Knee pain affects one-third of all Americans and annoyingly interferes with daily activities such as walking, squatting, going up and down stairs, and getting in and out of the car. This is in addition to the multitude of recreational activities that knee pain can affect. It is the second most common complaint behind back pain when it comes to musculoskeletal issues, and is one of the most common complaints I still hear that started or worsened during the pandemic.
But what if there was a way to self-manage some of the most common causes of knee pain — without procedures or surgery?
Here are three of the most common causes of knee pain I see and what you can do to fix it — naturally:
1. Patellofemoral knee syndrome
Patellofemoral knee syndrome (PFS), also known as “runner’s knee,” is characterized by pain in the front of your knee, usually just below or behind your kneecap. With PFS, the source of the pain usually stems from unwanted pressure around your kneecap — ultimately resulting in inflammation and pain. It’s very tempting to just get a cortisone shot or take painkillers to quickly reduce inflammation and ease your pain – but the problem with this approach is that you’re only putting a band-aid on the symptoms. Inflammation is the result of an angry kneecap – not the cause. What you need to figure out is why your kneecap is getting angry in the first place.
Usually, PFS is the result of an imbalance somewhere in your body that over time has led to poor form and exercise habits that end up putting more pressure on your kneecap. For example, if your hips, quadriceps (front of the thigh), and hamstrings (back of the thigh) are out of balance and don’t work together, you may have problems with the way your kneecap moves and functions. This will cause your kneecap to become angry and inflamed over time. When you discover the true culprit behind the pressure and inflammation on your kneecap, you can not only resolve and manage PFS naturally and for the long term, but you can also avoid temporary band-aid treatments.
2. Iliotibial band syndrome
The causes of iliotibial band syndrome are very similar to those of PFS — except your pain and symptoms are experienced on the side of your knee rather than the front. Your iliotibial band (ITB) is a large, thick band of tissue that runs down the side of your thigh to the bottom of your knee. Your ITB is formed by a muscle in your hip called the
tensor fascia latae (TFL). When your TFL becomes overworked, your ITB suffers and will result in what often feels like stabbing pain in the side of your knee.
The most common treatment I see for this is foam rolling and massage, and while these are great ways to relieve your symptoms, they don’t address the root problem. You need to figure out why your TFL is stressed and overworked if you really want to get rid of your pain. Usually it’s due to weak glutes, the deep muscles designed to stabilize your pelvis. Your TFL is the neighbor of your glutes, so if they decide to be lazy, your TFL is happy to help and eventually overdoes it. If you can make these two muscle groups work well together, you will put an end to 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 do.) 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” many claim it to be. Many people find out they have osteoarthritis in their knees and think they should just live with it or have a total knee replacement.
Remember that arthritis is normal and it happens to everyone as they get older. What is not normal is that you think you are helpless or that you have to avoid your favorite activities because of it.
Arthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears out over time. While there’s nothing you can do to reverse this process, there’s a lot you can do to minimize the symptoms you get from 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 points to focus on if 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 of your knee joint and worsening of your arthritic symptoms.
There’s no need to rely on pain medications, 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. That’s why exercise should be your go-to solution – not something you avoid.
If you’re struggling to use movement as your solution and want to reach out to a movement expert who understands mechanical knee pain and can diagnose the root cause of your knee problem.
Dr. Carrie Jose, physiotherapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. Visit her website www.cjphysicaltherapy.com or call 603-605-0402 to get in touch or request a seat on her upcoming Zoom Masterclass for those with knee pain.