closest to the butt. Sounds familiar, right? Unknowingly, this stretch may increase the knee pain because the knee is bent all the way up causing the kneecap to get lodged into the bones under it. This stretch can lead to a condition known as chondromalacia patella, in which the cartilage just under the kneecap is softened. Actually, this is a common type of knee pain. And by repeating this stretch, the person is causing more chondromalacia.
This makes it imperative to get more familiar with one’s body and learn how to stretch and exercise properly. For instance, avoid impact-oriented exercises if one is prone to chronic knee pain caused by arthritis. Or in a gym workout, use the elliptical machine instead of the treadmill to minimize stress on the knees.
Warming Up. It is very important to start exercise routines with warm-ups and stretching. For instance, stretching the muscles at the back and front of the thighs will decrease the tension on the tendons which will, consequently, relieve pressure on the person’s knees.
Go for Low-Impact Exercise. Choose exercises in the gym that will not put added pressure on the knees. A cross-country skiing machine or a rowing machine should be ideal as both will give one a good workout without impacting the knees. For physical activities outside the gym, choose walking and/or swimming.
Weight Training. The best way to strengthen one’s muscles so they can best support his knees and thus, avoid injuries, is through weight training. One should consult with a professional first before engaging in this exercise. Learn the proper way to lift weights so as to prevent injuries from happening.
Maintaining One’s Weight. That extra luggage a person carries around can put additional stresses to his knees and this can lead to chronic knee pain. There are charts people can follow which would tell them the right weight they need to strive for, based on their age and size.
Wear Sensible Shoes with a Good Fit. The right footwear will give one comfort, will help maintain proper leg alignment, and balance. This will definitely and ultimately prevent knee injuries.
Don’t Lessen the Daily Activities. Such a decision will have an impact on one’s health. Decreasing activities may lead to weakness and an increase in the risk of injury. Also, don’t abruptly make a change in the intensity of one’s exercises. Start slow on the exercises. From there, gradually build up the intensity. This is one sure way to avoid any knee pain.
Try Physical Therapy. The best advice for people who have knee injuries is to see a physical therapist. This professional will know what type of exercises will be appropriate for the person.
Try Wrapping the Knees. People typically say this makes them feel good. Wrapping doesn’t really hurt the knee but it might not help in avoiding injuries either. If one does have to wrap, make sure to not wrap up too tightly as that will definitely cause a problem.