Knee Pain: Why Does It Hurt? How Can You Treat It?

Knee pain: it can stop you from playing a sport you love, taking the stairs or enjoying an evening walk. What causes it? What treatments are available? Seeking help from a medical professional can help you regain health and mobility. We asked Michael T. Diment, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon with ProMedica Physicians.

Why does my knee hurt?

Knee pain can be caused by a variety of factors. Sometimes, the pain is the result of a single, recent event, such as an injury. But if the pain lasts longer than expected or if it is a chronic occurrence, there may be an underlying problem. A past injury, early arthritis or a lifestyle change – such as weight gain or a change in activity level – can cause chronic knee pain.

When should I see a specialist?

If your knee doesn’t heal as expected after a recent injury, or if you experience chronic knee pain that affects your daily activity, you should seek medical help.

An orthopaedic surgeon is an expert who specializes in diseases and disorders of the bones. He or she can evaluate the severity of your knee problem by learning your health history, knowing your activities and taking an X-ray of your knee. Then, he or she can help you determine the likely cause of the knee pain and help you create a plan for treatment.

What are my treatment options?

There are many choices available for people with knee pain, including effective nonsurgical treatments. Your orthopaedic surgeon may recommend one or a combination of nonsurgical treatments.

  • Anti-inflammatory medications may be used on a temporary basis to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
  • An exercise program, at home or with a physical therapist, may help strengthen your legs, promote healing and reduce the risk of future injury.
  • A brace may be used temporarily to provide support during movement until the legs are strengthened.
  • Viscosupplementation is a newer shot therapy that is effective for up to six months. This long-lasting lubricant supplements natural fluid that keeps the bones and joints working properly.
  • Supplements containing glucosamine and chondriotin sulfate are non-prescription treatments that build and protect the joint by replenishing important elements that deteriorate in the aging process.

When nonsurgical options do not provide the mobility and pain relief that is necessary to enjoy daily life, your orthopaedic surgeon may recommend surgical options.

  • Arthroscopic surgery is used to treat arthritis, specifically swelling that causes your knees to make noises during certain activities, such as using the stairs. This is a minor surgical treatment that is minimally invasive and usually offers quick recovery.
  • A partial knee replacement is a minimally-invasive surgery that helps repair your joint when just a single part of your knee is affected by arthritis. This procedure is not very common because isolated arthritis is present in only a small percentage of people with knee pain.
  • A total knee replacement is another option for people with debilitating or chronic knee pain. The name is misleading because the procedure does not mean replacing your entire knee with a new one. Rather, it means that the entire knee is arthritic and that a thin layer of the arthritic surface of the bone will be removed and resurfaced with a new component.
  • Custom fit total knee replacement surgery is the newest technology that uses an MRI scan to help the surgeon remove the precise amount of bone at specific angles. This better ensures that any new components are placed as perfectly as possible into your knee. Although the implants are not custom made, the placement of those parts is specific to the individual person.

If your knee pain is chronic and affecting your enjoyment of daily activities, talk with your orthopaedic surgeon. He or she can help you develop a plan that will allow you to stay active throughout your life.