Answers to Common Knee Pain Questions

Dr. Matthew Lawless answers frequently asked questions about knee pain.

What are the causes of knee pain?

Dr. Matthew Lawless talks about causes of knee pain. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Injuries or diseases can cause knee problems, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. The most common cause of knee pain is arthritis, according to the NIH.

According to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon, six types of arthritis can cause knee pain:

  • Osteoarthritis – The most common form, this arthritis results when joint tissues deteriorate, causing bones to rub against each other. Knees are commonly affected by osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – A less common form, this arthritis is an inflammatory disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints, causing them to become damaged
  • Infectious arthritis – Arthritis that is caused by an infection in the joint itself
  • Juvenile arthritis – Arthritis that affects those age 16 or younger
  • Psoriatic arthritis – A form of arthritis that is associated with psoriasis, a skin disease
  • Reactive arthritis – A chronic form of the disease that results from a gastrointestinal, genital, or urinary infection

Other diseases that can cause knee pain include gout, Lyme disease, or lupus, according to the AF.

For more information about the causes of knee pain, talk to your doctor.

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Who is at risk for arthritis?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains risk of arthritis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Arthritis in the knee is becoming more common as the population ages and lives longer, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. Knee arthritis is a risk for people who bend their knees or squat frequently as part of their daily routine or occupation, according to the NIH.

There are non-modifiable factors involved with knee arthritis, risks that are out of the patient’s control, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)Off Site Icon. According to the CDC, some non-modifiable risk factors are:

  • Age - The risk of developing most types of arthritis increases with age
  • Gender - Most types of arthritis are more common in women
  • Genetics - Specific genes are associated with a higher risk of certain types of arthritis

For more information about arthritis risk, talk to your doctor.

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When should you see a doctor for knee pain?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains when a doctor should be consulted for knee pain. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Knee pain that follows an injury in which the knee appears deformed should be followed up with a doctor right away, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)Off Site Icon. A swollen, tender or warm kneecap, and a fever that accompanies pain could be other indications of some forms of arthritis, and should be reported to a physician, according to the AAFP.

Arthritis is a common cause of knee pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AP)Off Site Icon. According to the AF, some symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Difficulty moving a joint or doing daily activities
  • Joint symptoms that cause you concern
  • Joint tenderness or stiffness
  • Joints that are red or warm to the touch
  • Pain, swelling, or stiffness in one or more joints

Symptoms lasting three days or more, or symptoms that occur several times in one month should be followed up with a doctor, according to the AF.

If you’re experiencing knee pain, talk to your doctor.

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Does weight affect knee pain?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains how weight may affect joint pain. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Losing weight can bring relief to weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips, and ankles, alleviating joint pain, according to the American College of RheumatologyOff Site Icon. Maintaining a healthy and appropriate weight is also a preventative measure, reducing the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knees, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and RehabilitationOff Site Icon.

For more information about arthritis and weight loss, talk to your doctor.

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How is joint pain diagnosed?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains how joint pain is diagnosed. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

A physician may diagnose joint pain by considering a patient’s medical history, risk factors and lifestyle, by conducting a physical examination, and blood and imaging tests, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon.

According to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon, some questions a doctor may ask a patient include:

  • Did this pain begin suddenly and severely, or slowly and mildly?
  • Have you injured your joint?
  • Is the pain constant or does it come and go?
  • Is there any numbness?
  • What makes the stiffness better?
  • What other symptoms do you have?
  • What started the pain and how often have you had it?
  • Which joint hurts?

For more information about diagnosing joint pain, talk to your doctor.

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What are the benefits of physical therapy?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains the benefits of physical therapy. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Knee pain can result from an illness or injury, and physical therapy is commonly used to get a patient back to their normal functionality, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)Off Site Icon. Physical therapy can add to muscle strength, which can reduce pressure on painful joints and tissues, according to the AAOS.

Exercise can also help relieve knee pain caused by arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. Regular exercise can not only strengthen muscles, but can lead to weight loss, further relieving pressure on affected knees, according to the AF.

For more information about physical therapy benefits, talk to your doctor.

