In my opinion, knee pain is probably one of the most common excuses people use to avoid participating in certain exercise endeavors. I know that in my circle of influence, many folks with whom I associate frequently use the status of knee pain as an excuse to not exercise, particularly if that type of exercise comes in the form of running, my true love.
Personally, I have never fully understood knee pain to the extent that many of my friends have. While I will confess to occasional unexpected pop of discomfort when I run that usually lasts for all of 100 yards or so, I somehow have managed to side step the agony of chronic knee pain. In fact, the only injury I have had to my knees in my 47 years was completely self-induced. I was acting in an overly-zealous manner in a kick-boxing class about four years ago and in an effort to impress my intense instructor, I cracked my tibia and ripped my meniscus.
However, as one born of a completely Type A personality, I did not let that injury and the subsequent surgery to repair the damage keep me from pursuing my love of running. I would be mortified if knee problems prevented me from my early morning escape each day.
Nonetheless, the echo of knee pain is always close by, as just this evening as I was on my usual walk with my husband, he indicated that both of his knees have been bothering him lately when he runs. When I asked him for how long he has been experiencing this pain, he referred back to our cruise late last summer. After some contemplation, it dawned on me that perhaps the five mornings we spent running on the track atop the cruise ship had something to do with it. After all, the track was so small that we had to run around it 55 times to get our daily mileage in. Running in the same direction on a slant for that many laps over a course of a week could probably do some damage to the knee and the surrounding tendons and ligaments. Either that or he needs to trade in his old running shoes for a newer pair. I think he has more miles on those than he does on his car!
There are a host of common reasons for knee pain and ligament injuries are very common in the sports arena. When an athlete stops or starts quickly or continually changes directions (The game of tennis comes to mind for me), the ligaments can endure some pretty heavy stress and can eventually tear.
Then there is our good friend, the meniscus. The expression "torn knee cartilage" usually means a torn meniscus. The meniscus provides cushion between the thigh bone and the shin bone. These are frequently the result of twisting, turning, slowing down, or from sudden impact. (Does kick boxing ring a bell here?) Of course, my instructor advised me, in his deep Asian accent, to “work through the pain.” Tried that…for three weeks…just made things worse. Thank goodness for great surgeons and medical insurance.
Next up is knee pain from chondromalacia, which is the softening and deterioration of the underside of the knee cap. (Just writing that out suddenly made me queasy!) This occurs primarily due to injury from trauma or overuse. Also, improper alignment of the knee joint or muscle imbalance can be contributing factors. With this type of injury, you may feel a dull ache around or under the kneecap that can be exacerbated when going up and down stairs or when walking up and down hills.
Not to be forgotten is knee pain resulting from osteoarthritis. This degenerative disease basically wears away joint cartilage. The usual symptoms may include pain, swelling, and minimal range of motion of the knee. Another classic sign? Upon awakening in the morning, your knee is rather stiff and it may take some time to loosen it up again.
Tendonitis, inflammation of a tendon, can be generated through overuse. This is sometimes referred to as the “jumper’s knee.” With this injury, you may notice tenderness at the place where the patellar tendon shakes hands with the bone, just below the kneecap. This type of injury can occur through sudden movements or significant impacts.
Finally, a common overuse injury that usually presents with an ache or a nagging burning feeling on the side of the knee during most activities is called iliotibial band syndrome.
In order for your doctor to accurately assess your type of knee injury, he will most likely ask you to specifically describe the location of the pain, what makes it feel better, what seems to amplify it, and what you were doing before the pain set in. With the variety of knee pain, injuries, and symptoms that occur, your doctor is the one with whom to consult to make the most accurate assessment. And, for the record, stay away from the kick-boxing bag, especially if your overall form leaves something to be desired.
(Information for this article was found at http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/kneepainandinjuries/a/knee-pain.htm and at http://www.everydayhealth.com/knee-pain/symptoms-of-knee-pain.aspx.)
Reviewed June 15, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton