Why Does My Knee Hurt When I Bend It?
A quarter of American adults suffer from chronic knee pain! And that statistic doesn’t even include those suffering from short-term pain.
From sports injuries to genetic conditions, a plethora of knee issues plague millions across the country. If you are one of those millions, what can you do about it?
First off, you need to answer one question: why does my knee hurt?
That can help you decide whether you can treat it yourself at home, or if you need to see a pain specialist. To help you do that, we've made a list of the most common knee conditions today. As well as injury information, we've lined up tips for treatment, when to seek help, and how to avoid injury in future.
Why Does My Knee Hurt?
Knee pain varies from dull aches to sharp pain that makes it difficult to bend the knee. Here are some of the most common reasons behind a hurt knee, and how you can identify which one you're struggling with.
A torn knee ligament is usually caused by trauma, such as a sports injury or car accident. It can cause long-lasting pain if left untreated.
The injury is characterized by a popping or snapping sound that leads to extreme pain. This is often followed by swelling and limited movement.
It is very difficult and not advised that you walk with this injury. Seek immediate medical attention. Depending on how badly the ligament tore, physical therapy or surgery may be best.
On the other end of the spectrum, your ligaments may be too loose. This can present itself as:
- Clicking knees
- Cracking knees
- Hypermobile knees
- Unstable or easily dislocated knees
These symptoms are usually accompanied by pain when bending the knee. It can be treated with physical therapy.
Also called Patellofemoral Syndrome, this condition is often brought about by injury. Overexertion or another leg injury can cause it to happen. It is also possible to be born with a kneecap shape which makes this condition more likely.
The pain is felt around the kneecap. It is often accompanied by clicking or popping noises and sensations. As well as hurting when you bend the knee, this condition can also flare up when sitting for an extended period.
The most common treatments include rest, knee-strengthening exercises, and compression bandages.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of knee pain when bending. It is a condition that is brought about by use. Essentially, when the knee gets worn down.
This can cause pain when bending the knee. That’s because the tissue and cartilage that make movement easy have worn down. This causes pain on its own, and can lead to further injury.
Though it is a type of arthritis, this condition is actually an autoimmune disease. With rheumatoid arthritis, the body attacks the tissue around the knee. Over time this wears it down.
Bending the knees with this condition may be difficult and cause pain. It leaves you with much the same problem as osteoarthritis.
The meniscus is part of the cartilage in the knee. When this cartilage is damaged, it makes bending the knee painful.
The meniscus is most commonly torn by twisting the knee too far, or at the wrong angle. It manifests as swelling, pain throughout the knee, and difficulty extending the leg. Treatments range from rest and ice to surgery, depending on the severity.
Besides arthritis or a meniscus tear, knee cartilage can be damaged in other ways. These include trauma such as direct injury, or improper overuse, such as repeating an exercise with improper form. Even weight gain and high cholesterol can lead to loss of cartilage.
As with other cartilage problems, it causes general knee pain and swelling. Strengthening the knee through physical therapy exercises is a popular treatment.
Knee misalignment often manifests as the knee cap pushing to the side when used. This causes irritation and general pain. It is often caused by other issues with the leg and hip, such as having weak thigh muscles.
A Baker’s cyst is swelling and inflammation behind the knee. The cyst is full of liquid, and can burst. The cyst causes pain behind the knee, especially when bending.
A sports injury or trauma to the knee can cause the cyst to develop. Other conditions can also bring it on, such as arthritis or gout.
Bursae are fluid-filled sacs around the knee joint that cushion the knee area. Irritation to the bursae causes them to create too much fluid. This leads to swelling and inflammation which makes moving the knee painful.
The condition can be caused by an infection, trauma to the knee, or excessive kneeling. Those who work on their knees, such as plumbers and gardeners, are more prone to the condition. It is most often treated with rest and physical therapy.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The iliotibial band is a tendon that connects your pelvis to your knee. If the tendon tightens, it rubs against the bone, causing irritation. This can be caused by overuse, or not enough stretching and cooling down when exercising.
The pain becomes sharper the more the tendon is strained, so it is best to rest as soon as you notice the pain. It can be treated with rest, strengthening exercises, or surgery.
A patellar fracture is a bone fracture on the kneecap, often caused by direct trauma. It can be healed by wearing a cast. But in more difficult cases, the bone moves out of place and requires surgery.
This fracture causes extreme pain that makes it difficult to walk, never mind bend the knee! Immediately seek medical help to begin the recovery process.
Tendonitis is the term used for inflammation of a tendon. Several tendons keep the knee and legs working, so there are a few potential injuries.
