Knee pain is no laughing matter. From light twinges and occasional creakiness to severe injuries and chronic conditions, it seems like everything hurts when your knees hurt. Life somehow seems a bit smaller when you can’t move around like you used to because of your knees.
To add to the frustration, there could be several reasons why your knees hurt, some of which are more serious than others. It’s important to understand the most common reasons you might be experiencing knee pain so you can ensure you get the care and treatment you need.
Let’s address the most obvious causes of knee pain first – the ones caused by some sort of direct trauma. Admittedly, some of these injuries aren’t easy to diagnose immediately (unlike a broken bone), but you will still feel considerable pain. It’s important to not ignore this pain and to seek medical attention immediately.
Torn Ligament – ACL. MCL. PCL. If you’re a sports fan, you’re more than familiar with those terms. Hearing them in conjunction with your favorite players typically means that person will miss a year of action. But tearing those knee ligaments isn’t reserve for high-profile athletes. It can happen to nearly anyone just because of a wrong step in a high-pressure situation.
With these injuries, you will feel a pop in your knee, followed by intense swelling, pain, and the inability to make any sorts of lateral motion. Surgery and prolonged recovery with physical therapy will follow.
Torn Meniscus – Known as the meniscus, each of your knees contains two pieces of cartilage in between your thighbone and shinbone to provide cushion as your knee moves. Again, you often tear it when your knee is forcefully twisted during an athletic competition, but it can happen to anyone just by stepping incorrectly. It also reacts the same as a torn knee ligament, but the recovery time is less.
Tendinitis – While you might not think of repeating the same motion over and over again as “trauma,” your body certainly interprets it that way. Tendinitis is a condition where a tendon in one of your joints becomes painfully inflamed because you use it repeatedly without variation. Commonly experienced by athletes, office workers, and musicians, it comes with dull aches and swelling, while treatment depends upon the severity of your diagnosis.
Bursitis – Related directly to tendinitis, this condition is diagnosed as inflammation of the bursa tissues in your knee – tiny sacs of fluid that cushion the various components of your knee. Caused by overuse of your knee joins from bending and kneeling, bursitis causes considerable pain and swelling in your knees because those inflamed bursa sacs don’t allow the ligaments and tendons in your knee to work as smoothly as usual.
The most common chronic condition among people over 50 years old, arthritis attacks your joints in a variety of ways – and they’re all painful and debilitating. While there is no known cure for the condition (which comes in more than 100 versions), your specific diagnosis does come with its own set of helpful treatments.
With any form of arthritis, it’s crucial that you stay ahead of the pain, as it will only get worse without help. It’s important that you speak to your doctor about why your knees hurt so you get the care you need.
Osteoarthritis – The most common form of arthritis, you typically incur this condition as you age, as it represents the slow degeneration of the protective cartilage that surrounds your knee. As that cartilage disintegrates, the bones of your knee joint start rubbing together directly, which causes great pain and discomfort when making even the most rudimentary of movements.
Rheumatoid Arthritis – The other common form of arthritis, this one is typically the most painful, as it’s an autoimmune disorder that attacks your joints. The inflammation from this condition makes your joints swell, which can lead to joint deformity and bone deterioration.
Gout – Once referred to as “rich man’s disease” or “the disease of kings,” gout traditionally occurred in overweight older men with diets high in red meat, liquor, and sugars. Back when medicine was the reserved for the privileged, the only people who typically could live long enough to develop gout were either rich or royalty. In modern times, gout diagnoses are on the rise as people live much longer than in past centuries.
Generally speaking, gout is the result of too much uric acid in the blood, which then crystallizes and hardens in the joints – specifically the metatarsals of the foot. While the pain can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, this form of arthritis can be beaten back with changes in diet and by losing weight.
Some knee injuries happen because poor body mechanics; i.e. you’ve developed bad kinesthetic habits that are bad for your body. This could be posture, gait, how you sit in your desk chair at work, and more. By regularly putting your body into incorrect positions, you can increase your daily pain and the chance for long-term wear-and-tear.
Dislocation – You might be surprised, but people can experience a painful knee dislocation and not recognize it. While dislocation can occur because of injury or trauma, it can also happen because you regularly walk in an unnatural way. With a dislocated knee, your patella (the triangular bone that typically covers your knee) slips completely out of place, frequently to the outside of your knee. If left untreated, this condition can greatly increase your chances of a more significant injury.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome – Your body has a long, tough piece of tissue that starts your pelvis and connects to your tibia. This is the illotibial band, and it’s super-important to keeping your body stabilized when you’re running. This syndrome typically occurs in long-distance runners when that band starts rubbing against your thigh bone too much, causing painful inflammation. If you develop this condition, it’s important that you provide your body time to rest, ice, compression, and elevation – complete with possibly some physical therapy – to reduce the pain and tightness in your iliotibial band.
Other joint pain – This is intentionally a broad description, and you should pay attention to it. When you have pain in another part of your body you use for movement, it can easily cause you to change how you walk in hopes of reducing pain. As in, if you have trouble in your feet or hips for some reason, you can start walking differently to lower the pain in either of those areas. But when that happens, you can quickly develop knee pain because your body isn’t used to moving in that new (and possibly damaging) way. In short, you should take care of one painful area of your body before your avoidance creates new ones.
In other words, you can hurt your knee without doing any of the activities listed above. It’s important you know your body as well as possible to reduce the chances you could experience a knee injury.
Weight – Research shows that you’re placing 4 additional pounds of pressure on your knee for every 1 pound you’re overweight. And the more stress you place upon your knee from simply walking around carrying too much weight for your frame, the greater your chance of having knees that hurt all the time.
Previous Injury – This one seems self-explanatory, but we don’t often recognize it because we our injury is completely healed. But even if you did fully recover from that torn ligament, tweaked tendon, or broken bone, you are now more at risk of both injuring yourself later and feeling day-to-day pains in the areas that were injured.
When your knees hurt, it’s important that you are aware of your body. You shouldn’t ignore long-running, persistent pain just because you think you should tolerate a little bit of discomfort as a way to avoid the doctor. Your knees are crucial parts of your body, so we recommend going to see your physician when your knees hurt. The earlier you can reduce that pain, the greater chance you have of staving off longer-lasting, possibly life-altering diagnoses and injuries.