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What are the benefits of aquatic exercise?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains the benefits of aquatic exercise. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Water exercises are sometimes used to manage knee pain caused by arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. The buoyancy of the water relieves pressure and allows the patient to stretch their muscles with less discomfort, according to the AF.

However, relief is temporary, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. Some studies suggest that the short-term benefits of aquatic exercise may be helpful to patients with rheumatoid arthritis, according to the NIH.

For more information about aquatic exercise, talk to your doctor.

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What type of joint injections are available?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains what types of joint injections are available. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Joint injections are used to treat knee pain after non-invasive treatment options have been exhausted, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. Relief is often temporary, and excessive injections can be harmful, according to the NIH.

Knee pain caused by arthritis can be treated with injections, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. According to the AF, common injections used to treat arthritic knees include:

  • Hyaluronic acid supplements – acts as a shock absorber and lubricant
  • Corticosteroid – provides relief of pain and inflammation
  • Arthrocentesis – removal of excess fluid, easing pain and swelling

For more information about injections to treat knee pain, talk to your doctor.

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Is there a limit on how many joint injections to have?

Dr. Matthew Lawless discusses limits on joint injections. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Joint injections can be a useful diagnostic and therapeutic tool in managing joint pain, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)Off Site Icon. There are few side effects, but some can include tendon rupture or infection, according to the AAFP. Given the possibility of side effects, frequent joint injections to the same site are sometimes discouraged, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR)Off Site Icon. Complications may include whitening of the skin at the injection site and thinning of the skin, according to the ACR.

For more information about limits on joint injections, talk to your doctor.

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Does knee bracing help with arthritis pain?

Dr. Matthew Lawless talks about knee bracing and arthritis pain. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Knee bracing is most effective in relieving the discomfort of arthritis when the inside compartment of the knee is the area affected, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. Bracing in people who have knee arthritis can allow a ligament heal, relieve kneecap pain, or boost confidence, according to the AF.

Bracing may help some more than others, the relief can be temporary, and the method doesn’t slow the progression of arthritis, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)Off Site Icon. According to the AAFP, there are four types of knee braces:

  • Functional - Give support to knees that have already been injured
  • Prophylactic - Designed to protect knees from injuries during contact sports like football
  • Rehabilitative - Limit harmful knee movement while a knee is healing after an injury or surgery
  • Unloader/offloader – Designed to provide relief to people who have arthritis in their knees

For more information about knee bracing for arthritis pain, talk to your doctor.

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What are the surgical options to knee pain?

Dr. Matthew Lawless discusses surgical options to knee pain. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

As with many other conditions, knee pain is treated with nonsurgical options first, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)Off Site Icon. Surgery is considered only when nonsurgical options such as immobilization, physical therapy, or drug therapy have been exhausted, according to the AAOS.

Knee arthroscopy is a common surgical procedure that is used to treat conditions that cause pain in the knee, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. In this procedure, a small surgical tool equipped with a camera is inserted through small incisions, allowing the surgeon to see inside the knee and carry out the procedure, according to the NIH.

According to the NIH, some of the conditions treated with arthroscopy include:

  • Kneecap that is out of position
  • Repair of defect in cartilage
  • Small pieces of broken cartilage in the knee joint
  • Some fractures of the bones of the knee
  • Swelling behind the knee that is filled with fluid - this can occur when there is swelling and pain from other causes like arthritis
  • Swollen (inflamed) or damaged lining of the joint
  • Torn meniscus
  • Torn or damaged ligaments

If nonsurgical treatments options are no longer helpful, you may want to consider total knee replacement surgery. Joint replacement surgery is an effective procedure to relieve pain, correct leg deformity, and help you resume normal activities, according to American Academy of Orthopaedic SurgeonsOff Site Icon

Talk to your doctor about treating knee pain with surgery.

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How long will the knee replacement last?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains how long knee replacements usually last. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

A total knee replacement can last from 15 to 20 years, according to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS)Off Site Icon. A knee replacement done today would have a 90 to 95 percent chance of lasting 10 years, and an 80 to 85 percent chance of lasting 20 years, according to the AAHKS.

The longevity of a knee replacement is also part of the patient’s responsibility, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)Off Site Icon. Patients should follow their doctor’s instructions after surgery and take care of their general health to add to the life of their knee replacement, according to the AAOS.

