Looking After Your Knees
As the years go by we all begin to experience occasional knee pain and discomfort. What sorts of things can happen to your knees and when might knee pain be a cause for concern?
Injuries to your knees and the resulting pain can be worrying, especially if you haven’t any trouble in that area before. A sudden pain in your knee after a jolt or fall is alarming, but the good news is that most of the time, it might not mean you need to see a doctor.
Your knee joint is open to injury and pain simply because all day, while you are standing, it takes the full weight of your body. When you move, especially during exercise or sport of some kind, when you fall or twist or get knocked, your knees bear the brunt of it. All this is made worse when you’re advancing in years. Let’s look at the most frequent causes of knee pain.
Sudden pain after activity? It probably means you just did more than you are used to, and what you have is a strain. The tissues of your knee have stretched and if you give them time they will stretch right back to where they were.
Simply rest at home and try to not use the knee for a while. Elevate it to keep the blood flow even and be very gentle with it, so no running about or lifting things. To ease the pain, ice it. The pain should subside on its own.
Remember, to treat a strain at home you use the R.I.C.E. method:
- Rest the knee.
- Ice the area. (use cooling for first 48 hours and avoid heat)
- Compress with a wrap or elastic sleeve.
- Elevate the knee as much as possible.
After 48 hours stop icing your injury and start to apply heat and gentle exercise. If an injury you think is a strain doesn’t get any better after three days, you should probably get it checked by a doctor.
Another kind of knee pain you can probably deal with yourself is inflammation of the tendon or tendonitis. You can inflame your tendons by doing too much strenuous activity without preparation.
Patellar tendonitis (or inflammation of the tendon) is also known as “jumper’s knee”, a common complaint of basketball or volleyball players. You jump repeatedly and land awkwardly time after time, tendonitis may well be the result.
You know you possibly have tendonitis if your knee is swollen, red and warm. You can treat this yourself easily at home. Use the same R.I.C.E. method as above for a strain.
More serious is damage to the menisci. The menisci are rubbery pads in your knee that cushion the bones, acting like little shock absorbers. The menisci become worn as you age and this is a very common reason for knee pain in middle-age.
But the meniscus can also be torn by twisting the knee. If after twisting your knee painfully you have not only pain and swelling but also a locking of the knee you might have torn the meniscus. A tear like this may go away on its own if you take it easy. In cases where it doesn’t improve at home using the R.I.C.E. method you may need to see a doctor, who might suggest an operation to repair the tear.
If you are a senior and you get frequent attacks of knee pain, it could be osteoarthritis. This is a common type of arthritis that causes damage to the articular cartilage (the protective surface of the knee bone). This creates swelling of the tissues around the joints.
Although osteoarthritis can sometimes occur in younger people, it is rare in the young unless the person is overweight. Young or old, osteoarthritis is a serious matter and needs care. If you suspect the cause of your knee pain may be osteoarthritis you should consult your doctor.
Another serious matter is torn ligaments or tendons. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect the bones at the knee. If you have injured the ligaments or tendons of your knee, you will feel it at the side.
You will probably still feel the pain even when your knee is perfectly still. It hurts to bend the knee or put weight on it. There will be warmth and swelling around the knee and be unstable; your knee keeps giving way, or it bends sideways unexpectedly making you stumble.
This might mean you’ve torn your anterior cruciate ligament. This happens when you suddenly change direction or perhaps do a rapid twisting motion of the leg and knee. It’s easy to do this by accident if you play badminton or tennis; you switch directions suddenly and you hear a pop from your knee. Even if you don’t hear it, you’ll certainly feel it.
If you think you’ve torn a ligament you should definitely go to see your doctor, or an orthopaedic specialist, for further treatment.
When You Should See Your Doctor – Checklist
- Pain is still severe after three days of treating yourself
- Can’t put any weight on your knee
- Have pain even when not moving or standing
- Knee locks or clicks with pain or keeps giving way
- Pain, swelling, numbness or tingling of the calf muscle
Look After Your Knees
The best way to make sure your knees are up to the job of your life and leisure is to exercise regularly. Always use support clothing to protect and support your knee joints if you have a prior injury.
Try to commit to a low impact exercise like swimming once or twice a week, just for the health of your tendons, ligaments, cartilage, menisci, muscles and bones. Make your whole body stronger with gentle regular exercise and injuries will be less frequent, recovery quicker and disease and weakness less likely.
- Our range of knee supports for exercise and sports may help you heal
- For more advice about knee pain, this WebMD page gives you all the details.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry for over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.
Written July 2013 | Page Last Updated January 2022
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper's Knee)” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/patellar-tendonitis-jumpers-knee
Mayo Clinic. “ACL Injury- Symptoms and Causes” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acl-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20350738
Michigan Medicine. “Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE)” https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tw4354spec
University of Rochester Medical Center. “Torn Meniscus” https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=85&contentid=P00945
Web M.D. “Knee Pain & Injuries: Causes, Treatment, & Prevention” https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/knee-pain/knee-pain-causes
OrthoInfo. “Arthritis of the Knee” https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases-- conditions/arthritis-of-the-knee/