Healthy Living

Chronic Knee Pain: What Are the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment?

Chronic Knee Pain: What Are the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment?

Key Takeaways

  • Chronic knee pain is a long-lasting pain in the knees that is associated with swelling and stiffness. 
  • The symptoms of chronic knee pain may vary from person-to-person.
  • The treatment of chronic knee pain will greatly depend on the cause of your knee pain.

Chronic knee pain is a long-lasting pain in the knees that is associated with swelling and stiffness. Typically, a knee pain lasts for more than three months. There are several causes of chronic knee pain and this article will focus on its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

What is chronic knee pain?

Chronic knee pain is when you are experiencing pain in your knees for a longer time, which is usually more than three months. The knee pain is often associated with swelling and stiffness of the knee joint. The intensity and duration of a chronic knee pain will vary from person-to-person.  

What are the causes of chronic knee pain?

A knee pain that comes and goes within a short time is different from a chronic knee pain. Many people experience a temporary knee pain following an injury or trauma to the knee joint. Sometimes, your knee pain will go away without any treatment at all. However, chronic knee pain rarely goes away without treatment. It can commonly be due to several causes. 

The possible conditions or diseases that may give rise to a chronic knee pain include:

  • Osteoarthritis – is a condition that involves the wear and tear of a joint that is commonly due to an overuse or repeated trauma to the joint. Osteoarthritis is common in middle-aged to the elderly group of people. It results in pain, inflammation, and joint destruction due to the degeneration of the knee joint.
  • Tendinitis – happens when the tendon is inflamed. A tendon is a strong structure that connects the muscles to the bones. The symptoms of tendinitis include pain in the front of the knee, which is aggravated with climbing, taking the stairs, or walking up an inclined surface.
  • Bursitis – is the inflammation of a bursa due to an overuse or repeated injury to the knee.
  • Gout – is a type of arthritis caused by the deposition of uric acid crystals within the joint. It is a very painful condition.
  • Pseudogout is somewhat similar to gout, but is mainly caused by the calcium crystals that form in the joints. The most common part of the body that is affected by pseudogout is the knee.
  • Baker’s cyst – is a collection of synovial fluid behind the knee joint.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – is a chronic autoimmune disorder, which results in painful joints, swelling, and joint deformities.
  • Dislocation of the kneecap – is often a result of trauma.
  • Meniscus tear – is a tear or a rupture in one of the cartilages of the knee joint.
  • Ligament tear – ligaments attach two bones together in a joint. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the one that is most commonly injured.

Knee pain in people with osteoarthritis tends to be persistent due to the damage of the knee structure. If people will not undergo any extensive therapy or surgery, they will continuously feel the inflammation and swelling of their knees. However, through proper pain management, flare-ups can be prevented.

What are the risk factors of chronic knee pain?

There are several factors that may increase your risk for chronic knee pain. They are:

  • obesity or being overweight – your knee carries your entire body weight, so if you are overweight or obese, then the amount of weight the knee joint has to handle will be increased, thereby, increasing the stress on the knee joint.
  • increasing age
  • past history of trauma or injury to the knee joint
  • physical exercise or athletic activity

What are the symptoms of chronic knee pain?

The symptoms of chronic knee pain may vary from person-to-person. For some, the pain may be mild, whereas, for the others, it could be so severe that it hinders them to do their normal daily activities. The signs and symptoms of chronic knee pain may include:

  • a persisting pain in the knee joint
  • a sharp or shooting type of pain when using the joint frequently
  • dull pain

Sometimes, the knee pain may be associated with other symptoms like joint swelling, stiffness, and deformity of the joint.

Symptoms That You Shouldn’t Ignore

If you experience the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:

  • if you see a deformity in your knees or leg
  • noticeable swelling of the knee
  • if you cannot flex your knee
  • running a fever aside from the swelling and inflammation in your knee
  • if you feel that your knee lacks stability or “gives out”

How is chronic knee pain diagnosed?

If you have a chronic knee pain, then your doctor may order several diagnostic tests to come to an accurate diagnosis. Before ordering the tests, a complete history and a full physical examination will be carried out from which the doctor will decide what tests are needed to be ordered.

The possible tests that your doctor may order are:

  • full blood count
  • X-ray of the knee joint
  • a CT scan or MRI scans of the knee joint
  • other imaging tests

How is chronic knee pain treated?

The treatment will greatly depend on the cause of your knee pain. There are several options of treatment available including physical therapy, medications, surgery, and injections to the knee joint. However, there are some ways that you can do to reduce your knee pain, and they include:

  • Putting ice on the knee for about 15 minutes to reduce the pain for a short period of time. You can repeat this every hour for about three to four hours.
  • Using cushioned flat shoes instead of high heels to support your feet and reduce the pain.
  • Keeping a pillow between your knees when sleeping.
  • Not standing for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces. If you have to face a situation wherein you have to stand for a long time, then make sure that you keep your weight equally distributed on both legs. Try to stay seated whenever possible.
  • If you are overweight or obese, then try to lose some weight. By doing so, it will help you reduce the amount of weight and stress that are applied to each knee joint.
  • Rest and have a break. Resting for a couple of days is beneficial, especially if you only have a minor case of knee pain. If your knee pain is due to an injury, refrain from doing your usual daily activities to lessen the repetitive strain on your knees. Give your knees enough time to heal to avoid having an additional damage.

How can you prevent chronic knee pain?

Chronic knee pain cannot be prevented in all cases. However, the pain can be reduced. Most of the time, chronic knee pain is aggravated by an overuse or repeated injury to the knee joints. In such cases, you can follow some lifestyle changes that may help to reduce your knee pain. These changes include:

  • Make sure that you have time to do warm ups before doing any exercise.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Use shoe inserts to support your feet.
  • Use a pair of better running shoes that provide good support and cushioning.
  • Try doing some low-impact exercises or mixing low-impact exercises with some high-impact routines to give your knees a break.
  • Do not remain standing for long periods of time.
  • Stick to paved roads instead of rough roads.