For more information about how long knee replacements last, talk to your doctor.

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Can knee replacement surgery correct bow-legged deformity?

Dr. Matthew Lawless discusses surgery and bow-legged deformity. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Knee replacement is an option to correct bow-legged deformity due to osteoarthritis, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)Off Site Icon.

Knee deformities like bowed legs can result from illnesses like arthritis, or can happen because of a poor alignment in the knee, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. Over time, the misalignment can put stress on the joints and cartilage, creating the bowed deformity, according to the NIH.

Talk to your doctor about bow-legged deformity and surgical options.

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What is revision surgery?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains what revision surgery is. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Revision is a procedure in which a failed or damaged knee replacement is corrected surgically, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)Off Site Icon. Knee replacement is often a successful procedure, but a revision may be needed over time as the prosthetic becomes worn, according to the AAOS.

There has been an increase in knee revisions in recent years, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. That increase is due, in part, to the fact that more people are having knee replacements at a younger age, according to the AF.

For more information about revision surgery, talk to your doctor.

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Myth or Truth? Does diet contribute to knee pain?

Dr. Matthew Lawless discusses the relationship between diet and knee pain. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Gout is a form of arthritis that results from excess uric acid in a patient’s system, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. The deposits collect on the patient’s joints, leading to deterioration and causing pain, according to the AF.

Omega-3 fatty acids, also called “fish oil,” is sometimes used to alleviate the discomfort of some forms of arthritis, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. The use of omega-3 fatty acids can produce better outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis, and may be an effective alternative to the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat the condition, according to the AF.

Talk to your doctor about how diet can affect knee pain.

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Myth or Truth? Does weather affect knee pain?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains how weather affects knee pain. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Knee pain that is associated with arthritis can increase during inclement weather. Studies have shown a relationship between changing weather conditions and increasing arthritis pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. Conditions that may affect knee pain include falling barometric pressure and lowered temperatures, according to the AF.

Cold weather can affect the joints, expanding bodily tissues and increasing pressure and pain, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. Cold weather doesn’t cause arthritis, but there is some evidence that it has an effect on patients who have the disorder, according to the NIH.

For more information about weather and knee pain, talk to your doctor.

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Myth or Truth? Do cold climates speed up the progression of osteoarthritis?

Dr. Matthew Lawless discusses cold climates and osteoarthritis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

While some types of weather may impact the symptoms of arthritis, cold temperatures are not known to either cause or exacerbate osteoarthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. Some arthritis patients have reported stiffer joints in colder weather, and that could be related to the effect air and barometric pressure have on the body, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon.

For more information about cold climates and osteoarthritis, talk to your doctor.

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Myth or Truth? Over-the-counter medication stops the progression of knee pain?

Dr. Matthew Lawless discusses using over-the-counter medication for knee pain. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Over-the-counter medications can relieve the discomfort of knee pain, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)Off Site Icon. However, the medications cannot slow or stop the condition causing knee pain, particularly when the cause is arthritis, according to the AAOS.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are over-the-counter medications that can help alleviate knee pain caused by arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. Aspirin, celecoxib, ibuprofen, and naproxen are types of NSAIDs, according to the AF.

Talk to your doctor about using over-the-counter medication for knee pain.

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Myth or Truth? Is The need for knee replacement is mainly determined by the X-ray?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains how knee replacement surgery is determined. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The decision to perform a knee replacement is determined by a number of factors, according to American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS)Off Site Icon. Those include medical history, a physical examination and an X-ray, according to the AAHKS.

While an X-ray can reveal the amount of deformity or damage to a knee, more tests may be ordered before a decision about knee replacement is made, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)Off Site Icon. A blood test or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can reveal more about the condition of the bone and tissue of the knee, according to the AAOS.

For more information about knee replacement surgery, talk to your doctor.

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Myth or Truth? Does having diabetes affect surgery outcomes?

Dr. Matthew Lawless explains how diabetes affects surgery outcomes. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Some studies have suggested that diabetes patients experience less favorable outcomes after knee replacement surgery, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon. The outcomes were in similar in both insulin-dependent diabetics and non-insulin-dependent diabetics, according to the NIH.

