Knee pain is a frequent ailment that can be experienced by people of all ages. This type of body pain may take place immediately after an injury, or it may appear as an extension of a chronic medical condition. The amount of discomfort people feel may depend on the cause of the pain, area of the knee affected, or their physical condition prior to the pain.
When knee pain occurs in older individuals, it may be a symptom or side effect of another health issue that may directly or indirectly involve the joints and bones. This isn’t always the case. In some older people, the pain can be caused by weakened bone structure that occurs during the aging process.
What Causes Knee Pain?
A number of issues that affect the proper functioning of one or both knees may cause pain. Injury is the most common cause, but other conditions such as arthritis may lead to joint deterioration and discomfort.
These types of injuries often occur when the knee receives blunt trauma or is twisted in the wrong direction. Sprains and strains most often arise during contact sports but may occur during any abrupt or sudden movement.
Menisci are thin layers of cartilage located between the tibia and femur. Resembling a crescent or disc, this connective tissue absorbs most of the stress placed on the lower extremities, but may tear if too much stress is placed on the knees. Menisci also stabilize the knees by preventing abnormal movements that may lead to injury. Tearing of the menisci may interfere with their proper functioning.
Tendinitis is an inflammation that produces redness, tenderness to the touch, and intense pain in the tendons of the knees or any area of the body that have tendons. Activities that require repetitive movements may increase the risk of tendinitis. Other factors for inflamed tendons are poor preparation for exercise and medical conditions such as arthritis.
OA is a common form of arthritis that may appear in one or more joint bones in the body. It may affect men, women, and children. Women over the age of 55 are at the highest risk for OA. The condition induces pain from the loss of cartilage, which causes the bones to rub together and produce intense discomfort. It may also form from joint malformations present at birth, injuries caused in active sports, or work conditions that require repetitive movements.
Pseudogout, a common type of arthritis in the knees, develops when calcium pyrophosphate crystals — a type of salt — form in the knees’ fluids. It is often confused with gout, which is another condition in which uric acid crystals are found in cells in the knee. It produces painful episodes of swelling and inflammation in the knees as well as other joints.
Inflamed bursae may cause knee pain in some people. Bursae are small pockets of fluid that lubricate the tendons of the hips, shoulders, and knees in order for them to move freely along joints.
Chondromalacia is a general term used to describe the breakdown or softening of the cartilage found in the body. Chondromalacia of the patella affects only the kneecaps. Chondromalacia of the patella is caused by abnormal wear, often from abnormal tracking of the kneecap as the knee straightens or bends. It often affects females more than males, but may cause bouts of pain for anyone who is very active.
High Body Weight
People who are overweight may experience knee pain as they walk or stand. When body weight exceeds normal limits, it may place stress on the joints. The stress may increase the loss of joint tissue as the ends of the tibia and femur rub together and produce friction. This is an increasing cause of pain as the weight and age of the population increases.
Who Is at Risk for Knee Pain?
Older adults with bone or joint conditions may experience pain in the knees. Women who are over 65 years old may be at a higher risk than those who are younger. Young adults and teenagers may also experience knee pain if they participate in sports or activities that require jumping, running, or similar types of active movements that produce stressful situations on the body.
Children in their teens or preteens may experience pain from active play. The pain is more frequent in children who jump, run, or participate in activities that require repetitive movements.
What Are the Symptoms of Knee Pain?
The symptoms of knee pain may be mild to severe, depending on the complexity of the condition or injury.
Common signs and symptoms:
- stiffness or the inability to bend or straighten the knee(s)
- skin feels warm to the touch
- an audible popping, clicking, or some other abnormal sound when moving the knee(s)
Serious signs and symptoms:
- pain accompanied with noticeable swelling, redness, and fever
- inability to stand
- falling down while attempting to stand
- feeling numbness in the affected leg
- visible signs of injury, such as an abnormal appearance or malformation
How Is Knee Pain Diagnosed?
Your doctor may order specific testing or diagnostic methods to locate the cause of pain.
- X-rays of the knees to find possible injuries, conditions, and malformations. This type of diagnostic testing uses electromagnetic radiation to see into the body and produce images.
- CT scanning takes images of the inside of the body at different positions and angles. CT scans may assist with diagnosing problems within joints, bones, and tissues.
- Ultrasound technology produce images in real time with the use of high-tech sound waves. This is a technique used for diagnostic purposes.
- MRI creates 3-D images of the body. MRI takes a look inside the knee and allows doctors to examine its anatomy.
- Testing of the joint fluid is often used for diagnostic purposes. A procedure called arthrocentesis is used to examine the fluid taken from the joint.
How Is Knee Pain Treated?
Knee pain treatment includes medications for relieving pain or treating conditions already present. Physical therapy may be ordered for sports-related injuries. Therapy retrains the body to function normally after an injury.
Some people may need injections that contain corticosteroid to improve the symptoms of arthritis. Another type of injection, containing hyaluronic acid, a substance naturally found in the body, is used to stimulate the body’s production of normal joint fluid.
Surgery is an option used for people with severe knee damage that cannot be repaired or rehabilitated. It may include partial or complete knee replacement.
Surgery isn’t often recommended unless knee pain is truly severe and unmanageable. This is due to the complications that may occur after the surgical procedure. Some surgical sites may become infected, or a small number of people may experience increased pain until the area completely heals. Age and patient condition may influence these possible complications.
Can Knee Pain Be Prevented?
A healthy diet may help keep the weight down and prevent placing abnormal stress on the joints. Warming up the body before lifting weights, running, or doing any other activity that stresses the body may prevent sprains. Resting after strenuous exercises may also help prevent pain in the knees. For people with medical conditions that cause complications in the joints, performing low-impact exercises is ideal.