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Identifying and Treating the Causes of Knee Pain


A bum knee can be a nightmare for runners - and the rest of us, too. When your knee hurts, just walking from the parking lot to the office can become a painful trudge - forget trying to race a 5-K.

There are myriad causes for an aching knee, from accidentally twisting it the wrong way while cutting the grass to accumulated wear and tear. But the No. 1 reason for knee pain is arthritis. It can strike at any age and affects roughly 54 million Americans.

How do I make the pain stop?

The most common cure can be summed up by the acronym RICE - rest, ice, compression and elevation. In other words, stop engaging in activities that might aggravate the problem, such as running; ice the joint for 10 to 15 minutes a couple of times a day; wrap it to reduce swelling; and elevate it to decrease inflammation.

Medicines like Ibuprofen can alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Steroid injections offer similar relief. Physical therapy can be helpful in strengthening and increasing mobility, while a brace is another option to stabilize a recovering joint.

If you exercise, talk with your doctor about whether to pause or modify your routine. Swimming and biking can be good forms of exercise because they stress the knee less than running and other impact sports.

When should I call a doctor?

Talk with a doctor if the pain interferes with your daily activities or keeps you up at night. If you heard a popping sound when you hurt your knee and the pain persists, or if the knee is swollen a physician evaluation could speed recovery.

What can I expect at the doctor's office?

There is a fairly standard protocol once you reach the examining room. The doctor will ask what hurts and whether the pain resulted from a specific activity. A hands-on assessment will follow - comparing one knee to the other, studying range of motion, checking the joint's strength. Your doctor will also explore your medical history, discussing previous issues and the remedies you used, including any surgeries.

Additional tests or studies could be ordered, including X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs or CT scans. The doctor will look for fractures, arthritis, or soft tissue damage.

What about surgery?

Most knee problems can be fixed with conservative treatments of rehabilitation and rest. But, depending on the diagnosis, surgery may be the quickest and most likely way to alleviate your pain and get you back to your goals and lifestyle.

The good news is most knee surgeries are minimally invasive and require little or no hospitalization. They are especially effective when a tendon or ligament is torn or the patient has cartilage tears inside the knee joint. Often, patients typically are up and walking, albeit gingerly, the same day as surgery.

As for arthritis sufferers, surgery can offer relief, too, although medications such as NSAIDS, weight loss and switching to low-impact activities are highly effective.

Whatever the issue or potential cure, you should not hesitate to consult with a doctor. The next 5-K, after all, may be around the corner.

Pasquale Reino, DO, is a credentialed Orthopedic Surgeon at Poinciana Medical Center. To learn more about Dr. Reino, search "Reino" on's "Find a Doctor" page or call 1.888.253.8117.

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