Knee Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
As the largest joint in the body, the knee’s function is far more complex than simply connecting the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). It allows the leg to bend, straighten and extend, enabling people to walk, run, climb, squat, jump, pivot and the body to carry its weight.
The knee is also a relatively intricate joint, with bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage, or meniscus, working in tandem. When any of these are damaged or become worn, whether from knee arthritis, a knee injury, or simply age and overuse, the resulting knee pain can compromise mobility, sap energy and affect overall lifestyle.
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) and Meniscus (Medial and Lateral Menisci) play key roles in stabilizing and cushioning the knee. They are also vulnerable to both damage and wear. Acute injuries to these critical areas, and chronic conditions such as gout, rheumatoid and degenerative arthritis, are the primary causes of knee pain.
ACL Pain: From Ligament Injury to Knee Osteoarthritis
Ligaments are strong, fibrous ropes of tissue that connect one bone to another. The ACL crosses the middle of the knee, joining the femur to the tibia.
Like most ligament pains, ACL pain usually results from an injury caused by rigorous activities such as sports. A direct hit to the knee from a football tackle is one example. Suddenly stopping or pivoting, as in tennis or soccer, is another. An awkward gymnastics or track landing can also result in an ACL injury.
These acute ACL injuries can range from over extension to a partial or complete ligament tear. An ACL tear weakens and destabilizes the knee, often requiring several months of rehabilitation and possibly reconstructive surgery. Even if surgically corrected, ACL damage can eventually result in knee osteoarthritis. This common type of knee arthritis is due to the deterioration of the knee’s cartilage, or meniscus, and is rightfully felt as joint stiffness and knee cartilage pain. People may sometimes refer to this as pain behind the knee.
With its potentially long-term consequences, an ACL tear is different from a tear in the knee’s tendons. Tendons connect muscle to muscle rather than muscle to bone, and are tougher and less prone to injury than ligaments. A tear to the knee’s tendon is relatively short-lived. The resultant tendonitis, or tendon pain, is usually due to soreness caused by inflammation. Tendon tears, or sprains, are also likely to respond better to a topical pain relief cream than ligament injuries.
MCL Pain: From Acute to Chronic
The MCL is the broad, thick band of connective tissue that extends down the inner side of the knee, from the femur to the tibia. Unlike the ACL, it isn’t embedded within the knee itself. However, it does play an integral part in stabilizing the knee, allowing it to rotate while keeping it from bending inward. This is sometimes referred to as side knee pain.
As with ACL injuries, MCL damage is often associated with athletic activities, particularly those that involving twisting or abrupt pivoting, such as basketball and skiing. MCL injuries can range from an over extension of the ligament, or “sprain,” to a severe tear. But unless other parts of the knee are also involved, specifically the ACL or meniscus, MCL injuries rarely require surgery.
Treatment for knee pain due to an acute MCL injury is typically rest, ice, compression and elevation (“RICE”). Besides anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen, treatment may also include wearing a knee brace or in more severe cases, using crutches.
MCL injury and related knee pain or stiffness can also be due to aging and repeated stress to the ligament. In such cases, the chronic wear and tear of the MCL causes it to lose its elasticity. Symptoms caused by aging and repeated stress to the MCL commonly manifest as unsteadiness of the knee, or the knee locking or “hitching up.”
As the MCL is relatively close to the skin’s surface, both acute and chronic MCL pain can be effectively treated with a topical pain relief ointment or cream.
Meniscus Pain: From Trauma to Tired
The medial and lateral meniscus are two, C-shaped pads of thick cartilage encircling the knee. Attached to the top of the tibia, they act as the knee’s shock-absorbing cushion and maintain its integrity. The meniscus also allows for the fluid glide of the femur when the knee joint moves.
When either meniscus is damaged, the diagnosis is typically “torn knee cartilage.” Tears to the meniscus are usually described by how they appear via an MRI or knee arthroscopy, and where they are located. Examples include “parrot beak” and transverse or longitudinal.
While a traumatic injury can cause meniscus damage from forceful twisting or hyper-flexing of the knee, aging and wear from overuse also can be the culprits. Regardless of the cause, meniscus pain is the result of damage that renders its smooth surface rough. Bones no longer glide smoothly with knee movement. This will sometime be referred to as bone on bone knee pain.
Depending on the severity of the meniscus damage, treatment may range from physical therapy to surgery to repair or even remove the affected cartilage.
Treatment for Knee Pain
Diagnosis and relief for knee pain, whether due to arthritis, injury or wear of its supporting ligaments and cartilage, should be recommended and supervised by a physician.
As an at-home or on-the-go supplemental therapy, JointFlex’s arthritis pain relief cream can provide powerful immediate and long-lasting relief from knee pain. The odorless, non-greasy formula penetrates deeply to target the source of pain.