Knee pain: causes, symptoms and prevention
If you are affected by knee pain, everyday life can feel very challenging. There are various different root causes for knee pain. It can be caused by an injury, an infection, or wear and tear to the knee joint. In addition, the risk of developing a knee complaint increases as we grow older or heavier, or if we engage in high-impact sports, or if we don’t walk properly.
What is knee pain?
In most cases, knee pain is caused by an underlying medical condition or overstrain. There are two categories: acute knee pain that starts suddenly and is usually caused by an external blow, and chronic knee pain that develops gradually and can last for a long time.
The knee is the largest joint in our body and it can be exposed to excessive strain through heavy use or incorrect movement patterns. It is particularly susceptible to wear. The knee is where the femur connects to the tibia and patella. The knee joint connects these bones with tendons and ligaments. Without our knees, we wouldn't be able to move naturally and flexibly in the way we are used to.
Therefore, pain in the knee joint greatly limits us - walking, climbing stairs and playing sports become a difficult challenge. The pain in the knee may increase in different areas of the knee. Some patients report pain in the front of the knee; some feel it on the inside, some on the outside of the joint, and others just feel general pain all over the knee area.
Causes of knee pain
Knee pain can have various root causes. Acute pain is often triggered by an injury to the knee joint as a result of excessive strain. This can lead to contusions, sprains and pulled muscles around the knee. A meniscus injury or a muscle, cruciate ligament or tendon tear can also trigger acute pain. These direct or indirect knee joint injuries can occur as the result of an accident or fall, or in connection with a sport that places (excessive) stress on the joints. In such cases, the symptoms are immediate and take the form of knee pain when you climb stairs, bend your leg or flex the joint.
If it’s only a minor injury and you rest your leg and care for it properly, the pain can often disappear by itself after a day or two. Devices such as Ottobock orthoses and supports help to stabilise and protect the knee. Using this approach, suitable orthoses support the regeneration process.
Chronic knee pain, on the other hand, often results from wear and tear to the knee joint or from an infection in the knee. It develops slowly over the course of months or years, with pain and symptoms increasing very gradually. The pain in the knee joint then occurs when you engage in sports or put too much strain on your knee. Symptoms may disappear at times, only to reappear suddenly when you overexert yourself.
If you experience persistent knee pain over the course of several weeks when walking or climbing stairs, or when bending or flexing your knee, you should definitely consult your doctor. Your doctor can help you determine the root cause of the pain and initiate suitable treatment for relieving the symptoms. Orthoses can also be used to treat knee pain caused, for example, by osteoarthritis of the knee. In such cases, they can provide targeted support for stabilising and mobilising the knee joint. They also help to relieve pain. An O&P professional can help you find the appropriate orthosis for your symptoms.
Symptoms of knee pain
Knee pain can present with a wide range of symptoms. With this in mind, you should listen to your body closely and try to answer the following questions: Where exactly is the pain? How intense is it? Does it persist at night, when resting? Or does your knee hurt when you get out of bed and stand up? Does your knee hurt when you’re out running or when you get back from a run? Does it also hurt when you walk normally? Is your knee painful when you climb stairs, or when you bend or flex your leg? Does your knee feel hot? Is it red or swollen? Do you have a feeling of instability in the knee?
For a reliable diagnosis, you should always consult a doctor. They will ask you questions to establish your medical history and find the root cause of your pain. Where and when does the pain occur? What sort of pain is it? Could a knee joint injury or surgery from the past be part of your current problems?
In general, your doctor will then examine you more thoroughly and check your knee for swelling, inflammation and effusions. In order to pinpoint exactly where the pain is coming from, they may perform the Steinmann test on your meniscus or the drawer test on your cruciate ligaments.
Your doctor may also prescribe further tests to corroborate the diagnosis. Various diagnostic procedures can be used to diagnose injuries to ligaments, meniscus and the knee joint. These include ultrasound, X-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computer tomography). The results of these tests can help to reveal the cause of your knee problems.
Overview of common causes of knee pain
In the case of acute knee pain – resulting from a contusion, for example – your knee will often swell up and you will be unable to move it properly without pain. People often describe this as a stabbing pain, and it can range from mild to severe.
Inflammation of the knee – resulting from tenosynovitis, for example – is often accompanied by swelling. This pain is frequently described as a dull ache. Persistent knee pain after jogging or while walking (runner’s knee) generally manifests as a throbbing pain behind the kneecap.
Cruciate ligament tear
In most cases, an abrupt movement or fall is responsible for rupturing a cruciate ligament. This causes a sudden, intense stabbing pain in the knee. Those affected often find they can no longer extend or flex their knee properly, and that it feels unstable. Some people even hear a pop before their knee begins to swell up.
An acute injury to the medial meniscus triggers pain in the inner knee joint. Knee pain associated with the meniscus increases sharply whenever you flex or turn your leg. Acute injuries to the lateral meniscus are generally accompanied by a painful sense of pressure at the outer side of the knee joint. A meniscus injury will also often cause the knee to swell up.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome
Most cases of patellofemoral pain syndrome affect young, active women who engage in sports. These women report diffuse, throbbing or dull pain at the front of the knee. They often first notice the pain when climbing stairs or engaging in sports. When they bear weight on the affected knee, they have persistent pain next to or below the kneecap. However, pain can be relieved – and often even eliminated – by physiotherapy, targeted, gentle sports and the use of an orthosis.
Advice in case of knee problems
Knee braces and stabilizers
There are various ways to ease the burden on the affected knee joints and prevent the development of knee pain. Does your knee hurt when you go for a walk or a leisurely hike? This may be due to your walking technique or shoes. Also, going downhill can be painful as it greatly increases the load on the knee joints. To prevent the development of knee pain, you can perform special exercises to optimize your gait and strengthen the muscles in your legs. Good shoes are also very important! You can support the knee joint with an orthosis or a knee brace, especially if symptoms and pain have already developed. These orthopedic devices take the strain off the knee and provide greater joint stability. This provides noticeable pain relief and may even restore freedom of movement in some cases.
EX_Ruch i sport
Depending on the clinical picture, it may be advisable to take it easy on the joint or to strengthen it through more movement in everyday life. Regular, mindful exercise and movements that don't put undue stress on the knee joints not only keep you fit, but also strengthen the knees and make them less sensitive to stress. Gentle sports include swimming, leisurely walks, walking and certain yoga postures. You can find exercises that you can easily do at home in our Genu Move program.
A healthy, balanced diet
Diet can also improve the well-being of some diseases. In general, you should avoid or reduce obesity. Regular physical activity that is easy on the joints also helps here. You should also focus on a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, healthy carbohydrates and little sugar. The 10 rules of the German Society for Nutrition e. V. (DGE) help you to lay the foundation for a healthy and balanced diet and thus increase your well-being. The ideal combination of relief, physical activity and a healthy lifestyle can mean that you regain a lot of quality of life despite knee problems.
Patients talk about their symptoms and experiences
EX_Judith’s story about anterior knee pain
Judith was a professional athlete until eight years ago, when she began to experience recurring knee pain – not just in sports but also when performing everyday movements. Her diagnosis was anterior knee pain. She was no longer able to compete in artistic roller skating competitions. But thanks to the Patella Pro re-alignment brace, she is now finally able to engage in sports again and explore the great outdoors on inline skates or a bike.