Common Causes for Knee Pain and Home Treatments

February 16, 2020
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The knee is a very important and critical joint of the body, which joins the thigh bone (the longest bone of the human body) to the shin bone. The joint is made up of bone, ligaments, and muscles and it bears lots of weight and stress. Knee pain can be caused by various reasons and home treatments can be done to prevent the pain from getting severe.

Common causes of knee pain

The knee joint is known to be the most injury-prone joints of the human body.

Knee joint pain nowadays is a common ailment. This condition is commonly seen at the onset of middle age. Let us briefly look at the various reasons for this condition:

Bursitis

This pain is the result of overused and worn out knee.

Tendinitis

Pain is experienced right in front of the knee while walking up an incline or climbing stairs.

Osteoarthritis

Degenerated and deteriorated condition of the knee joint gives rise to this kind of pain

Gout

A build-up of uric acid in the joints results in this painful condition. The range of motion also gets affected.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

It is an inflammatory condition of the knee, which leads to swelling and deformity of the joint bones.

Dislocation

The kneecap shifts out of its position and this can be very painful.

Meniscus tear

There are lots of cartilage involved in the knee joint. Breakage or rupture of these cartilages invokes severe unbearable pain.

Ligament tear

In all, 4 ligaments are involved in the knee joint and damage to them is painful. The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) ligament is most susceptible to injury and rupture.

Osteosarcoma

This is bone cancer.

In all these above diseases/conditions, there is severe knee joint pain. It could be very sharp and unbearable and sometimes could be a dull feeling.

Sometimes the knee joint may pain because the associated muscles have tired out or because of overworking and strain.

The immediate trigger or reasons that would worsen or instigate the pain are

  1. Overuse
  2. Bad posture
  3. Infection
  4. Carelessness

The treatment of the knee joint pain can be through

  1. Medications
  2. Injections
  3. Surgeries.

In most of the cases, the treatment through the above-mentioned methods is a long-drawn process and the pain continues.

Home remedies for knee pain

In mild to moderate knee joint pain conditions the R.I.S.E system of self-help can be tried.

Rest the affected knee by lying down straight in bed.

Try applying ice /cold pack to the pain area.

Try compression by using elastic bandage/knee caps.

Elevate the knee by placing some cushion under the knee joint.

4 simple exercises to improve flexibility and strength of knee

You can do some simple stretching and muscle strengthening exercises at home. This will improve the range of movement of the knee and the strengthened muscles will hold the joint better and be able to bear the weight of the body.

Not moving the joints, may further make it stiff and the pain may increase. The decision of doing physical therapy should be taken in consultation with a doctor. Depending on the condition of your knee, he may have the right suggestion for you.

The heel and calf stretch

This simple exercise stretches your heel and calf muscles and improves their flexibility. During the stretch, the knee joint muscles also get worked up and resultant toning of the muscles happens.

As shown in the figure stand a little bent at the hip, with one foot forward at a comfortable distance. The other leg should be straight and the hands placed at straight shoulder height on the wall or cabinet.

Bend the forward leg knee and feel the stretch build-up at the calf, heel and glutes.

Interchange the positions of your legs and repeat the exercise.

Heel and Calf Stretch

Quadricep stretch

This exercise will stretch the quadriceps making it more flexible and stronger.

Stand casually and shift your body weight on your leg, raising the other slowly. Balance yourself well.

As you bend your legs and bring it up, hold the heel of the leg and pull it up as far as you can and hold it there for a few seconds. Feel the pull and the stretch in the quadriceps.

Quadricep Stretch

Hamstring stretch

The hamstring is the muscle at the back of the thigh and it is an important muscle for the knee joint.

This exercise makes the hamstring flexible and increases its range of motion.

Lie on the ground, keeping one leg straight on the ground, raise the other supported by your hand and stretch it back as much as possible towards your head.

Hamstring Stretch

Half squat

If the knee permits, try doing half squats, holding on to a table or some support. Don’t exert too much pressure on the knee joint. Just try to bring them into play.

You can also avail the services of a physiotherapist if needed.

Can TENS Unit be used for knee pain?

Yes, you can use TENS Unit to manage knee pain with good results. TENS is an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.

This is a very prevalent and highly effective pain management therapy and is very popular in the USA and Europe.

The TENS pain management therapy is approved by USFDA, and TENS UNIT can be bought over the counter.

What is TENS and how does it manage pain?

Essentially it consists of a portable battery-operated unit, 1 or 2 sets of electrode pads and connecting wires to connect the pads to the unit.

The electrode pads are sticky and they are stuck onto the painful areas on the body. They are then connected to the unit. On activation, the unit sends very low voltage and modulated electrical pulses through the pads to the skin. The electrical impulse travels subcutaneous, meaning through the skin and stimulates the peripheral nerves under the skin. This electrical stimulation of the nerves results in pain relief.

TENS is a non-invasive, non-pharmacological, non-reactive, and completely safe pain management therapy. It is not habit-forming and most of the users do not suffer any side effects or after-effects.

