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Understanding the Causes, Diagnosis and Treatments of Knee Pain

For those living with knee pain, the daily struggle of just getting from one point to another can be exhausting. Even the most common everyday activities, such as walking to work, climbing a flight of stairs or even just standing from a sitting position can result in sheer agony.
Finding the right treatments for knee discomfort and pain doesn’t have to be a difficult undertaking. Experienced and compassionate doctors and orthopedic surgeons can help guide their patients in choosing the right treatment options for effective, permanent relief.

What Causes Knee Pain

The term “knee pain” is broad and can indicate everything from a minor twinge to a severe orthopedic condition. Understanding the different causes of knee pain can help narrow down the treatment options and lead the sufferer to the right specialist.

The result of degeneration of the cartilage and bone in the joint, osteoarthritis can be painful and cause other symptoms such as swelling and stiffness.

Rheumatoid Arthritis
Also known as RA, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition in which the body essentially attacks the tissues in the joints. It can lead to bone erosion and joint deformities.

Tendinitis is caused by the irritation of a tendon, usually due to repetitive use. It is often experienced in the front of the knee and is the result of walking up steep inclines, stairs or climbing.

A form of arthritis, gout is the result of a buildup of uric acid in the joints. It tends to be particularly painful in the knees.

Meniscal Tear
There are “capsules” of cartilage that lie underneath the kneecap (patella) that are called meniscus. These cartilage structures help to provide cushioning and allow the bones of the knee joint to move smoothly together. When a meniscal tear occurs, the structures in the knee joint are no longer protected from one another, allowing the joint to rub and cause pain.

Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa — sacs of lubricating fluid that decrease friction and rubbing between different tissues in the body, such as between bone and muscle. Bursitis is the irritation of these sacs, leading to pain and swelling.

Torn or Damaged Ligament
There are four main ligaments that run along the leg and help stabilize the knee. Two of these are particularly prone to injure — the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the lateral cruciate ligament (PCL). If either or both of these ligaments tear, they can cause not only pain but also instability in the knee joint.
While this is not a comprehensive list of all of the causes of knee pain, it does provide an overview of some of the more common reasons a person might experience pain or discomfort in the knee.

Symptoms of Knee Pain

Obviously, knee pain manifests as a marked discomfort in the knee area. However, these symptoms can vary depending on the cause of the pain and the seriousness of the condition or injury. Commonly, people will feel some level of pain, ranging from a dull aching to a throbbing or stabbing, sharp sensation. With some conditions, the joint may become hot or swollen. They may also experience weakness in the joint, a decrease in the range of motion or even instability. Receiving the proper diagnosis, regardless of symptoms, is the first step in resolving this debilitating problem.

Diagnosing Knee Pain

Choosing the right treatment for knee pain depends on the cause. A physical exam is the first place to start. Most general practitioners are able to provide this initial exam and, if no obvious diagnosis can be made, refer the patient to specialists for diagnostics and treatment.

X-rays are often used to diagnose knee pain. They are highly effective in revealing bone and even ligament damage in the knee. As X-rays use specially tuned rays of energy, the doctors can view the inner structures such as bones and dense ligaments and muscle. X-rays can reveal fractures, abnormalities, and other injuries. They’re an excellent first step in receiving a proper diagnosis.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
An MRI is an excellent way to reveal damage to the tissues of the knee joint, such as tendons, ligaments, and muscles. As with X-rays, MRI is non-invasive and allows doctors a clear picture of what might be causing knee pain. It uses radio waves, magnets and computer software that, when combined, create a detailed image of what might be causing a patient’s knee pain.

CT Scan (Computer-aided Tomography)
Often known as a “CAT scan,” computer-aided tomography can provide a comprehensive and highly detailed image of injuries such as fractures. A three-dimensional image is produced through numerous X-ray images that are then compiled with the help of a computer to give a 360-degree view of the knee joint. A CT scan can provide invaluable information when deciding on a course of treatment and assessing the extent of the damage.

Treatment of Knee Pain

Depending on the cause of knee pain, there are numerous treatment options available. Once a diagnosis has been made, a doctor can help the patient decide which treatment or treatments would provide them with the most thorough relief. Knee pain treatments can include conservative approaches such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroid injections, arthroscopic surgery, knee replacement surgery, cruciate ligament repair and physical therapy.

You shouldn’t have to endure the discomfort and immobility that can accompany knee pain. Don’t let knee pain put your life on hold. Call us at the South Texas Spinal Clinic at (210)614-6432 to schedule an appointment today!

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