Aching Knees? Here’s How to Ease the Pain
July 24, 2022
Many of us experience knee pain throughout our adult life. This pain is often a result of muscle strain; however, it can also be caused by an underlying condition such as arthritis or damage to part of the knee.
“In older adults, the most common cause of knee pain is arthritis which is the wearing away of cartilage in the knee,” says Wayne Cohen-Levy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at University Hospitals. “When cartilage is worn away, the joint can be stiff, swollen and painful. Cartilage cushions and protects the bone.”
Other times, knee pain can be related to a prior or recent injury causing inflammation. In some cases, knee pain can be related to muscle weakness either from old age or lack of use. Whatever the cause, knee pain can become debilitating.
Lifestyle Changes for Knee Pain
Fortunately, there are lifestyle changes you can make before seeing a physician. These simple changes can offer great relief, and restore mobility and quality of life.
- Go low-impact. If your knee pain is due to activity, you may have to modify your lifestyle to accommodate your knee discomfort. Try switching from high-impact forms of exercise like jogging or aerobics to lower-impact activities such as swimming, biking or walking.
- Rethink sports. If you are used to participating in aggressive sports such as basketball or volleyball, you may need to cut back on your level of activity to decrease the discomfort in your knee. Changing to lower-impact activities reduces the stress on the joint which in turn can lessen knee pain.
- Try RICE. The mnemonic “RICE” is a helpful way to deal with some causes of knee pain. The “R” stands for rest, “I” for icing or cold compresses, “C” for compression such as a gentle Ace wrap, and “E” for elevation.
- Take an anti-inflammatory. Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil or Aleve can help decrease knee inflammation from injury or arthritis. In some individuals, these medications can irritate the stomach and cause other medical problems, so always check with your doctor before taking them.
When to See a Specialist
Certainly, there are instances when seeking medical attention may be indicated. One sign is persistent swelling in the knee joint or a sensation of the knee locking. Another is the inability to fully bend or straighten the knee, or a feeling of instability when the knee is shifting while doing certain activities.
These may be signs of internal damage to the knee involving a ligament or cartilage that require a visit to an orthopedic specialist. Arthroscopy is a simple outpatient procedure. It consists of two small puncture holes (portals) on the knee into the knee joint. Instruments, including a small camera, are inserted through the holes into the joint so that cartilage or ligament damage can be corrected during the procedure.
Remedies for Knee Pain from Arthritis
If the knee pain is secondary to advanced arthritis, there are conservative treatment options available. Weight loss is often the simplest and best way to take pressure off of an arthritic joint. Some are holistic measures that can help arthritic knees include: glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate products, turmeric, and gentle exercise and muscle strengthening. All of these interventions promote and maintain healthy cartilage. They have very minimal side effects. And while they don’t help all people, they can offer relief for many folks looking for over-the-counter options.
If arthritic symptoms become severe and home remedies and over-the-counter medications do not offer relief, there are other non-surgical options your orthopedic surgeon can offer. Bracing can take the pressure off the arthritic joint, offering relief and allowing you to be more active. Gel injections into the knee joint, called visco supplementation, introduces a lubricant and nutritional supplement to the knee which may offer arthritic pain relief for up to a year. Cortisone injections offer relief, but should be used judiciously.
When to Consider Total Joint Replacement
Finally, if all else fails and symptoms are severely affecting your activities of daily living and quality of life, consider total joint replacement. There are many new options today in joint replacement surgery with minimally invasive techniques. Many patients can go home the day of their joint replacement. Newer implants and devices have solved many of the problems that lead to failures of knee replacements decades ago.
Learn more about how our team of orthopedic specialists can help relieve your pain and get you back to doing the things you love.