There is a higher risk of post-surgical complications in diabetics who have knee replacement surgery, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF)Off Site Icon. Complications may include blood clotting, fracture around the implant, loosening of the joint, stroke, and wound infection, according to the AF.

Talk to your doctor about diabetes and surgery outcomes.

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What are common knee procedures?

Knees can require treatment following an injury during play or normal activity, or as a result of an illness or disease, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). Arthritis is a common condition that could lead to knee surgery, according to the NIH

Most surgical procedures on the knee are minimally-invasive, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic SurgeonsOff Site Icon(AAOS). Before surgery is considered, options such as immobilization, physical therapy, or drug therapy will be exhausted, according to the AAOS.

The AAOS states that when surgery is necessary, other procedures available include:

  • Partial knee replacement
  • Revision knee replacement
  • Total knee replacement

Talk to your doctor about common knee procedures.

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How are knee procedures performed?

Arthroscopy is a common surgical technique that is used to treat conditions that cause pain in the knee, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). In this procedure, a small surgical tool equipped with a camera is inserted through small incisions, allowing the surgeon to see inside the knee and carry out the procedure, according to the NIH.

Arthroscopy may be an option for treating arthritis in the knee, osteoarthritis, according to the Arthritis FoundationOff Site Icon (AF) A surgeon is able to repair damaged parts or cartilage with more precision than is found in traditional surgical methods.

To learn more about arthroscopy, talk to your doctor.

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Who are the best candidates for these procedures?

Injuries to the knee are more likely to require surgery than for many other reason, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). Meniscus tears are usually repaired with surgery; the meniscus acts as a shock absorber between the bones in the knee, the NIH states.

Meniscus tears often occur along with other knee injuries like ligament tears, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (AAOS). While these are often sports-related injuries, they can occur in those individuals who are very physically active, the AAOS states.

For more information about conditions requiring knee surgery, talk to your doctor.

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What are the benefits and risks of knee procedures?

Surgery always carries some degree of risk, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). Risks of knee surgery include blood loss and infection, although the risk is minimal in arthroscopic procedures than in traditional, open surgery.

As most knee procedures are performed arthroscopically, there is lower risk and greater benefit than in other procedures, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (AAOS). Patients who undergo these procedures experience less pain and have shorter recovery time, the states.

To learn more about the risks and benefits of knee surgery, talk to your doctor.

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In what cases are knee procedures necessary?

Surgery is always regarded as an option only after traditional non-invasive methods have proven ineffective, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). When surgery becomes a possibility, the type of procedure depends on the individual conditions, according to the NIH.

Common reasons for surgery are that the person’s condition has escalated to the level of interfering with one’s day-to-day activities, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (AAOS). The goal at that time is to repair and/or rebuild the tissue and improve strength to prevent any further damage or injury, the AAOS states.

For more information about necessary knee procedures, talk to your doctor.

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What is the recovery expectation with knee procedures?

In order to experience an effective recovery, it’s important that the patient follow his or her doctor’s instructions carefully, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). An average return to normal activity usually occurs in about a month, states the NIH.

In more complex procedures like ligament reconstruction, athletes and players may see a return to play in six months, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (AAOS). In all cases, one of the goals of surgery is to rebuild strength as part of an effort to prevent further injury or damage.

To learn more about recovery from knee surgery, talk to your doctor.

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What are the different types of knee braces, and how would they be used?

Knee braces are sometimes used as supportive or protective devices, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP). There is little evidence that wearing a brace can prevent injury, and in post-surgical cases, knee bracing has to be paired with some type of physical rehabilitative care, according to the AAFP.

The AAFP states that the common types of knee braces include:

  • Functional: Supportive braces for injured knees
  • Prophylactic: Protective braces for wear during contact sports like football
  • Rehabilitative: Movement-limiting brace worn while a knee is healing after an injury or surgery
  • Unloader/offloader: Braces worn to provide relief to people who have conditions such as arthritis

For more information about knee bracing, talk to your doctor.

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Source: Matthew Lawless, MD, Wright State Physicians Orthopaedic Surgeons, Sports Medicine, and Rehabilitation

Content Updated: June 14, 2017

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