Knee Pain: A Common First Sign of Orthopedic Trouble

Woman holding her knee in pain

Your knee might not actually be the root cause of your knee pain. In fact, knee pain could be a sign of orthopedic trouble in another part of your body. Learn more.

A study in the American Family Physician journal estimates that 25 percent of adults suffer from knee pain. But what if the pain in your knee isn’t due to an injury to your knee but an orthopedic  disorder somewhere else in your body?

Your knee gets its strength and ability to rotate from a complex network of bones, ligaments, and tendons. Because it does so much and bears so much weight, the knee is sensitive to any weakness in the muscles above, below, and around it. When something goes wrong in another part of your leg, foot, or hip, your knee may become painful. Far from being isolated in the joint itself, knee pain is often a common first sign of further orthopedic trouble.

When your knee pain is related to your knee

This isn’t to say a knee can’t sustain an injury. Tears of the ligaments and tendons in the knee can cause pain, swelling, limited range of motion, and a grinding sensation when the joint moves. 

Bursitis is another frequent cause of knee pain. Small sacs of fluid, the bursae cushion the outside of the knee and allow the tendons and ligaments to move without any friction over the joint. But a repetitive injury or trauma can inflame the bursae and result in pain below the inner knee.

The cartilage in the knee is also susceptible to wear and tear over the years. When the cartilage around the bones of the joint thins due to age or overuse, arthritis can develop as the bones grind against each other. Knee arthritis is characterized by joint pain and stiffness. 

When your knee pain is telling you something else

Yet your sore knee may be due to an imbalance or ailment not directly related to the joint itself. For example, dedicated runners frequently deal with knee pain. However, “runner’s knee,” as it’s called, can often be traced to two other conditions: Iliotibial band (IT Band) friction syndrome, and patella femoral pain syndrome. 

A thick rope of fibrous connective tissue, the IT band runs from the outside of the hip to just below the knee. It stabilizes the muscles around the knee and gives it the ability to rotate. Often seen in long-distance runners, IT band friction syndrome results from overuse, which tightens up the IT band and causes pain. But if a runner’s gait is off balance, their IT band can become irritated and painful.

Similarly, poor alignment of the patella (or kneecap) is another common reason for painful knees. If the muscles around the kneecap are too tight or loose, the kneecap is pulled out of position, causing pain in the front of the knee. Long-distance running can exacerbate this condition.

Treating knee pain

Given that knee pain doesn’t necessarily originate in the knee, a physical therapist will look beyond your knee to determine the best treatment approach. They will look at what is happening in your feet and hips: Is your gait in balance or off-kilter? Are your shoes not giving enough support and forcing your knee out of position? Are you experiencing muscle weakness in your hips? Once the true cause is determined, a comprehensive program ranging from strengthening exercises to footwear orthotics can be customized to cure your knee pain.

Get your knee pain treated now!

Never ignore knee pain! It could signify orthopedic issues elsewhere in your body that are important to treat sooner rather than later to prevent further injury. A consultation with the physical therapists and orthopedists at New York Bone & Joint Specialists is the best place to start to diagnose the true cause of your knee pain and develop a plan to get you feeling your best fast. Contact us today for an appointment.

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