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Some hope the problem will just go away. And for a minor injury like a strain, time and rest may help. But some people may spend months or years trying to brush off knee pain that needs care.
There are many causes of knee pain, some serious and some that you can treat yourself. But as with many health issues, it’s a good plan to take care of problems before they get worse.
Two main causes of knee pain are injury and arthritis.
The knee moves while supporting body weight. That makes injuries common. It can happen in a second. You fall on your knee. You twist it unexpectedly. It’s hit during a game.
For a minor injury or strain, you can try the RICE steps: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. RICE is also a good idea if you have knee swelling or a dull pain from standing or walking.
Nonsurgical treatments like changing how you work out, medicine or physical therapy may be next steps.
If you have an injury or worn-out joint that doesn’t respond to treatment, surgery may be needed. There are surgeries to repair, reconstruct or replace worn parts of the knee. Most can be done using small incisions, called minimally invasive surgery.
Joint replacement surgeries are on the rise for many reasons, including more people taking part in extreme sports and the rise in obesity.
In knee replacement surgery, surgeons replace damaged bone and cartilage with sturdy man-made parts. There are partial replacements and total joint replacements. The surgeon will decide what is best for your health problem.
The knee is one of the body’s most vulnerable spots for arthritis.
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). That’s when the tissue protecting the end of your bones breaks down. It may affect any of the joints in your body. But it often happens in the weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees. More than 32 million Americans have OA, which can cause deformity, pain and limited movement.
Stressing your knee with certain repetitive movements in your job or while working out, like twisting, lifting or bending, can lead to arthritis. These types of movement can make the connecting tissue wear down. And sometimes arthritis pain in your knees may be linked to arthritis in other areas. You might have arthritis in your hip that changes the way you walk, which then hurts your knee.
Symptoms may start small and get worse over time. Hot and cold therapy may be enough to ease mild arthritis pain. Heat helps blood flow and improves flexibility. Cold helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
If arthritis pain bothers you often or limits your activities, let your doctor know. Medicines that reduce pain or inflammation may help. If these aren’t enough, you may have other choices, like shots to lubricate your joints or physical therapy for better strength, flexibility and movement.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has a handy interactive symptom checker to help you find out what may be causing your pain and what you can do. You’ll answer questions about your symptoms, like whether the pain started after a fall or injury or if your knee is red and swollen. The guide helps you find out what you can do yourself and when to talk to your doctor.
It’s important to note:
That information and anything strange about how your knee is acting are important clues for deciding on what treatment is needed. If your knee is painful, red and swollen and you have a fever, call your doctor right away. Also consider seeing your doctor if your knee gives out on you, won’t bend or stretch fully, or has a visible deformity.
If you have knee pain that lingers, don’t ignore it. Talk to your doctor. You may be able to ease the pain yourself at home. If not, your doctor can help you figure out if medicine, physical therapy or other treatment may be the next step.
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