8 Culprits of Knee Pain and Their Telltale Signs
Ever paused to think about how much your knees do for you daily? Those seemingly simple joints enable you to stand, walk, sit, lift, and bend – activities you probably don't even think about that much. But when knee pain strikes, those everyday movements become a source of discomfort. The root causes of knee pain are as diverse as the individuals experiencing them. They vary with age and activity level. For sports enthusiasts, it's often those ACL injuries hogging the limelight, while the elderly often wrestle with the pains of degenerative changes.
Let's investigate the eight common suspects behind knee pain, decoding their symptoms and risk factors.
1. Fractures and dislocations
Falls, sports collisions, or vehicular accidents – these high-energy traumas are common culprits behind fractures and dislocations. Your kneecap might bear the brunt, cracking due to an acute incident or giving in gradually as a stress fracture. Dislocated knees, on the other hand, stem from injury to one or more ligaments. These dislocations often involve the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.
2. Anterior cruciate ligament injury (ACL)
In the US alone, close to 200,000 ACL injuries rear their head annually. Half of these result in a full ligament tear, demanding immediate medical attention. To make matters worse, around 50% of patients treated for ACL injuries have other knee components affected – meniscus, cartilage, or ligaments. Often, ACL injuries occur during intense sports, triggered by movements like sudden stops, sharp changes in direction, pivoting, sidestepping, or landing jumps awkwardly.
3. Posterior cruciate ligament injury (PCL)
Bent knee + frontal impact = PCL injury. Picture a knee hit at the front while in a bent position – a common trigger for PCL injuries. Contact sports and car accidents are the usual suspects in this scenario.
4. Collateral ligament injury
Sideway knee motion is controlled by two collateral ligaments flanking your knee on either side. A blow to your knee's inside or outside can lead to collateral ligament injuries. It's the story of contact sports like football and soccer.
5. Meniscus tears
Your knee houses two C-shaped cartilage pieces known as menisci. They cushion, stabilize, and absorb shock. Twisting motions often spell trouble, tearing these cartilages. Interestingly, similar motions leading to ACL injuries also frequently tear the meniscus. As age creeps up, degenerative changes might weaken your meniscus, rendering it susceptible to tears during routine moves.
6. Tendon tears
Your patellar tendon links your quadriceps muscle to the kneecap, coursing up your thigh. A forceful impact – think falls or botched jumps – can snap this tendon. Inflammation and specific conditions like rheumatoid arthritis could weaken tendons, making them susceptible to rupture even with minimal strain.
Knee pain often traces back to arthritis – osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout. The most common is osteoarthritis, a result of years of repetitive knee motion coupled with the strain of carrying your weight. This combo wears down cartilage, leading to bone-on-bone contact, pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Osteoarthritis can also follow a knee injury, with 12% of cases stemming from cartilage damage.
8. Baker's cyst
Your knee joint normally uses synovial fluid as lubrication. However, when too much synovial fluid is generated, a Baker's cyst develops, resulting in a fluid-filled sac behind the knee. Symptoms of Baker's cysts might include discomfort, swelling, and stiffness. They can be brought on by arthritis or a knee injury. A Baker's cyst may occasionally disappear on its own. However, steroid injections, physical therapy, or cyst drainage may be required for bigger or more severe cysts.
The bottom line
If you suffer from terrible knee pain that affects the quality of your life, consider reaching out to a reputable knee pain specialist in order to have your symptoms accurately diagnosed and the underlying issue addressed. Remember that delaying your treatment would only result in more pain and more severe disability, especially if you continue pushing in your sport or any other favorite physical activity.
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