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Knee Pain, Causes & Treatment

Being one of the most complex joints in the body, the knee is prone to many problems. The knee joint not only has to bear most of the body weight, but it also has to allow for simultaneous movement and stability that can create significant strain on the joint.

Naturally symptoms such as knee pain are not an uncommon occurrence. It tends to resolve as quickly as it arises. But when knee pain becomes a daily burden and is accompanied by profound joint swelling, stiffness and instability, it needs to be investigated further.

What is knee pain?

Knee pain is actually a symptom of some underlying problem involving the knee joint. It is not a disorder or disease on its own. The pain can emanate from any one of the many structures that make up the knee joint, particularly the bones, joint cartilage and inner lining (synovium), ligaments and even surrounding muscles. Knee pain can therefore be described as pain emanating from the location of the knee joint that often varies with flexing and extending at the knee joint.

Causes of Knee Pain

The causes of knee pain can be diverse, and it varies significantly depending on whether the pain is acute or chronic.

Acute knee pain is not uncommon in everyday life. After a long day of standing or walking distances greater than what our body and specifically our knee joint is accustomed to, can elicit pain. It is largely due to acute inflammation and strain.

The knee being one of the main weight-bearing joints in the body also faces a new epidemic of modern times – obesity. A heavier body weight means that the knee joint has to bear a greater force even when a person is standing. The joint may not have developed to a degree that can handle this increased force on a daily basis.

Similarly acute knee pain may arise with an injury like a fall or sharp or blunt force trauma to the joint. Acute knee pain may not be a cause for concern in that it will ease once it is treated or the joint is rested and is unlikely to recur unless the specific set of circumstances are repeated.

It is, however, chronic knee joint problems that tend to be the reason that most people worry. We all hear of debilitating knee arthritis, leaving patients almost immobile and even requiring surgery.

There are various types of chronic arthritis that can affect the knee joint but osteoarthritis is by far the most common.

Osteoarthritis of the knee arises with wear and tear of the articular cartilages – the caps of strong smooth connective tissue that protect the ends of the bones in the knee joint and reduces friction with joint movement. As this cartilage erodes, eventually the underlying bone is affected and the condition progresses gradually over time.

Another less common cause of chronic knee pain is rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks the joint lining. Post-traumatic arthritis, as the name suggests, is the inflammation that continues after a severe injury to the knee joint.

Treatment of Knee Pain

The treatment approach to knee pain is as diverse as the causes of this symptom. One mode of treatment that may be effective for a specific cause of knee pain may not be so for another cause.

Ideally the cause of knee pain should be diagnosed and the appropriate treatment as prescribed by a doctor needs to be implemented. However, there are several general measures that can helpful in most cases.

Young woman slicing pomegranate

Natural Anti-Inflammatories

Diet

The following can aggravate inflammation, so avoid or limit:

  • Sugar and caffeine.
  • Known allergens such as wheat, gluten, yeast, eggs, dairy, soy and nuts.  To help you identify sensitivities that could be causing you problems, follow an elimination diet avoiding a substance for two weeks, and then introducing it for a day or two.
  • Saturated fats found in meats, dairy products and eggs.  An important source of minerals and vitamins, these foods also contain arachidonic acid, which although essential for health, too much in the diet can make inflammation worse. Choose low fat milk and cheese and lean cuts of meat, which will not promote inflammation.
  • The nightshade family of plants such as tomatoes, aubergines, red and green bell peppers and chili and paprika may increase pain from inflammation.

To decrease inflammation, include:

  • Raw nuts especially walnuts and freshly ground flaxseeds to provide you with nutrients that balance blood sugar and provide the amino acids that muscles need for good health.
  • Foods rich in antioxidants such as spinach, strawberries, carrots, red grapes, kale, apples and dark chocolate to repair cell damage and help you feel better.
  • Ginger which is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Grate some into juice or tea.
  • Enzymes which contain bromelain. The most effective enzymes are ones that break down proteins and are found in several fruits such as kiwi, pineapple (especially the stem) and green papaya. When consumed raw, a portion of these enzymes are absorbed into the blood stream where they break down inflammatory complexes.
  • Olives and extra virgin olive oil which are packed with anti-inflammatory polyphenols. However, these important phytochemicals are not present in refined oil, so use the extra virgin, cold-pressed oil or the whole olives.
  • Generous portions of brightly-coloured vegetables for their fibre and natural anti-inflammatory compounds.
  • A daily intake of honey which is a natural anti-inflammatory and cleanser, both outside and inside the body.
  • Peppermint, spearmint, and Earl Grey (contains bergamot) teas to help reduce inflammation and fight uric acid levels (main contributor to inflammation).

 Further Steps to Reduce Causes Of Inflammation

  • Substances like alcohol, caffeine and nicotine place a burden on your system, so eliminate or moderate your intake.
  • Use natural cleaning products and detergents. Test your air and water and, if necessary, get high-quality filters. Bring in lots of houseplants to help filter the air.
  • It’s impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to environmental toxins, so it’s a good idea to periodically detoxify.

Investigate alternative therapies to deal with pain management:  Use anti-inflammatory drugs for short periods during acute crises. If you still notice symptoms of inflammation, you may want to try some form of adjunctive therapy such as acupuncture, massage or water therapy that reduces pain and inflammation naturally.  An easy self-help tip to reduce inflammation is the topical application of a frozen wheat bag used as a cold compress. To prevent frostbite, let the area warm completely before repeating.