As another March Madness tournament comes to a close, legions of college basketball fans are in pain, mourning their unrealized title hopes as if they’d just lost a loved one. For some, the emotional pain is nearly unbearable – bordering on the physical. A busted bracket can hurt as bad as a busted knee, it seems. But this only seems true for those of us with healthy knees. As all who suffer from knee pain know all too well, the “madness” to which college basketball fans are so often driven to in March pales in comparison to the “madness” of knee pain when, for example, it stops you from fully enjoying an afternoon of particularly beautiful weather, or the company of friends or family without consistently wincing in pain. This is a reality for many, as one in four adults currently suffer from some form of knee pain – a figure that’s increased nearly 65% over the last twenty years – according to a 2018 paper published in the AFP (American Family Physician) medical journal. Due to the sheer prevalence of knee pain, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with the common causes, treatments and prevention tips in order to be adequately prepared. In this article, we will lay out the common types and causes of knee pain, as well as general prevention and recovery tips, from the view of a physical therapist.
“Knee pain” is an extremely wide-ranging category. It not only includes a large number of possible symptoms – all of which vary both in terms of their severity and their particular placement within the anatomy of the knee – but also a vast range of potential victims. That being said, a brief overview of “the basics” might be helpful. First, it’s important to understand the vital role that the knee places in terms of our anatomy and mobility. The knee is a large weight-bearing joint, that is comprised of three cartilage-layered bones, which acts as a central connection point for various ligaments, tendons, muscles and connective tissue. These various components work in conjunction with each other to allow us to perform simple mobility tasks, like standing, walking, or running. That being said, it’s easy to see why any pain within the knee can be so disruptive to our everyday lives.
Generally speaking, all causes of knee pain fall into one of four basic categories of underlying causes – aging, injury, overuse, or other medical conditions. Specific conditions can be roughly associated with certain categories. For example, various forms of arthritis can usually be associated with aging, whereas patella tendinitis might be generally associated with overuse. Arthritis and tendinitis account for a large majority of knee pain, and though certainly painful, they are generally less serious than knee pain resulting from either injury or special medical conditions. They are usually accompanied by chronic (dull, aching, cumulative) pain, as opposed to acute (sharp, piercing, immediate) pains that can be indicative of serious injuries. It follows that if your pain is of the acute nature – particularly if and when combined with other symptoms, such as a complete inability to bear weight – that it might be wise to seek immediate medical consultation.
If this is the case for you, by all means seek immediate medical attention (PTA offers free consultations for situations just like this one, in fact). The unfortunate reality of most “serious” knee injuries is that, in best cases, they will likely require regular physical therapy treatment in order to properly heal, and in worst cases, surgery might prove unavoidable. In addition, because these injuries often happen so fast – literally in seconds, or less than that – and because they are so often caused by nothing more than bad luck, the tragedy that at times arises from pure chance, there’s not much to be done in terms of prevention. What you can do, however, is make a conscious point to protect your own body if you’re partaking in any physical activity where you feel that your body might be potentially be at risk, as well as consistently and thoroughly stretching beforehand. In addition, there is one skill which you can practice, unlike our first two prevention tips, and that is your level or ability (or lack thereof) to balance. An interesting note is that knee pain can cause balance difficulty (which can lead to other injuries) and balance deficits can cause knee injury from falls. If you happen to suffer one of the more common causes of knee pain, such as arthritis, a wider range of preventative tools are at your disposal. These include, among others, avoiding high-impact activities, maintaining a healthy weight, keeping body inflammation levels low, and wearing supportive shoes as well as regularly replacing them. Please feel free to drop by any of our multiple PTA locations in either Conroe, or Huntsville, Texas, for a free consultation today! Your recovery might be closer than you think.
Written by Clay Williams
Reviewed by Dallas Williams, PT and Owner of Physical Therapy Associates
Bunt, Christopher, et al. “Knee Pain in Adults and Adolescents: The Initial Evaluation.” American Family Physician, 1 Nov. 2018, https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2018/1101/p576.html.
“Knee Pain.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 Jan. 2023, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/knee-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20350849.