Knee pain afflicts millions of people every day and is a common condition we treat at Texas Orthopedics. In fact, as many as 1 in 4 Americans suffer from chronic knee pain. We asked board certified orthopedic surgeon Robert Blais, M.D. to help explain the causes of knee pain and when it’s time to see a doctor.
Knee Pain in Kids
In kids with open growth plates (0-17 years old), overuse is the most common cause of knee pain. This is because while the bones and joints around the knee are still growing, they are predisposed to stress. “Think of it as growing pains that are made worse with weight bearing activity,” says Dr. Blais. Fortunately, the problem typically goes away when the growth plates close.
We all know kids aren’t immune to being injured. Whether it be from sports, a trampoline park, playground, or other kid-friendly activity, sprains and strains are likely to occur. “We encourage kids to wear appropriate protective gear and to always warm up and cool down when participating in sports and extracurricular activities,” says Dr. Blais.
Knee pain as a result of autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, typically start slowly, involve multiple joints and are not related to activity. These types of conditions in kids are usually genetic and diagnosed through blood tests.
Knee Pain in Young Adults
Active young adults are more likely to suffer from sports-related knee pain caused by ligament and meniscus tears. These conditions are diagnosed by a physical exam and in some cases, an MRI. Overuse issues can also occur. Dr. Blais says he sees bursitis around the outside of the knee, iliotibial bursitis and pes bursitis in this age group.
Knee Pain in Seniors
Seniors are more likely to develop knee pain from osteoarthritis, or a degeneration of the articular cartilage of the knee joint. Knee arthritis is typically described as aching pain accompanied by stiffness and swelling that becomes worse with activity.
Older adults are also more prone to fractures due to osteoporosis, or progressive bone loss.
When to See a Doctor for Knee Pain
There are some things you can do at home as a first line of defense against knee pain. These include:
- Reducing workouts
- Trial of Tylenol or Ibuprofen
- Ice for swollen and painful joints (on for 30 minutes, off for 1 hour)
- Heat for sore muscles
- Compression hose or sleeves to reduce swelling
“Most knee pain is self-limited, which means is will go away without medical intervention, especially in kids and young adults,” says Dr. Blais. Seniors, however, are more prone to lingering knee pain.
Dr. Blais recommends seeing a medical provider for pain that interferes with sleep, limits activity and/or requires daily use of medications to alleviate pain. Pain that lasts longer than two weeks should be evaluated or pain that does not get better within in a few days after an injury should also be of concern.