The knee is the biggest joint in the body and comprises of cartilage, meniscus tissue, ligaments, tendons and many muscles acting to move the joint. All these structures can be injured or cause pain, some are more common than others and some are more likely to be injured through trauma/injury, overuse/biomechanical issue or a disease process. This blog will run through the most common types of knee pain, broken up into categories, to help you have a clearer picture of why your knee may be hurting.
The meniscus is a type of cartilage that provides shock absorption and smoother motion. They’re wedge-shaped and rest between the upper and lower bones of your knee joint. A tear can happen when you twist or change direction while weight bearing. Pain may get worse when you straighten your knee or weight bear and you may notice some swelling and locking out of the knee. A partial tear may heal with time and rehab but a complete tear may require surgery.
Ligaments are strong structures that connect bone to bone, supporting a joint. The cruciate ligaments (anterior and posterior) connect your thigh bone to your shinbone, resisting anterior and posterior motion between the two bones. The collateral ligaments are on the inside and outside part of your knees, which support the knee from forces that would bring the knee inwards and outwards. A sudden twist or blow to your knee can stretch or tear a ligament. You might hear a popping sound and feel your knee give way, followed by pain and swelling.
These structures are often injured at the same time and can also be injured through wear and tear, not just with trauma.
Jumper’s knee is also known as patellar tendinopathy and is most common in athletes who perform activities involving a lot of jumping, such as basketball. This injury can affect non-athletes, too, usually those who start a new activity and overload the tendon too much too soon. It is the kneecap tendon (attaching to the front of the shinbone and coming from the quadriceps muscles) that becomes irritated when you suffer from jumper’s knee.
Pain in the bottom part of the kneecap is a common symptom of jumper’s knee. The pain can sometimes subside as your knee warms up and the pain may be felt while squatting or walking up/down stairs. This is often resolved by reducing load, addressing biomechanics contributing to the condition and progressively loading back into full capacity.
Runners’ knees can be inclusive of several conditions that cause pain around the kneecap (patella), such as patellofemoral pain syndrome and chondromalacia patellae. The main symptom of runner’s knee is a dull ache felt around the kneecap. The pain develops slowly over time and you may feel some discomfort immediately after running or as the run progresses. Runner’s knee would be treated in a similar way to jumper’s knee.
Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of knee pain, especially in the older population. It develops when the cartilage in your knee joint wears down over time, which can cause inflammation, swelling and pain. Treatment can include weight loss, manual therapy, resistance training and knee support..