Knee Pain Facts (cont.)

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What are risk factors for knee pain?

Biomechanics: The knee joint is a complicated in its operation and is used frequently throughout the day. Any change in the movement of the joint (leg-length difference, change in walking style due to back problems) can cause subtle changes and cause pain and injuries.

Excess weight: The stress on the knee joint is increased with excess weight. Obesity also increases the risk of osteoarthritis as the cartilage breaks down more rapidly.

Overuse during repetitive motions as are found during certain exercises (jogging, skiing) or work conditions (long periods of kneeling) can cause breakdown of cartilage and lead to pain.

When should people with knee pain call a health-care professional?

Any pain that does not respond to rest or disappears within a few days should be evaluated by a doctor. In addition, the following are symptoms and signs in the knee that a doctor should evaluate:

  • Swelling
  • Inability to bend
  • Deformity
  • Unable to walk or discomfort while walking
  • Significant pain

What are some of the complications of knee pain?

Frequently, knee pain will disappear without ever finding a specific cause. Depending on the underlying cause of the pain, the condition can progress and lead to more serious injuries or complications. Usually, these complications are long term and result in worsening pain or an increasing difficulty to walk.

How do physicians diagnose knee pain?

A health-care professional will begin by asking questions related to the person's general health and then specifically to the nature of the knee pain (how long, how severe, does anything make it feel better or worse, etc.).

Next, an examination of the knee will be performed. This will include bending the knee through the full range of motion, checking for stability of the ligaments, and evaluating for any tenderness and swelling. It is often helpful to compare the results of the examination of the painful knee with the other knee. Frequently, this is all that is required to make a diagnosis and start treatment. In several research studies, it has been found that an experienced examiner is as reliable as X-ray examination.

Sometimes the doctor might want to do further studies such as the following tests.

Radiologic tests

Plain X-ray can establish fractures and degenerative changes of the knee. A CT scan can take a closer look at bone problems in the knee. MRI is used to evaluate the soft tissues of the knee for ligament tears or cartilage and muscle injuries.

Blood tests

If gout, arthritis, or other medical conditions are suspected, a health-care professional might order blood tests.

Removal of joint fluid (arthrocentesis)

Some conditions are best diagnosed by removal of a small amount of fluid from the knee joint. During arthrocentesis, a small needle is placed into your joint and fluid is withdrawn. This is done in a sterile method. The fluid is then sent to the laboratory for evaluation. This procedure is especially helpful if an infected knee joint is suspected or to distinguish gout and different forms of arthritis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/30/2014

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