Patellar tendonitis, also known as Jumper’s Knee, is an injury to the patella tendon. This connects your kneecap and shinbone. The injury feels like a sharp or burning pain around or at the bottom of the kneecap.
A similar injury but to the hamstring, this condition hurts behind the knee. As this tendon connects the back of the thigh to the calf, knee, and pelvis, its pain can be felt in a wider area. As well as knee pain, it can cause stiffness.
Resting the knee or performing strengthening exercises are usually sufficient for recovery.
This condition is also caused by overuse, or possibly misalignment. Jumping is a common cause of the injury.
It is most often felt at the front of the kneecap or above it. The pain intensifies when bending the knee. Rest may be enough to heal the injury over time, but it depends on the severity.
Knee Strain Prevention
The best way to deal with knee pain is of course to avoid it in the first place! But don't worry, even if you already suffer from knee pain, these tips can prevent it from worsening.
The key to avoiding knee pain is to not stress the knee. That means not straining the knee tendons and ligaments for long periods of time.
For example, how do you sit? Are your knees bent for extended periods? Sitting in straining positions, like cross-legged, for too long can overexert the knee.
Staying active can also keep your knees flexible and hold off knee problems. This is for two reasons - it builds the knee's health and reduces knee strain.
Regularly exercising, ideally by doing low-impact sports and exercises, builds the knee's strength. Having strong leg muscles can also reduce the burden the knee carries.
Knee problems are more common in overweight individuals. So maintaining a healthy weight is a second way that staying active can help the knees. That's because the lighter the body is, the less weight the knees have to support.
Knee Pain Treatment Options
What can you do to treat your knee pain? There are several options available, ranging from at-home exercise to professional treatment.
At-Home Treatment Options
Most people know that you need to rest an injury to help it heal. But we recommend you do a little more than that, using the RICE method. The RICE method stands for:
So at first, make sure that your knee is rested. Avoid walking on it if possible. But add to this the other three steps.
Start by icing your knee swelling, or where it hurts, three to four times each day. To do so, cover an ice pack in a towel so it’s not too cold on your skin. Hold it there for up to 20 minutes, and always remove it if it becomes uncomfortable.
The next step is to compress. Use compression bandages to support the knee. Again, make sure they’re not too tight, the bandage must be comfortable.
Finally, try to elevate your knee. Keeping your knee elevated above your heart will help reduce swelling.
If these methods aren’t working for you, some find applying heat can also relieve pain. That’s because it increases blood flow to the area.
What if none of these methods are making a difference and you’re still suffering? That’s when it’s time to seek professional help.
Professional Pain Treatment
Pain treatment options fall under two categories. These are invasive and non-invasive treatments.
Exercises help to naturally strengthen the knee. They build up the strength of muscles, ligaments, and tendons in and around your knee.
However, some exercises or exercises done incorrectly can worsen a condition. So always get a professional opinion first, rather than trying to do it yourself.
Similarly to exercise, massage treatment is holistic and non-invasive. Applying pressure to different areas on and around the knee can help to relieve tension and build strength. But always consult a professional rather than trying to do it yourself.
Medication may be suggested either to relieve the pain or the cause. So generally, they will be pain killers or anti-inflammatory medication.
These are usually short-term solutions. That means they are appropriate for short-term healing, such as from an injury. However, an underlying issue is better treated with exercises or surgery.
Studies have proven that acupuncture reduces some types of chronic pain. But there is less evidence of its effectiveness on knee pain. For certain conditions though, it may be a viable option.
Surgery is an invasive solution for serious conditions. It can be expensive and come with long recovery times. For some serious conditions though, it may be the most effective treatment method.
Do I Need to See a Doctor for My Knee Pain?
The level of pain you’re experiencing is the best indicator of whether you need to see a doctor. Here are some signs you should see a pain specialist, rather than treating the pain at home:
- You can't stand on your knee or it can't bear any weight
- You can't straighten your knee
- Your knee feels unstable
- Your knee appears swollen or deformed
- Your knee is bleeding
- Your knee made a popping or snapping sound when you injured it
If your pain doesn't fall under any of these criteria, it may be okay to treat it at home. But if that isn't working, it's best to check in with a doctor.
The Healthiest Way to Treat Knee Pain
Which treatment option is best for you? Everyone is different, but we believe a natural approach works best.
How can you find a doctor to treat your knee pain holistically? That's where we come in. We've done the research and know the best in the business.
We connect patients with doctors who use treatment methods we trust.
Talk to us today. We'll find you a pain specialist in no time.
Plus, there's no charge! You'll never receive an invoice from us, only from your doctor.
And if you have more questions like "why does my knee hurt?" please get in touch: 818-696-5177