The knee is a hinge joint that allows the leg to be bent or straightened. It is surrounded by muscles, ligaments and tendons (Figure 1). A muscle is a band or a bundle of fibrous tissue that has the ability to contract producing movement in or maintaining the position of parts of the body. A tendon is a flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone. A ligament is a short band of tough, flexible fibrous connective tissue which connects two bones or cartilages or holds together a joint. Within the knee there are two horse shoe shaped cartilage structures called menisci which help with shock absorption and the smooth running of the knee.
Facts about knee pain
Knee pain often results from a simple strain or sprain. Strains are caused by injuries to muscles or tendons and sprains are caused by injuries to ligaments.Such ‘soft tissue injuries’ may be caused by a specific injury or may gradually build up over time. The patella (kneecap) can sometimes become painful during activities such as sitting to standing or climbing stairs. Sometimes a tear can develop to one of the menisci. Again this may occur after a specific injury or it may develop from middle age as the meniscus ages. Meniscal tears may cause pain and locking but often they do not cause any trouble. As the knee ages, it may develop osteoarthritis which may cause pain and stiffness. Most knee pain has a simple cause and clears up within a few days although may last a few weeks.However even more persistent problems such as a meniscal tear or osteoarthritis can be self-managed successfully.
What can I do to help myself to get better?
PRICE Therapy: Minor injuries, such as mild sprains and strains, can often be initially treated at home using PRICE therapy for two or three days.PRICE stands for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.
- Protection – protect the affected area from further injury; for example, by using a support and avoiding painful activities.
- Rest – Optimal loading of the knee is advised to maintain function but avoid aggravating pain.
- Ice – apply an ice pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes every two to three hours. A bag of frozen peas, or similar, will work well. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to avoid it directly touching your skin and causing an ice burn.
- Compression – use elastic compression bandages during the day to limit swelling.
- Elevation – keep the injured body part raised above the level of the heart whenever possible. This may also help to reduce swelling.
Getting the balance rightbetween rest and activity
If your knee pain has come on gradually and activity seems to make it worse, try to change the way you do things or do slightly less initially, perhaps for a few days. The aim however should be to slowly build up to your previous level of activity after a short period of rest. If exercise does not flair the pain or only mildly increases you symptoms, it is best to try and stay active.
Some exercisescan be useful to ease pain and help your knee to move better. If your pain increases when exercising, take regular breaks or consider not doing them at all. When your kneepain is better, do keep exercising to stay strong and mobile. These simple exercises may be helpful ARUK knee pain exercises.
Painkillers: Over the counter painkillers may be helpful, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or creams that you can buy at the chemist. Your pharmacist will be able to give you expert advice.
The Right Track Programme run by Possability People in Brighton provide tailored support and guidance to local people who would like to be more physically active. To find out more about the programme and talk to a Community Link Specialist, please contact: Donna@possabilitypeople.org.uk
When should I see my doctor?
Knee pain usually gets better on its own or with self-help treatments. However, see your doctor/ GP
- After a sudden traumatic injury such as a fall onto a hard surface or a sudden twisting injury.
- If your knee is locking or giving way
- If the pain is severe or the knee is very swollen
- If you have tingling or numbness in the leg
- If the knee becomes hot, red, swollen and tender you may have an infection of the joint, so you should see your doctor straight away. You may also feel feverish.
Here are some leaflets to help you manage your condition, these have been reviewed and approved by our clinical staff to be the best information for patients.
If you have a diagnosis which does not have a leaflet above, then please contact our clinical support team on 0300 303 8063 and they will work with our clinical team to find you some more information.