Chronic PainChronic Knee Pain: Your Questions, Answered

Chronic Knee Pain: Your Questions, Answered

It’s not uncommon to experience knee pain. Many people, regardless of age, occupation, or medical history, end up having knee pain at some point in their lives. But for many people, this knee pain goes away after a short time. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for people who have chronic knee pain. This is why today we will answer your most frequently asked questions about chronic knee pain, including what it is, what causes it, and what can be done about it.

Is My Knee Pain Chronic?

This knee pain usually comes in two forms: acute and chronic. With acute knee pain, which usually happens after an injury or blow to the knee, the pain is typically temporary. However, this is not the case with chronic knee pain.

Chronic knee pain can be defined as knee pain that lasts for at least a few months without much or long-lasting improvement. So, if you have had knee pain for a while and you are struggling to find relief, you could be living with chronic knee pain.

This pain feels different to each person, but might feel:

  • Sharp
  • Burning
  • Achy
  • Throbbing
  • Constant

People with chronic knee pain often have other symptoms as well. After all, anything that impacts the way one part of the body functions can cause a domino effect. For example, if you have chronic knee pain that makes you favor a certain side as you are walking, you might throw off the alignment of your spine. In turn, you could experience anything from back pain to headaches and more.

The first step in coping with chronic knee pain is to see a medical professional with all of your questions and concerns. Be sure to describe your symptoms to them as well as your level of pain. They might perform a physical examination to see if your knee is swollen, if it has a normal range of motion, etc. They could also order tests such as a CT scan or X-ray to rule out certain medical conditions.

Chronic knee pain is not always easily diagnosed. This is because there are many different causes behind knee problems. Let’s get into some of these below.

What Causes Chronic Knee Pain?

Traumatic injuries

An acute knee injury doesn’t always turn into a chronic problem. Sometimes, the injury can respond to treatment, whether that’s a surgical intervention or physical therapy. But because the knee is such a sensitive area, traumatic injuries can have a lasting impact.

Some common knee injuries include:

        • Blow to the knee
        • Torn cartilage, tissue, or tendons
        • Patella dislocation

With all of these injuries, immediate treatment is necessary. However, once the damage is done, it is incredibly hard to repair. This means that people who have traumatic injuries heal from these experiences but still get chronic knee pain.

This is especially true for torn ligaments. Many people who have a torn ACL, torn cartilage, or other soft tissue injury report long-lasting pain. Research shows that this can be a result of scarring. It could also be due to improper healing. This is why it’s so important to get treatment immediately after going through a knee injury.

Underlying medical conditions

Very commonly, underlying medical conditions are the root cause behind chronic knee pain. One of the main medical conditions that can cause this pain is knee osteoarthritis. As the name suggests, this is osteoarthritis of the knee specifically.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in joints to break down. The cartilage is supposed to serve as a sort of shock absorber to protect the bone and decrease swelling. But when the cartilage wears down, this then causes damage and changes to happen to the bone. Some frequent side effects of osteoarthritis include:

      • Bone spurs
      • Joint swelling
      • Limited range of motion

The knees are one of the most affected areas. Once the cartilage wears down, it becomes extremely painful as the joint moves. This makes walking, bending, and weight bearing very challenging for people with osteoarthritis.

Gout is another type of arthritis that can flare up and cause pain in the knees. This type of arthritis happens when there is a build up of uric acid in the joints. This will turn into uric acid crystals, which cause the joints to swell up, turn red, and get warm to the touch.

Gout can lead to chronic knee pain very easily. When there’s a flare up of gout, the joints affected, such as the knees, can become so swollen that they are hard to bend or move. As with any underlying medical condition that causes chronic pain, the pain from arthritis can be very intense and make it very challenging for somebody to perform daily tasks. Unfortunately, this often interferes with people’s abilities to work, socialize, and enjoy life.

Daily strain

Of course, normal wear and tear that’s not related to underlying medical conditions can cause chronic knee pain as well. Just aging can cause knee problems, as the cartilage starts to wear down. This is particularly true for athletes who put a lot of strain on the knee joint.

Doing sports can increase the risk of developing knee problems. Athletic activities that increase the risk of having chronic knee pain in the future include:

      • Running
      • Football
      • Skiing
      • Volleyball
      • And others. 

What Can I Do for Knee Pain?

The most effective treatment for your knee pain will depend on the cause behind it, in addition to the symptoms you are having. In some cases, when the damage to the knee is too severe, a knee replacement is needed. However, many times, there are preventative and restorative measures that can be taken to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

Using ice for chronic knee pain

That said, common treatment options for chronic knee pain include:

      • Physical therapy—Not only can physical therapy help to strengthen the muscles that help to protect your knee joint, but the exercises you complete in PT can also repair past damage. If you’ve had a surgery or traumatic injury, your physical therapist might also be able to help the scar tissue heal appropriately.
      • Anti-inflammatory medication—This treatment option is particularly useful for people with arthritis. Decreasing inflammation tends to result in less pain. Plus, the less inflammation, the lower the chance of further damage happening to the knee.
      • Using ice—The benefits of using ice include reducing inflammation and providing temporary relief to the area as the ice numbs the skin.
      • Wearing a knee brace—Sporting medical gear like a supportive brace isn’t always the most fun, but it can assist in keeping your knee safe and secure as it heals.

In addition to these traditional treatments, don’t forget the importance of getting emotional support for your chronic knee pain. Consider joining the Pain Resource Community where you’ll be able to speak with others who understand the struggle of living with chronic pain. Wherever you are in your journey—just starting to have knee pain, newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, or having years of experience of coping with pain—you aren’t in this alone.

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