Pain in the knee is one of the most common joint pains that affects most of us. Since the knees have to bear most of the body weight yet have the flexibility to allow us to move on two legs, it is understandable that it can be easily strain, injured and prone to disease. Knee pain is a common symptom of both acute and chronic knee problems. It may at times require medical or even surgical treatment. Simple measures can assist with relieving and even preventing knee pain but this should not preclude the necessity of drugs and surgery in some cases.
Knee pain should always be investigated by a doctor especially if it occurs frequently and is accompanied by joint stiffness. Osteoarthritis is a common condition that occurs as a person gets older and knee pain may be the first symptom. Other serious joint conditions that also need medical attention includes rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis. However, these conditions are not the only cause of knee pain.
In acute cases, knee pain may be due to joint injury, muscle strain or sprained ligaments and simple measures at home may be sufficient to manage the pain. Acute cases often resolve on their own in time. It is important to reduce the strain on the joint and allow the knee to heal properly to ensure that an acute injury does not lead to chronic problems.
RICE for Knee Pain
There are 4 measures that can be helpful for relieving pain in soft tissue injuries. This is simply known as RICE which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. These measures are most beneficial for acute injuries and knee strain.
Rest The Knee
Get off your feet because the knee takes the most amount of strain when you are walking or standing. Resting does not mean walking slowly and not running. It requires that you keep your feet up. Just a day or two can be sufficient to drastically reduce knee pain and prevent long term complications.
Ice The Joint
Ice reduces inflammation and should be used for 24 to 72 hours after a knee injury or strain. Heat should be avoided during this time as it can worsen the inflammation and knee pain. Ice must not be applied directly to the skin unless it is being constantly moved around on the skin. Instead an ice pack should be used and applied over the most inflamed part of the knee.
Pressure on the joint not only helps prevent fluid accumulation in the knee joint, it can also assist with stabilizing and aligning the joint. This assist with healing and preventing any further strain that can worsen knee pain. Compression bandages should be tied firmly but not to the extent that it can impair circulation.
Elevate the Limb
To reduce swelling of the knee, the leg should be elevated by propping it up on a pillow while lying down or sitting with your legs up. Elevating the leg assists the deoxygenated blood in the veins to return to the heart rather than congesting the legs. It is especially helpful for injuries that requires the leg to be immobilized for a period of time.
Keep the Knee Warm
Heat therapy can be useful for chronic knee pain. It is particularly useful for knee pain due to muscle, tendon, ligament and other joint problems. However, heat should be avoided immediately after an injury as it can worsen the inflammation. Instead cold applications like ice packs should be used for 48 to 72 hours and then followed with heat therapy for the long term. A hot water bottle, electric heat pad or microwavable heat bag can be used on the knee for short periods but should not be used constantly as it promote swelling and even pain.
Although you should try to immobilize the knee joint and rest it after an acute injury, stretching exercises can be helpful for chronic knee conditions. These exercises may also help prevent acute injuries and reduce knee pain when standing and walking. Stretching exercises for the knee help strengthen the muscles that moves the leg and thigh at the knee joint. This also helps with stabilizing the knee joint. Collectively, the movement and flexibility as well as the stabilization of the joint can reduce strain on the knee which helps with reducing or even preventing knee pain.
Start Moving Slowly
If you are experiencing knee pain and cannot rest, then walk around slowly. Walking fast or running transmits additional force to the knee thereby straining or injuring it further. Walking slowly will allow you to minimize the impact on the knee joint and also distribute some of the weight on to the other leg. However, this limping movement should not be continued indefinitely as it can strain the uninjured leg. Move around only for short periods and use supportive aids to help take some of the weight off the injured knee.
Use Mobility Aids
Mobility aids can help reduce knee pain by taking weight off the joint. A mobility aid like a wheelchair allows the knee to rest completely but it is not always a practical option, especially for minor injuries and mild knee pain. Instead a walking cane, crutch or walker may preferable. It can be used when a person is experiencing knee pain and discontinued once the pain subsides. Mobility aids transfer some of the force through the upper limb down to the ground. However, it can also strain the hand, arm and shoulder joint if used for long periods.
Straps and Braces
Knee strapping or taping provides additional support for the joint. It aids with healing and can also be useful in preventing injuries of the knee ligaments. Knee strapping involves the use of an adhesive elasticated tape on the skin over the ligaments of the knee. It should ideally be done by a physical therapist. Knee supports come in different forms. Softer elasticated supports can be wrapped around the knee and not significantly restrict mobility. Less flexible braces provide better support but can be restrictive with certain movements at the knee joint. Strapping, supports and braces can be helpful in relieving knee pain.
There are a number of complementary therapies for the management of knee pain. Most of these therapies have not been subjected to extensive scientific studies but may still be helpful for knee pain. Acupuncture is one of the more widely utilized complementary therapies for managing knee pain. Glucosamine and chondroitin are two “natural” supplements that are available without prescription. These supplements may be helpful for the management of osteoarthritis, one of the major causes of chronic knee pain especially in the elderly. However, the results of clinical studies into the benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin have not conclusively verified its effectiveness.