Knowing how to care for painful knee joints is a skill sought by many people at some point in life. The knee joint, while the body’s largest joint, is also a joint highly prone to injuries, stress and pain. Because of the anatomy of the knee, the joint is often vulnerable and injury is common in both athletic individuals as well as those more sedentary. If knee joint pain is affecting you, it is time to follow a few steps to alleviate some of the pain and prevent re-injury.
- Ice packs
- Elastic compression bandage
- Pillows for elevation
- Over-the-counter pain relievers or NSAIDs (such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen)
- Crutches (if necessary) for resting
- Understand your knee pain. It is important to understand some of the common causes of knee pain. Many times, pain in the knee is the result of strained or torn ligaments or damaged cartilage—although rheumatoid arthritis or bursitis can strike at any age or activity level as well. Poor stretching, conditioning before exercise or medical concerns, such as obesity, result in added knee strain as the joint is stressed without properly “warming up” or is forced to continuously bear extra body weight. While not directly within the knee, injured or strained muscles of the thigh or leg may cause pain within the knee as well because of their actions in knee and leg movement. Understanding the cause of your knee pain and severity of your knee joint injury is vital in determining the best course of treatment.
- Begin treatment with RICE as soon as the pain is noticed. RICE is the acronym for the basic, initial treatment of many sports related injuries. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Rest is especially important to the knee joint as it is a weight-bearing joint in use each time your body stands. Consider crutches to help you rest the knee when you must be up and about. Ice should be applied for twenty-minutes increments throughout the day. Compression with an elastic bandage and elevation of the affected area both help reduce swelling.
- Try non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce swelling and pain. Common over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen are frequently used as part of the treatment regiment for a number of joint injuries. They are, however, not the right choice for everyone, so be sure that using an NSAID is appropriate for you and does not conflict with any medical conditions, allergies or other medications or supplements that you may be currently taking.
- See a doctor or visit an athletic trainer. Many minor knee injuries can be treated at home, but if you are experiencing excessive pain, the knee will not bear weight or is immovable, or you are experiencing clicking and popping in the joint, a trip the doctor or athletic trainer is necessary. Trying to self-treat certain types of knee injuries may result in further damage to the joint or surrounding muscles and can significantly prolong your treatment and recovery time.
- Exercise the knee as soon as the joint is ready. Remember that initial exercises should be mild and low impact to avoid re-injury of an already delicate joint. The muscles used in mild strength and flexibility exercises are intended to help the knee and its supporting structures return to a stable, pre-injury state.
- Consider using alternative medicine or a combination of homeopathic and traditional treatments. While supplements are not always supported by science, there are many alternative health practitioners who suggest such therapy as part of a patient’s long-term treatment plan. Alternative treatments, such as massage therapy, are frequently incorporated into a traditional physical therapy program.
- Accept your knee may require surgery. If the knee is unable to recover or if the injury is severe, your doctor may request that you undergo a surgical treatment to repair the condition. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of the surgical procedure, but if the knee joint pain is interfering with your quality of life, surgical repair may be a valid option.