Knee pain is a pretty common problem that affects people of all ages, and most people will experience this at some point in their lifetime. Knee pain often stems from general wear and tear from daily activities, whether that be playing sports, walking, bending down or even lifting. Knee pain can also develop overtime or it may appear suddenly, but either way, managing symptoms and learning to live with frequent knee pain can often be challenging.
In this blog, we’ll help you understand more about how your knee is structured, and how you might get a diagnosis of the knee problem that is bothering you.
How is the knee structured?
The knee joint is one of the largest and strongest structures joints in the body. It is formed by the following parts:
- Tibia – this is the shin bone or the larger bone of the lower leg.
- Femur – this is the thigh bone or upper leg bone.
- Patella – this is the kneecap.
The knee is two large leg bones held together by muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and. However, each bone is covered with a layer of cartilage (menisci) that absorbs shocks and provides protection of the knee.
There are two groups of muscles involved in the knee:
- Quadricep muscles (located at the front of the thighs), which allow the leg to straighten.
- Hamstring muscles (located at the back of the thighs), which allow the leg to bend at the knee.
Tendons are tough cords of tissue that connect muscle to bone. Whereas, ligaments are elastic bands of tissue that connect bone to bone. Some ligaments on the knee provide stability and protection, while other ligaments (anterior and posterior cruciate ligament) limit the forward and backward movement of the tibia (shin bone).
What are the common causes of knee pain?
The most common knee injuries include ligament sprains, tears of soft tissue or fractures, usually sustained in sporting activities, which affect the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and medial collateral ligament (MCL).
In many cases, injuries involve more than one structure in the knee. For example, if you dislocated your knee, and you may have done damage to your knee ligaments as well.
While there are over 100 types of arthritis, Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis that affects the knee. This form of degenerative arthritis causes severe knee pain through the rubbing of the bones within the joint, usually after fluid and cartilage have been broken down overtime.
Pain and swelling are the most common signs of knee injury. Additionally, the knee may catch or lock. Some knee injuries (e.g. ACL) cause instability – the feeling that your knee is giving way.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome
Also known as ‘runners knee’, this is most common in younger adults. This type of pain occurs between the kneecap and femur bone, caused by the kneecap not locking in its grove correctly. Factors that may encourage this include having weak buttock and thigh muscles, being overweight and having tight hamstrings.
How can knee problems be diagnosed?
Not all knee pain is serious, but it’s best to see a doctor or medical professional to help diagnose the problem.
Medical professionals will want to know as much information as possible about your history relating to the knee problem. Common questions like ‘When did the pain start’ or ‘Describe the pain’ will help determine possible causes of the pain. A physical examination may also be required which includes assessing any visible swelling, bruising or redness.
The medical professional may then refer you for other tests, such as:
- Magnetic resource imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography scan (also known as a CT OR CAT scan)
- Arthroscopy (a diagnostic procedure used mainly for joints)
- Radionuclide bone scan (nuclear imaging technique to test for blood flow to the bone)
How to prevent knee pain at home?
Weight – It’s important for you to maintain a healthy weight, as this will reduce unwanted strain on the knees.
Sleep – Sleeping allows your body and mind to focus on healing. If you experience pain while sleeping, try placing a pillow between or under the knees to help with support.
Exercise – Practise stretching and strengthening exercises to help build up flexibility and maintain a solid range of mention in our knees.
Chinmay Pute, Jean-Pierre St Mart, ‘The acute swollen knee: diagnosis and management’. Accessed 7th September 2022
Knee Pain and Problems.John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 7th September 2022
Knee Pain. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 7th September 2022