There’s a good reason why millions of people in this country encounter knee pain each and every year. We ask a lot of these load-bearing joints. In fact, with every step it is estimated that we put one-and-a-half times our entire body weight on the knee.
Since the knees are designed to be highly flexible to enable a wide range of movement, this puts tremendous stress on the soft tissue and the bony surfaces of the knee joint. This is basically the largest underlying contributor to knee pain, whether due to a knee injury or degeneration caused by aging.
If you are living with knee pain that is negatively affecting your quality of life and activity level, one of the best things you can do is take an active role in your treatment journey.
Fortunately, there are a wide range of treatment options for knee pain, from basic at-home treatments to interventional pain management to knee replacement surgery. By educating yourself as a patient about what you can potentially expect during the treatment process for knee pain, you can be more engaged with your care professionals no matter where you are in the process.
The team at Outpatient Joint Replacement Center of America (OJRCA) created the following comprehensive guide to help anyone suffering from knee pain find the relief they deserve. If you would like to learn more about your options or if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to reach out to a caring representative.
1. Developing Knee Pain — Knee Injury and Aging
The knee joint is a hinge joint and a synovial joint. As the name implies, a hinge joint is generally designed to move on one primary plane, much like the hinge of a door. In a synovial joint, the bone surfaces move against each other, and there is synovial fluid found in the joint cavity to limit friction.
These features, while enabling the motions and load-bearing support we require of the knee, also make this joint vulnerable to developing knee injury and degenerative conditions such as arthritis.
There are a long list of knee injuries that commonly develop among patients, from minor muscle strains and ligament sprains to more serious tears, fractures and other problems. Knee injury can be caused by both sudden trauma, such as an automobile collision or sports injury, or repetitive motions.
The other primary cause of knee pain is age-related degeneration. This is most commonly understood as the condition known as osteoarthritis. As we get older, our protective joint cartilage begins to become more brittle and the lubricating synovial fluid begins to dry out. For synovial joints, this causes increased bone-on-bone contact that results in inflammation of the knee.
In addition to localized pain, symptoms of knee joint damage can include visible swelling, stiffness, and a grinding sensation, known as crepitus.
2. Diagnosing Knee Pain — How Doctors Determine Causes
The most minor knee injuries should improve in a short period of time with rest and basic at-home treatments such as an ice pack and over-the-counter medications. If knee pain persists for longer than even a few days or becomes recurring, you should make an appointment with a doctor for diagnosis and discuss the potential for further treatment.
So many knee problems are progressive in nature, which is why it is so important to take a proactive approach and not delay care.
To determine the cause of knee pain, doctors will typically take the following steps:
- Review patient and family medical history
- Discuss specific symptoms and how they are affecting daily activities
- Perform a physical evaluation including movement and posture tests
- Order diagnostic tests, especially imagery such as an X-ray or MRI to see if there is visible joint damage
Treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms, patient lifestyle factors, as well as the specific condition and extent of tissue damage.
3. Why Weight and Other Lifestyle Factors Matter for Knee Pain
Whether the source of pain is a knee injury or natural joint degeneration, it can be easy to overlook how big of a role certain risk factors play.
Weight is an illustrative example. As mentioned above, with each step we place one-and-a-half times our body weight on the knee joint. If a person is overweight, that adds to the stress on the knee joint, which can worsen injuries and slow down the healing process. In the case of osteoarthritis it can speed up joint degeneration and worsen symptoms.
However, there are many other lifestyle factors that play a significant role. This includes posture, biomechanics, activity level and even diet.
By committing to a healthy lifestyle, many patients dealing with knee pain find the missing puzzle piece they need for lasting relief. Recommended steps to improve overall health in general and knee health in particular include:
- Regular exercise to strengthen muscles and improve range of motion
- Eating a nutrient rich diet to lower inflammation and improve heart health
- Undergoing a weight management plan to lose weight if needed
- Improving posture and mechanics to reduce the strain on the knee during daily activities
4. Conservative Therapy Helps Many Find Relief
Particularly in cases of joint damage caused by age-related degeneration, such as osteoarthritis, conservative or nonsurgical therapies can be highly effective in managing symptoms.
The goal of conservative therapy is often two-fold. First, relieve pain and other symptoms to make it possible to accomplish the activities of daily living. Doctors will usually recommend the following methods for relieving knee pain:
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Heat therapy, such as a heating pad, to relieve tense muscles and improve circulation
- Cold therapy, such as an ice pack, to relieve inflammation and provide temporary numbness
- Therapeutic injections, which can relieve pain and inflammation on an intermediate basis
The other major objective for conservative therapy is to increase strength and function of the knee joint. For joint degeneration, this can help to slow down the rate of joint degeneration and for injuries it can help the healing process and decrease risk of reinjury.
This is primarily accomplished through physical therapy. This is where a trained and licensed therapist helps patients perform exercises and delivers hands-on therapies designed to relieve pain and improve function in the knee or other joints.
5. When to Consider Surgery — and Knowing Your Options
For some injuries, such as ligament tears, doctors will recommend immediate surgery to prevent the injury from worsening with regular activity. This is particularly true of younger patients and athletes who are looking to resume
In many other cases, especially joint damage related to arthritis, surgery is seen as a serious option only when patients have fully exhausted conservative therapies. For extensive knee joint damage, knee replacement surgery is a common recommendation.
Knee replacement, which can include both partial and total replacement procedures, involves the removal of damaged joint surface and replacing it with an artificial implant. This gives patients the opportunity to regain function with significantly reduced difficulty.
At OJRCA, we have developed advanced minimally invasive techniques that allow for outpatient knee replacement procedures in a large number of cases. In fact, by utilizing the anesthesia and surgical protocols developed by founder and medical director, Philip Clifford, MD, even patients with health conditions that require hospitalization for monitoring after procedures can still benefit during the recovery period.
6. Recovery and Focusing on Long-Term Knee Health
Recovering from knee surgery is as important as the procedure itself. To have the best chance at long-term relief and regaining an active lifestyle, patients need to follow postoperative instructions and commit to a healthy lifestyle. This includes attending any and all postoperative appointments and resuming activities according to the timeline provided.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation is key to achieving positive outcomes for knee replacement surgery. Not only do patients need to recover from the procedure, but also from years of chronic knee pain in many cases. Additionally, learning to move properly with an artificial joint can take time and the support of a therapist.
Start Your Knee Pain Relief Journey Today
Ready to get your life back from knee pain? The team at OJRCA can help. Contact us today to learn more about our streamlined and patient-centered approach to knee replacement surgery.
Call toll-free (813) 492-4607.