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Causes of Knee Pain: Can Heat Therapy Help?

Knee Wheat BagAt some point in their lives, most people will experience knee pain. Knee pain may be an occupational disease, the result of an injury or it may be caused by osteoarthritis. Some knee injuries can be corrected with surgery; however, there are many that require physical therapy and a great deal of time. Other conditions, such as arthritis of the knee, can make even simple tasks such as walking, painful. Whatever the reason for your knee pain, one of the most effective treatments is heat therapy using a wheat bag, also known as thermotherapy.

Prevalence of Knee Pain

A UK study conducted over a year’s time found that approximately 25% of people over 55 years of age suffered from knee pain due to osteoarthritis. Of those 25%, 90% were able to manage their symptoms with self treatment. In the remaining 10% the degeneration of the joints was so severe that surgery was recommended.

Another study was conducted over the general population of an area for a one month period. The study reported that the prevalence of knee pain was 19% and about 1/3 of study participants reported that the pain was disabling. Those with the highest incidence of knee pain were of South Asian ethnicity, or had a poor diet or were obese. About 36% of those reporting knee pains had a raised body mass index making overweight individuals the largest group of knee pain sufferers.

Causes of Knee Pain

There are many causes of knee pain, including arthritis, ligament injuries, meniscal tears, patellar tendonitis or a dislocated kneecap. Some cases of knee pain may not be clearly attributable to a cause. The knee undergoes considerable stress during activities like running and jumping. Damage to tendons, ligaments and menisci can occur over time and this damage can result in pain of varying intensities. Adolescents are particular subject to idiopathic (cause unidentified) knee pain.

Diagnosis of Knee Pain

If the knee pain is the result of an injury or of suspected osteoarthritis, the doctor will have the knee x-rayed. In some cases doctors may also request an MRI or CT scan to identify damage to soft tissue. The doctor will ask when the pain began, how severe the pain is, exactly where in the knee the pain is felt and what movements make it worse and which movements make it feel better. He or she will also do a physical examination of the knee to try to determine the cause of the pain.

Treatment of Knee Pain with Inflammation

If your knee is injured, it is best to apply ice within 48 hours of the injury. However, once those 48 hours have passed or if the knee pain is a recurring problem, heat therapy is the best treatment.

If the knee is swollen, the doctor may prescribe a course of alternating cold and hot packs. Heat can exacerbate swelling so the cold pack is applied first to reduce swelling. The cold pack should remain in place for 5 to 10 minutes and the heat pad should remain in place about 8 to 10 minutes. This type of treatment is commonly used to treat knee injuries and if the pain is the result of an injury, strapping the knee with an elastic bandage may also be advised.

Heat Therapy for Knee Pain without Inflammation

When no swelling or inflammation is present heat therapy can provide relief for knee pain. A microwave wheat bag or heat pad will conform to the joint whether it is flexed or extended. When heat is applied to painful areas it increases circulation, improving the flow of oxygen to the area and it relaxes tense muscles which relieves pain. Most knee pain sufferers find heat therapy helpful in treatment of pain.

There are many benefits to using a wheat bag for heat therapy for knee pain. Heat causes blood vessel dilation, which increases the oxygen supply to the body. This helps promote healing and rapid regeneration of damaged tissues. In addition, the increased blood flow to the knee provides a surplus of nutrients, protein, and oxygen, which are all important to healing. Heat provides pain relief by stimulating the pain sensors in the skin. It decreases the amount and frequency of pain signals that are sent to the brain.

Heat therapy also helps relax and loosen the tissue in around the knee. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments can move with more freedom, which helps to reduce the chances of further injury. Heat therapy is also very effective at reducing stiffness and increasing flexibility due to arthritis.

When to Use Heat Therapy

Many people wonder if they should apply ice or heat to knee pain. The general rule is ice for the first 48 hours after an injury then ice or heat thereafter. In general a new injury will cause inflammation and possibly swelling. Ice will decrease the blood flow to the injury, thereby decreasing inflammation and swelling. Pain that recurs can be treated with heat such as a microwave wheat bag, which will bring blood to the area and promote healing.

Most physicians and physical therapists recommend that the first fifteen minutes that heat is applied is the most beneficial. It is also recommended that heat therapy is used before exercising or other activities which may cause pain. Heat applied after exercise can help prevent pain and discomfort, as well. Swelling is often an accompanying symptom of a knee injury and heat therapy is very effective at reducing this inflammation.

Unlike ice or cold therapy, heat therapy is not limited to just the first 48 hours after an injury. The warmth of the heat can be used anytime there is pain, stiffness, reduced flexibility, or inflammation. Some arthritis sufferers find that heat therapy first thing in the morning helps reduce their knee pain substantially – enough to comfortably get through their day.

A wheat bag can also be frozen and used as a cold compress so it really is ideal for treating knee pain.

Heat therapy can provide pain relief and promote healing of knee injuries. Most people who suffer from knee pain are able to self treat although pain which persists or returns shortly following treatment should be examined by a doctor. Knee pain is a common complaint and is usually not serious but it may be symptom of an underlying medical problem.