By Sara Castoldi
Knee pain is a common condition experienced by all age groups. Depending on the cause, pain can be associated with other signs such as heat, redness, swelling and reduced mobility.
Amongst young people, the main cause of pain is usually following an accidental trauma, which might cause a meniscal or ligamentous lesion.
After mid age, the cause of pain usually becomes chronic due to the gradual progress of osteoarthritis, especially in people who are overweight or who may place the knee under repetitive stress often seen in individuals who stand for excessive periods of time.
Now let’s analyse the main causes of knee pain:
Osteoarthritis is a physiological process which takes place in every joint of our body as time passes. It results in a gradual reduction of the cartilage and a reduced elasticity in articulatory tissues, both due to reduced hydration. Consequently, the bones are less protected from reciprocal rubbing and this leads to a progressive degeneration of the joint. It usually only affects one knee but the other side will start to suffer as time passes due to an altered weight balance. Men over the age of 50 tend to suffer more from osteoarthritis, but it affects both genders. The main risk factors are excessive weight gain and reduced level of activity. Consequently, moderate regular activity is essential in order to prevent or delay onset.
Menisci are two small fibro-cartilaginous structures between the connecting surfaces of the femur and the tibia (the main bones in the leg). It is their function to distribute weight and protect the surface of the bones. They are vulnerable to both degenerative and traumatic lesions.
- Traumatic lesions are caused by an acute stress on the menisci and, although this is usually seen in athletes, it can happen to anyone and occurs with extreme rotational movements of the knee. Symptoms are characteristic: you will feel a sharp pain inside the knee and a clicking sound, followed by a partial or total joint locking. However, an MRI can be used in order to confirm the diagnosis and in sever cases, surgery is indicated to remove part or the whole meniscus.
- Degenerative lesions are usually part of a global process of osteoarthritis. They might cause a painful and swollen knee associated with a limitation of the bending of the knee. Usually this diagnosis can be determined in clinic, yet at times , an MRI may be suggested to determine the severity and inform treatment direction.
Inside the knee, there are several ligaments (bands of connective tissue) that function to stabilise the joint. One such ligament, the anterior cruciate ligament, can break due to a trauma during physical activity, commonly seen in young professional athletes. Meniscus lesions, as mentioned above, can often be associated. In this case, diagnosis is more complex and requires specific clinical tests and procedures. In extreme cases, surgery may be required, however, there are several approaches that can be taken prior to going down that route.
If you are currently experiencing knee pain, talking to a professional would be appropriate. Your osteopath can help you assess the severity of the problem and give you a diagnosis. Osteopathic manipulative treatment can be highly effective in relieving the symptoms of pain and helping with the rehabilitation process.