TENS therapy is successful in managing pain in lots of cases like

  1. Sciatica
  2. Labour pain
  3. Postoperative pain
  4. Back pain
  5. Sports injury and many more.

The benefits of using a TENS unit for knee pain

  1. Since it is a drug-free and natural pain relief system, there is no danger of side effects of any medication.
  2. Tens promote the secretion of endorphins by the body, which is a natural pain reliever.
  3. It stimulates the muscles where applied, and the effect is as soothing as a massage, though more effective.
  4. It retrains your brain to accept and adapt to pain.
  5. Proper use of TENS has been found to reduce inflammation.
  6. As it is self-administered, you have complete control over the therapy.
  7. It is non-invasive and hence safe
  8. It has little/no side effects
  9. You can continue your medications or any other course of treatment along with TENS therapy.
  10. Suitable for chronic as well as acute conditions
  11. Relieves different kinds of pain in different body parts.
  12. It decreases the pain signal to the brain and this helps reduce the traumatic effect too.

How does TENS unit works?

There are two theories that try to explain how the modulated impulse sent by the unit to the nerves, subcutaneously, works on the pain.

The gate control theory

The low voltage electrical impulse from the TENS unit interferes with the pain signal of the knee and blocks the pain signal from going to the brain, by manipulating the working of the sensory nerves. The sensory nerve gate gets closed for the pain signal when the low tingling sensation of the TENS stimulation moves up the sensory path to the brain. That is how it gets the name of Gate Control Theory.

This theory states that whenever along with severe pain in any part of the body, additional sensory perception like a dull pain, tingling, rubbing is experienced, the brain registers the weak pain and the major pain is ignored or blocked.

The nerve stimulation by the TENS unit gives rise to tingling sensations at lower settings and muscle twitches in high settings. These sensory perceptions override the major pain sensation and reach the brain and, in the process, the pain is relieved.

Endorphin release theory

This theory expounds that the stimulation of the peripheral nerves results in the release of endorphin hormone by the body. Endorphin is a natural pain reliever and is quite effective, without any fear of reactions or side effects.

Learn more about TENS unit

How to use TENS unit for knee pain?

TENS unit can be used for acute as well as chronic pain. The effectiveness of the TENS unit increases with proper placement of the electrode pads and modulation settings.

Electrode pad placement

  1. Mark the painful area on the knee joint and ensure never to place the pad on the painful area.
  2. The pad can be placed on the periphery of the painful area.
  3. For knee pain, always use 2 pads or 4 pads at a time.
  4. The pads can be placed vertical, horizontal or cross-wise.
  5. The pads should never touch one another and should be placed at least one inch apart.
  6. Before placing the pads, ensure the skin is clean and dry.
  7. Though the pads are self-adhesive but secure it with micropore tape, if possible.
Horizontal placement
Criss cross

Once the pads are secured, connect it to the unit by the connecting wires.

TENS unit settings

The pulse rate and pulse width are the two settings that have to be governed for optimal results.

Pulse rate means the number of electrical pulses/second transmitted by the unit.

Pulse width is measured in microseconds and it denotes the time for which the pulse is transmitted.

Generally, once the setup is done, the unit is switched on with the lowest setting. This is to get accustomed to the tingling feeling.  Gradually the setting is increased and at higher values, you could feel muscle twitches and heat. Reduce the setting to comfortable levels.

The duration of therapy can be 45 minutes to an hour, till the time relief is experienced. This therapy can be administered 4 to 5 times a day or as required.

However, in the case of knee joint therapy, depending on the pain some standard-setting can be tried.

For Chronic Joint Pains:

Setting for pulse rate: 20 Hz

Setting for Pulse width: 150 microseconds.

For Acute Joint Pains:

Setting for Pulse rate: 70 Hz

Setting for Pulse width: 50 microseconds.

Once you are done with the therapy, switch off the unit first, then disconnect the wires and remove the electrode pads. Clean the skin.

Wipe the pads dry and keep it in a cool and dry place.

General precautions to be taken while using TENS unit

  1. People fitted with a pacemaker or any other electronic implant should not use TENS.
  2. It is not advisable for pregnant women
  3. People suffering from epilepsy are advised not to use TENS.
  4. The electrode pad should never be applied over broken skin or wounds.
  5. In some cases, the skin may get irritated. This may be because of oversensitive skin. Place pad at some other place and reduce the settings.
  6. If the setting is too high, it might burn the skin. Never keep the setting too high or beyond your comfort.  Treat the burnt or inflamed skin first, before placing the pads on it again.

Knee joint being the largest joint and very important joint of the body, it is mandatory to keep it in good form and health. In case you have knee joint pain, please do not neglect it. Negligence invariably aggravates the situation.

Initially, you can try the home remedies and if the pain does not subside you should consult a doctor.

Simultaneously TENS therapy is advised as it relieves pain and you can go on with your life unhindered.

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