Constant knee pain takes a toll on your health and your quality of life. Too many patients wind up having knee surgery when pain can often be prevented with a few lifestyle changes. Many options exist when it comes to knee pain relief. You and your doctor can work together to find the best option for you.
Risk factors for knee pain
- Over age 50
- Previous knee injury
- Arthritis in the knee
- Disease, such as fibromyalgia, cancer, and even lyme disease
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Participation in high impact activities, such as running
Knee pain prevention techniques
Maintaining overall health and nutrition can do wonders to prevent knee pain. Here are the main lifestyle adjustments that are best for preventing knee pain.
- Regular exercise: gentle, low impact exercise helps to prevent and relieve pain. Walking, swimming, biking, yoga, pilates, and tai chi are all low impact activities that restore blood flow and strengthen muscles.
- Weight control: obesity speeds cartilage breakdown, puts more pressure on the joints, and causes arthritis. If you are overweight, even the loss of 10-15 pounds can relieve some pain in the knees.
- Nutrition: Eat foods rich in healthy fat and omega-3’s. Avacado, flaxseed, walnuts, and fish are especially helpful. Concentrate on fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminate sugar and processed foods as much as possible.
- Avoid smoking: smoking decreases blood supply and delays the tissue’s natural ability to heal.
- Avoid high impact activities: If you are prone to knee pain, you may want to avoid running, jumping, etc and switch to gentle exercise.
- Stretch muscles before exercise: This leaves you less prone to injury while exercising.
- Wear the right shoes: If you do a lot of walking or running, invest in a good pair of the proper shoes. Good support for your feet will help you maintain proper alignment in the rest of the body and take pressure off the knees. Note that walking shoes are different than running shoes.
Treatment of Knee Pain
There are times when your knee hurts despite your best efforts to prevent it. Pain should be treated as quickly as possible to keep it to a minimum and to prevent further wear and tear on the knee. These are the most common treatments that are recommended to treat knee pain.
- Rest: If a specific activity causes your knee pain, stop and rest your knee. Elevate your knee with a pillow if it helps. Limit the amount of time you do the activities that cause pain in your knees. You may need to switch to a more gentle activity. For example, if running causes your knee pain, you could switch to walking and run shorter distances.
- Exercise: Just as your car will not function properly if left without being driven regularly, your knee pain will not improve if you do not regularly stretch and move your legs. Find a low impact activity you enjoy that does not cause knee pain. Walking, yoga, bicycling, pilates, tai chi, and swimming are all good choices. The more you stretch and strengthen the muscles around your knee, as well as your quads and hamstrings, the more your body alignment will correct itself and your knee will be better supported. Frequent movement also helps to keep proper blood flow in your joints and keep them lubricated.
- Ice: Apply ice to a fresh injury and to treat swelling. Ice decreases the blood flow that causes swelling and reduces pain.
- Heat: Heat stimulates the blood flow to the joints and relaxes muscles. Try using heat before exercise or alternate heat and ice on an old injury. Do not use heat on a fresh injury as this can worsen swelling.
- Brace: wearing a brace can help restore healthy alignment in the knee and may relieve pain. Braces must be fitted for your body by a physical therapist for them to be effective.
- Cane: If you have pain in one knee, you may need to use a cane to take some of the weight and pressure off of the affected knee until the pain subsides.
- Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese medicine helps many cases of chronic pain. Fine needles are inserted into trigger points on the body around the area of your pain.
- Massage: Traditional Swedish massage has been shown to restore blood flow and relieve many types of chronic pain, including knee pain. Be sure to tell your massage therapist you suffer from knee pain. He or she can concentrate on strokes that will relieve your pain and avoid strokes that may aggravate your knee pain.
- Over the counter medications: Tylenol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen are all good to use for the occasional knee pain. Tylenol may help with muscle pain, but if you suffer from swelling or inflammation, an anti-inflammatory, such as Advil or Motrin is your best option. For constant or chronic knee pain, see a doctor for adequate diagnosis and treatment.
- Corticosteroid injections: These are injected directly into the knee joint by a doctor and help relieve inflammation and severe pain.