Knee Pain: Is It Really Your Knee That is Causing Your Pain
According to the CDC, Knee Osteoarthritis, OA, afflicts approximately 15 million Americans with arthritis related medical bills and lost wages totaling $303 billion. Dr. Scott Kelly reports in the December 2019 issue of the United States Bone and Joint Initiative that despite lifestyle changes that include exercise and weight management, knee arthritis continues to become more prevalent and is affecting a younger population. Hence it is important to address your knee pain early and effectively to improve the longevity of your knees.
Medical Management for Knee Arthritis
Typically medical management addresses your pain via medications and/or surgery. Many people utilize over the counter medications to control their joint pain. There are a plethora of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as well as steroids that can prescribed by your physician for pain management. Although many of these medications may manage your symptoms, they may also cause such adverse side effects as stomach upset, allergic reactions, nausea, anxiety, bleeding or negative interactions with other medications that you may be currently taking. Other options include topical creams which can be prescribed by your physician or obtained over the counter. The benefit of these creams is the fact that they may offer temporary relief however the cons of this treatment approach is that the creams simply do not reduce acute pain.
Over the Counter Medication
Tylenol – non-inflamed joint pain
Ibuprofen – inflamed joint pain
Aleve – inflamed joint pain
Biofreeze-topical analgesic cream
Tiger Balm – topical cream
Icy Hot – topical analgesic cream
Physical Therapy Management for Knee Arthritis
Physical therapy can be quite beneficial for knee pain because the therapist can evaluate your strength, flexibility and function of your entire leg in order to identify a potential cause of your pain. It’s like a bicycle chain that has rusted, is worn, or simply is not on the spokes. When a bicycle chain has any of these issues it simply means you will have difficulty propelling the bike easily.
A physical therapist will evaluate your spine, hip, ankle and foot to determine if the joints and soft tissues above or below are contributing to you pain or in the bike analogy are making it harder to propel your bike. A PT would treat any stiff joints and muscles with various hands-on techniques to improve the overall movement. Also the physical therapist will address any strength deficits via specific exercise prescription to ensure that the hip, knee and foot are strong enough to maintain the stability of the leg when performing the painful activity: walking, running, biking, climbing stairs, lifting or participation in a sport. In essence our muscles help absorb the shocks the knee joint may sustain during an activity.
Physical Therapy Treatments may include:
Joint Mobilization – improving joint movement with hands-on techniques
Soft Tissue Mobilization – improve soft tissue mobility with hands-on techniques
Gait Analysis – walking and running analysis
Movement Analysis and Education
Biomechanics Training – lifting, return to work related activities
Posture Education – maintaining efficient alignment to diminish joint stress
Functional Dry Needling – micro-filament needle insertion in soft tissue trigger point, scar tissue/fascia
Taping – Kinesiotaping, Mulligan Taping Techniques
Return to Sport Program and Education
This is not to say that the knee itself is not the cause of your knee pain, or that the knee itself does not need to be treated, but more to make you aware the impact of other joints, other than your knee, may have contributed to the arthritic changes in that joint. Obvious incidents to the knee joint are age, repetitive injury such as sport or work related strains and awkward sustained postures and trauma all have an impact on your knees. This is what makes your physical therapist so important as a part of your healthcare team is the fact that they will address your entire system to determine the best treatment approach to address your individual goals. This is also not to say that medical management does not have a role in managing your pain and in many cases you may need a combination of both medical management and physical therapy to optimize your function.