As one of the major load bearing joints in the body, knees can succumb to a number of injuries as well as wear and tear that can generate acute and chronic pain in the joint. Further issues can include limitations in mobility and difficulty in shifting weight over to the affected knee, but the actual cause of the pain could be the result of direct or indirect problems that impact the joint.
- Arthritis – this tends to be a common problem in knee pain and can include inflammation as well as fluid retention in the joint, but can also be the result of hardening in the ligaments and tendons that support the knee.
- Ligament sprains and tears – knee pain can also be the result of muscle damage around the joint. The instability of ligaments and tendons to allow the knee to move naturally can result in further damage to the actual joint, due to compensation, and can also produce both acute and chronic pain.
- Torn meniscus – the meniscus is a thin membrane that cushions the knee cap as it shields the internal mechanisms of the joint. A torn meniscus can result in undue movement of the knee cap, which creates further irritation, and also reduces the ability for the joint to stay lubricated.
- Broken bones – fractures to the knee cap or the head of the tibia or femur can also generate severe knee pain. These conditions will need to be properly addressed through setting the bone, and the use of physical therapy can help in both increasing mobility and reducing long-term pain.
- Bursitis – this is essentially when the synovial sac in the knee becomes swollen due to overuse and a build-up of lactic acid and fluids. Along with the pressure from the edema, further inflammation around the region can also increase pain levels, and can indicate progressive damage.
As there are a number of causes for knee pain, finding the right form of treatment can also depend on a proper diagnosis of the actual problem.
Supportive Measures & Medical Equipment
In cases where ligament sprains or tears and even bursitis are the main causes of pain, supportive medical equipment can relieve the immediate discomfort and also ease the pressure on the joint in order to facilitate healing. Some of these approaches include:
- Braces – these tend to be semi-rigid and adjustable, and can provide the added strength that will allow the knee to begin to heal. Further, the rigid design of the brace can also absorb much of the impact from even light walking, and this allows people to benefit from increased circulation to the area, which can also reduce inflammation. It should be noted that braces can be best over the short-term, since overuse can actually weaken the muscles and ligaments and cause dependence on the accessory.
- Heat wraps – these can be combined with braces, but can also be used as a soft wrap on their own. These treatments tend to include ingredients which stimulate circulation in the region where they are placed, and this can reduce pain and aid in the healing process. Heat wraps can also be applicable with arthritis.
- Compression sleeves – compression sleeves are often a wise compromise between a rigid brace and a softer heat wrap. These flexible fabric sleeves can be obtained at different pressure ratings to aid in maintaining lower body circulation while also offering some manual support to the joint, especially in the case of a torn meniscus, and keeping the knee warm. The compression also helps to reduce inflammation, which in turn, reduces pain.
Direct Pain Management
In many cases, people will take prescription or over the counter pain medications and NSAIDs, to address both the discomfort and the swelling. This can be ideal as an immediate measure for alleviating knee pain, but it is no always productive for chronic conditions. This is because long term use of NSAIDs can negatively impact the gastrointestinal system, and also because tolerance to any type of pain medication can develop over time. Thus, oral medication is well suited for relief of acute pain, but should be used sparingly for chronic cases.
Topical anti-inflammatories and rubs which increase circulation to the knee can also be beneficial across the spectrum of pain issues. In cases of a torn meniscus or ligaments, people should be gentle with the application. However, the use of massage can help to break up edema, reduce swelling, improve circulation, and even strengthen muscles. Thus individuals can conservatively vary the pressure that is used in applying a topical. In cases where there has been a broken bone, massage and topical applications after the cast has been removed can alleviate pain and begin to bring flexibility and tone back to the joint.
Corticosteroid shots are another common method for pain management, and the hormone can be injected directly into the affected area, as this will also help to reduce the swelling. However, steroid shots must be administered by a clinical professional, and these is a low limit on how many times a year this procedure can be done, as it may adversely affect long-term health. This option should also only be used by people who have no known allergies to steroid derivatives.
Working Towards a Pain Free Life
Beyond the direct addressing of the acute knee pain that can arise from an injury or from an arthritic flare up, knee pain treatments that look at the long-term picture are also integral for actual healing. One of the best methods of pain management is actually through rehabilitation, since guided and safe movements
- Re-strengthen the joint
- Improve flexibility and mobility
- Reduce the formation of scar tissue which can contribute to chronic pain
- Provide better circulation to the area
- Reduce pain by promoting action and functionality
The result is that relief through professional guidance becomes the prime motivator for engaging in physical therapy, although better well-being over time becomes an added benefit. Further, the use of physical therapy for rehabilitation and knee pain treatments also reduces the chance of re-injury in the same spot.