If you haven’t got an episode of knee pain at least once in your life, are you even living life to the fullest? Like with headaches, it seems that our adulthood is not complete without experiencing knee pain at least once or a few times.
Among adolescents, anterior (frontal) knee pain is the most common disorder afflicting the knee, and it’s the culprit for most chronic knee pains in the said age bracket. Among the elderly, osteoarthritis tops the list.
When you’ve got knee pain from bending, twisting or merely from walking and standing, it’s as if the world stops. But, this shouldn’t be the case.
Read on to know why knee joint pain happens and what makes you vulnerable to it. Plus, in this article, we talk about five products that some think should be used for other activities but can in fact be used as at-home self-care methods for your ailing knee.
What is the knee made up of?
Bones, ligaments, cartilage and tendons comprise the knee, which happens to be our body’s largest joint.
The knee joint is formed where the three bones – the shin bone (tibia), the thigh bone (femur) and the patella (kneecap) – intersect.
Four major ligaments hold the bones together and keep the knee in place. There’s two on each side of the knee called collateral ligaments, and the x-shaped cruciate ligaments located inside the knee joint.
There are two types of knee cartilage: the articular cartilage, which covers the thigh bone and shinbone and the kneecaps’ back portions, and the tough and rubbery meniscal cartilage, which serves as a shock absorber tucked in between the shinbone and thigh bone.
Quadricep muscles located on the front of the thighs, and the hamstring muscles located on the back of the thighs are connected by the knee tendons to the knee bones.
What causes knee pain?
Knee pain occurs when any of the structures in our knee – the joint, knee cap, ligaments, tendons and cartilage – is subjected to injuries, overuse or wear and tear. Carrying excess weight and strenuous physical activities can aggravate or cause knee pain, too.
As such, knee pain can be acute, as in the case of injuries, or chronic, which happens overtime and may be attributed to various causes or health problems.
While more common among the elderly, knee pain can impact people of all ages.
3 major causes of knee pain
Acute injuries, medical conditions and overuse are the three major causes of knee pain.
Acute knee trauma includes ligament tears, dislocations, fractures and overuse injuries. They’re usually caused by a high-impact blow or an excessive twisting and bending force to the knees.
Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout are few of the most common types of arthritis that afflict the knee. This degenerative disease affects millions of people worldwide, with at least 303 million of them suffering from osteoarthritis on the knee, hip, hands and spine.
Because of repetitive force to the knees, sports players such as runners, skiers, cyclists and other athletes are at a high risk of developing knee pain caused by overuse conditions.
What are the most common injuries that cause knee pain?
- ACL injury – The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the four ligaments connecting the shinbone to the thigh bone. An ACL tear is a common injury among basketball and soccer players because their knees suffer the impact of frequently stopping and changing directions.
- Fracture – The bones in the knee can break due to a forceful blow during accidents. Individuals suffering from weak bones can be susceptible to fractures, too. One of the telling signs of a fracture, besides excruciating pain, is difficulty bearing weight.
- Meniscal tear – Meniscus is a rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between the shinbone and thigh bone. It can be torn or injured if you forcefully and abruptly twist your knee.
- Knee dislocation – Considered as a traumatic injury that warrants a medical emergency, knee dislocation can endanger blood flow to the leg, among other serious implications. In rare instances, morbid obesity can also trigger knee dislocation.
The 5 most common medical conditions that cause knee pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues, affecting not only any joint in the body but also the blood vessels, skin and the lungs and heart. Swelling, severe pain and disability are the major signs of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Osteoarthritis – This degenerative disease happens when the cartilage that cushions your bones deteriorates and wears down due to aging and overuse. Knee osteoarthritis is one of the major causes of chronic knee pain. This joint disease results in stiffness, severe pain especially during activity, creaky and swollen joints and instability.
- Gout – Another type of arthritis, gout usually affects the big toe, but it can also manifest in the knee. The culprit? Uric acid crystals that build up in the joint.
- Knee infection, or septic arthritis – More formally known as a septic joint, a knee infection occurs when bacteria contaminate the synovial fluid that lubricates your knee joint.
- Septic or infectious arthritis – This condition, meanwhile, can be caused by virus, bacteria or fungi. Persons taking immune suppressing medications, or those who have had a history of drug use, previous injuries or joint disease, are more susceptible.
An individual who has an infected and inflamed knee needs urgent medical attention, often requiring antibiotic medications and more serious interventions.
The most common overuse conditions that cause knee pain
- Iliotibial band syndrome – The iliotibial (IT) band is a group of fibrous tendons that runs along the outer thigh from the top of the hip and stops just below the knee. Knee and hip pains result when the IT band gets too tight, is irritated or inflamed due to various causes, among them repetitively walking or running uphill, cycling, arthritis and biomechanical issues such as being flat footed.
- Patellar or knee tendinitis – Patellar tendinitis occurs when the tendons, or the tissues connecting your patella or kneecap to the quadricep muscles and shinbone get irritated or inflamed due to repeated stress.
- Prepatellar bursitis – Inflammation to the fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that cushion the outside of your knee joint may cause anterior knee pain.
Risk factors for chronic knee pain
Chronic knee pain lasts several months and can be caused by various issues including injury, osteoarthritis and repetitive knee strains. These factors can further increase the risk of chronic knee pain:
- Age – As we age, our bones and joints become more prone to degenerative disorders, and this is when chronic knee pain creeps in. For instance, osteoarthritis, one of the leading causes of chronic knee pain, affects 50 percent of persons aged more than 65 years.
- History of injury – Patients who have had previous knee injury are up to six times more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis.
- Obesity – Obesity ranks among the highest risk factors for chronic knee pain, among other more serious medical conditions. According to this study, for every pound of extra weight that you carry, your knee absorbs an extra four pounds of pressure while walking or running.
- Repetitive movements – Athletes and those with labour-intensive jobs are more susceptible to strains because of constant overuse of muscles, ligaments and tendons. If these happen too often, it may impact the knee joint and lead to chronic knee pain, especially if the affected or injured site is not given sufficient time to recover.
What are the signs and symptoms of knee pain?
Knee pain symptoms vary depending on the affected part. For instance, osteoarthritis, which involves joint inflammation, can cause painful swelling of the knee cap. On the other hand, a fracture causes localised pain or discomfort limited to the affected site.
Knee pain intensity can range from mild to severe, or even up to life-disrupting pain, and it is typically accompanied by the following:
- Redness and swelling
- Walking difficulties; limping
- Limited range of motion
- A popping sensation in the knee
- Difficulty bearing weight
5 unusual products designed for knee pain
Most of us rely on knee ice pack wraps for an inexpensive and effective way to treat knee pain. But, did you know there are other products you can use to keep knee pain at bay? Here are five of them:
- Walking aids – A crutch, cane or walker not only help you walk, but they can also take the load or pressure off your knee, relieving pain and discomfort. Walking and other light exercises are encouraged in mild to moderate knee pain because it activates the joint fluid to lubricate the knee joints. This not only relieves pain in the short-term but can also help your knees become resilient in the long-term.
- Electric massagers – Massage therapy is known to relieve pain by easing nerve compression and relaxing the muscles, tendons and ligaments. If you don’t have time to go to a therapist, consider buying an electric massager to relieve knee pain. The system works by sending electric pulses to stimulate the muscles around the affected area, causing contractions that not only relieve pain but also promote muscle growth.
- Bicycle – Just because you have knee pain doesn’t mean you’d have to wallow in bed for the rest of the day. Saddle up on your (stationary) bicycle to get your range of motion back without the risk of an injury. Bike riding offers a low-impact and non-weight bearing form of exercise. With regular biking riding, your knee pain may become a thing of the distant past, as the low-impact exercise promotes joint stability and strengthens the muscles around your knees.
- Cryo Cuff – At first glance, a cryo cuff looks like a blood pressure cuff that’s made especially for your knees. Wait till you realize that it’s attached to a gravity-fed or electric cooler. The purpose of a cryo cuff is to provide continuous cold compression to your knee to reduce pain, muscle spasms and swelling.
- Knee brace – Knee braces are a form of support that you wear when your knees hurt or are injured. Some athletes wear it to prevent knee injuries while playing sports. Those with arthritis substantially benefit from knee joint pains, as the product can correct the joint alignment while relieving pain.
Knee braces come in various sizes, colours and designs and are made from different materials such as plastic, foam, metal and elastic fabrics, among others.
This knee ice pack wrap can be converted to a knee brace because it comes with removable gel inserts (which you can use either warm or cold if the need arises). Its high quality nylon, double-stitched neoprene and cotton material allows for professional-grade compression and support to help ease your knee pain.
So, what do you think about our list? I’m Steve Stretton, owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. If you have questions or need help with knee ice packs or wraps, I’d be happy to help you out. Comment below or drop me a line here.