Understanding knee pain for injury prevention

Although not all knee pain is serious, it can have a limiting effect on your daily activities and leaving it untreated could result in increased pain and longer-term joint damage. However, there are many things that can be done to help!

Anatomy of the knee

The knee is a large weight-bearing hinge joint between the thighbone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia). At the front of the joint, the kneecap slides up and down a groove in the bone at the end of the thigh bone. As well as protecting the joint underneath, the kneecap connects muscles in the thigh to the tibia,

Knee pain x ray anatomy
Image by Dr. Manuel González Reyes from Pixabay

assisting with knee extension.

The surfaces of the knee joint are protected by a layer of cartilage which absorbs stress, and fluid-filled sacs called bursae help the joint to move smoothly. The knee is designed to bend forwards and backwards but has minimal sideways movement, therefore the surrounding muscles must be both flexible and strong to keep everything in alignment.

What causes knee pain?

Knee pain may be felt due to inflammation of the bursae or tendons, or from chronic bone and cartilage-related conditions like arthritis which often cause restrictions of the joint capsule, resulting in a partial or complete loss of range of motion or weight-bearing ability. Acute injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament tears, patella fractures and dislocation, being overweight or playing certain sports can all increase your risk of experiencing knee trouble.

Besides this, mechanical issues or imbalances further up including a tight iliotibial (ITB) band, weak thigh muscles or misalignment of the hip and pelvis could lead to referred pain being felt in the knees so it is important to receive a proper diagnosis to determine where the problem is originating from.

Although repetitive movements may increase discomfort, prolonged periods with the knee in flexion can aggravate knee joint pain too, so rest is not always the best answer!

Preventing knee pain

Treatment options may include strengthening or stretching exercises with the aim of balancing muscles such as the hamstrings and calves to improve joint alignment and function. Ice therapy, kinesiology taping, acupuncture and deep tissue massage can be effective options for reducing swelling and inflammation in and around the knee.

Manual adjustment techniques such as those provided by a chiropractor are very beneficial for knee complaints. In one study, a 2 week treatment programme of short-term manual therapy for participants with osteoarthritic knee pain resulted in reduced pain and improvements in self-reported knee function.*

Often, a combination of methods may be most suitable and your chiropractor can advise on a suitable treatment approach. Conservative treatment is highly successful in mild to moderate cases of knee pain and even if issues are so severe that surgical intervention (i.e arthroscopy) is required, it is still important to discuss a rehabilitation programme with your chiropractor in order to help address underlying causes and prevent knee pain from reoccurring.

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* The effect of a manual therapy knee protocol on osteoarthritic knee pain: a randomised controlled trial
Henry Pollard et al., 2008.

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