Knee pain affects one-third of all Americans and irritatingly interferes with activities of daily living such as walking, squatting, going up and down stairs, and getting in and out of a car. This is in addition to the plethora of recreational activities that knee pain can cause. It’s the second most common complaint behind back pain when it comes to musculoskeletal issues, and it’s one of the most common complaints I still hear that started or got worse during the pandemic.
But what if there was a way to treat some of the most common causes of knee pain on your own — without procedures or surgery?
Here are three of the most common causes of knee pain that I see and what you can do to resolve them – naturally:
1. Patellofemoral knee syndrome
Also known as “runner’s knee,” patellofemoral knee syndrome (PFS) is characterized by pain in the front of the knee, usually just below or behind the kneecap. With PFS, the source of the pain often comes from unwanted pressure around your kneecap – which eventually results in inflammation and pain. It’s very tempting to just get a cortisone shot or take painkillers to quickly reduce inflammation and relieve pain – but the problem with this approach is that you’re just putting a band-aid on the symptoms. Inflammation is the result of an irritated kneecap – not the cause. What you need to figure out is what is causing your kneecap to get angry in the first place.
Typically, PFS is the result of an imbalance somewhere in the body that over time has resulted in poor form and movement habits that end up putting more pressure on the kneecap. If your hips, quadriceps (front of thigh) and hamstrings (back of thigh) aren’t balanced and working together, for example, you could end up having problems with the way your kneecap tracks and functions. This will make your kneecap irritated and inflamed over time. When you discover the real culprit behind pressure and inflammation in the kneecap, not only will you be able to resolve and manage PFS naturally and in the long term, but you will also be able to avoid temporary band-aid treatments.
2. Iliotibial band syndrome
The causes of iliotibial band syndrome are very similar to those of PFS – except that your pain and symptoms will be felt on the side of your knee instead of the front. Your iliotibial band (ITB) is a large, thick band of tissue that runs along the side of your thigh to the bottom of your knee. Your ITB is formed by a muscle in your hip called
tensor fasciae latae (TFL). When your TFL is overworked, your ITB suffers and will result in what usually feels like a sharp pain on the side of your knee.
The most common treatment I see for this is foam rolling and massage, and while these are great modalities for relieving the symptoms, they don’t address the root of the problem. You must find out why your TFL is stressed and overworked if you really want to get rid of your pain. Usually, it’s due to weak gluteal muscles, the deep ones designed to stabilize your pelvis. Your TFL neighbors your glutes, so when they decide to be lazy, your TFL loves to help out and eventually overdoes it. When you can get these two muscle groups to work properly together, you will end up with ITB syndrome.
This is a very hot topic and everyone wants to know if they have it. (Spoiler alert – if you’re over 50 – you already have it.) Osteoarthritis occurs naturally over time and is a normal part of aging. The problem with arthritis is that it only gets attention when you’re in pain – and then it gets blamed for all your problems. While arthritis certainly plays a role in your mobility and quality of movement – it’s not the “death sentence” that many make it out to be. Many people find out they have osteoarthritis in their knees and think they just need to “live with it” or have a total knee replacement.
Remember, arthritis is normal and happens to everyone as they age. What is not normal is that you feel helpless or have to avoid your favorite activities because of it.
Arthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones wears away over time. While there’s nothing you can do to reverse this process, there’s a lot you can do to minimize the symptoms caused by this condition. It all comes down to balanced joints and movement. The more mobility you have and the more stability you have around your knees, the less symptomatic your arthritis will be. Some key areas to focus on when you have arthritis in your knees are good core and hip strength and good flexibility in your hips and ankles. If something is wrong in these areas, your knees will want to compensate, which can result in compression in the knee joint and worsening arthritic symptoms.
There’s no need to rely on pain relievers or believe that procedures and surgeries are your only options when it comes to knee pain. As you can see, three of the most common causes of knee pain are due to – or influenced by – movement problems. So movement should be your solution – not something you avoid.
If you are having difficulty using movement as your solution and you want to – contact a movement specialist who understands mechanical knee pain and can diagnose the root cause of your knee problem.
Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates Specialist, is the owner of CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch or request a seat on their next Zoom Masterclass for People Suffering from Knee Pain – visit their website www.cjphysicaltherapy.com or call 603-605-0402.