Home treatment for knee injury
By: Jessica Woodward, M.D.
They can be achy, creaky, stiff, arthritic and weak. Your knees are the largest joint in your body and are more likely to be injured than any other joint. Years of stooping, bending, running, jumping, stair climbing and sports can take their toll in the form of overuse injuries. So can sudden injuries, like sprains or strains. Finally, knee pain may be the result of a medical condition such as arthritis.
The knee is essentially made up of four bones, which are connected by muscles, ligaments and tendons. The upper and lower bones of the knee are separated by two discs called menisci. These act as shock absorbers and provide stability to the knee. When the menisci are injured, it is often referred to as torn cartilage. There is another type of cartilage, called articular cartilage, which prevents the bones in the knee from directly touching each other, allowing them to move smoothly as the knee bends and straightens.
Injuries are the most common cause of knee problems. Some injuries are acute. These include sprains, strains, ligament tears, bone fractures, kneecap dislocation and knee joint dislocation.
Other injuries occur over time with repetitive actions or prolonged pressure on the knee. Activities like jogging, stair climbing or jumping put stress on the knee joint and can lead to irritation and inflammation.
Certain medical conditions cause knee problems. The most common is osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that often develops at the site of a previous injury. Other types of arthritis can also cause knee pain. Infection – in the skin, joint, bone or other parts of the knee – can also lead to pain.
Knee pain can often be effectively treated at home, using techniques to relieve pain, swelling and stiffness.
First, protect your knee from further trauma. Stop the activity that is causing you pain. Resting the knee allows it time to heal. Elevate it by propping it up when you are sitting, or by placing a pillow under it when lying down.
An ice pack can help reduce swelling. Use the ice two to three times a day for 20 to 30 minutes each time. This is most effective within the first 48 hours after an injury.
Wrapping the knee can also reduce swelling and with some injuries, it can help to align the patella and keep joint mechanics intact. Do not wrap the knee too tightly. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness or swelling in the area below the bandage.
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn) can be used to control pain and reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will reduce pain, but doesn’t have the anti-inflammatory properties. Always read the label carefully and take medications only as directed.
A more long-term home treatment solution involves the bathroom scale. If you are overweight, it puts added stress on your knees. When it comes to your knees, less weight often means less pain.
Keeping as active as possible -- with a physician-approved, regular exercise plan -- can improve joint mobility, muscle strength and your overall physical condition. It can also help you lose weight.
If home treatment does not alleviate symptoms after three to seven days, you should contact your doctor to see if an appointment is warranted. It may be necessary for a medical professional to further evaluate your condition. The three to seven day rule is only a guide. If at any time you are concerned about your knee pain, you should contact your doctor. In some cases, your doctor will want to discuss actions that go beyond home treatment. One of these options may be knee surgery, which is needed for about 25 percent of people who have osteoarthritis in the knee.
If you are unable to walk on your knee, you may have a bone fracture. In this case, go to your hospital’s emergency room for treatment. Other symptoms requiring immediate medical assessment include unbearable pain, drainage, large wounds and puncture wounds.
Throughout our lifetimes, our knees are called on to bend, flex and cushion each step that we take. It isn’t surprising that the pressure and stress imposed on the knee joint can cause injury and pain. In fact, statistics show that roughly one-third of the U.S. population over the age of 45 experiences knee pain due to one cause or another. If you are one of these people, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Home treatments as well as physician-prescribed methods can work to decrease pain and get you – and your knees – back to a healthy and active lifestyle.
Dr. Woodward is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic