Knee Pain

What causes knee pain?

Knee pain may be caused by injury or a condition that affects any part of your knee. To work properly, your knee depends on ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscles.

  • Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect one bone to another to form the joints. A knee sprain is caused by a sudden activity that twists or tears a ligament. It can happen, for example, when you play sports, when you fall, or if you are in an accident that twists your leg.
  • Tendons are strong bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone. They can be injured suddenly or they may be slowly damaged over time.
  • Cartilage is tissue that lines and cushions the surfaces of joints. Cartilage acts as a shock absorber for your knee. Your knee cartilage may tear from forceful twisting, or even from squatting. Arthritis can also cause the cartilage to break down.
  • A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between bone and other tissues, such as skin, muscle, and tendons or ligaments. There are several bursae in the knee, including over your kneecap, at the back of your knee, and inside the knee joint. Bursa can be injured by a fall or by overuse, such as kneeling a lot. They can also be damaged by arthritis or other health problems.
  • Your hamstring, quadriceps, and calf muscles control how your knee moves and help keep your knee stable. If these muscles are weak, strained, or injured, it can cause pain in your knee.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history and examine you. You may have X-rays or other scans.

How is knee pain treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your knee pain and how bad the pain is.

  • You may need to change or stop doing the activities that cause pain until your knee has healed.
  • Your provider may wrap an elastic bandage around your knee to keep swelling from getting worse.
  • You may need to keep your knee in a knee immobilizer or brace and use crutches to protect your knee while you heal.
  • Your healthcare provider may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to help you heal. You may need physical therapy.
  • You may need surgery.

How can I take care of myself?

To keep swelling down and help relieve pain:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on your knee every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Keep your knee up on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Putting an NSAID gel on your skin can decrease pain, with fewer side effects than pills taken by mouth. Ask your healthcare provider if a prescription is right for you.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent knee injuries?

Here are some things you can do to help prevent knee injuries:

  • Do warm-up exercises and stretching before activities. For example, stretch your leg muscles and do exercises that build strong thigh and calf muscles.
  • Follow your healthcare providers recommendations for exercise.
  • Follow safety rules and use any protective equipment recommended for your work or sport.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-09-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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