Knee pain can be nagging or debilitating, and is often caused by injury or disease. It can affect muscle control in the sore leg, decrease the strength and endurance of the muscles that support the knee, and can restrict mobility as well. Injuries can occur from a sudden movement that pushes the knee beyond its normal range of movement, or as the result of a direct blow. This can happen in recreational activities, a fall, a sporting event, or a motor vehicle accident. As for disease, Osteoarthritis, also known as Degenerative Joint Disease, is the most common one affecting the knee. This is caused by the cartilage in the knee gradually wearing away, leading to pain and swelling. If the pain in your knee is a result of an injury, the most likely culprits involve cartilage tears (e.g., meniscus tears) and/or ligament tears (e.g., ACL, or Anterior Cruciate Ligament). Knee pain can also be caused by repetitive stress, as often occurs with the kneecap (known as PFPS, or, patellofemoral pain syndrome). Very rarely do knee injuries involve broken bones, with the exception being extreme trauma.
HOW IS KNEE PAIN DIAGNOSED?
You may experience discomfort in different parts of your knee joint, depending on your particular injury or problem. Being able to pinpoint the location of your pain can certainly assist your Physical Therapist in determining its cause. He/she will make their diagnosis based on a number of factors including your symptoms, medical history, and a thorough examination. Diagnostic testing (e.g., X-rays, MRI, etc.) may be needed to confirm the diagnosis in some cases, but oftentimes are unnecessary. To help diagnose your specific condition, your Physical Therapist will most likely ask you questions such as:
- Can you point to a specific location of your knee that is painful?
- Did you twist your knee?
- Did you feel a “pop” at the time of the injury?
- Has your knee been swelling?
- Has your knee “locked?” Do you feel a “catch?” Do you feel like your knee will “buckle” or “give out?”
- Do you experience difficulty with sitting with your knee bent for extended periods of time, such as riding in a car or sitting at the movies?
- Do you have difficulty with going up and down steps?
- Do you have increased pain with bending or straightening your knee?
- Do you experience pain when you pivot? (plant your foot and twist your body).
- Range of motion or mobility exercises to help maintain normal joint movement and decrease stiffness
- Strengthening exercises to maintain or increase muscle strength
- Aerobic or endurance exercises, such as walking or swimming, to improve heart function and promote circulation, as well as to help control weight and prevent obesity. Weight control is extremely important to individuals with arthritis because extra weight increases pressure on many joints, including the knees