Knee Pain: Common Causes and Treatments

By JEFFREY ZARIN, MD and MICHAEL BARATZ, MD, Tufts Medical Center Staff, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Your knees are involved in almost every activity you do—walking, bending, and turning. That’s why knee pain can severely limit your ability to move and work.

The most common cause of knee pain, arthritis, affects 1.3 million people living in Massachusetts. Arthritis is also the nation’s most common cause of disability. You may be surprised to learn that arthritis is not just a condition of the elderly – in our clinic, we are seeing more and more young, active patients with painful inflammation and stiffness caused by arthritis in the joints.

There are three types of arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) – OA is a wearing-out condition involving the breakdown of joint cartilage, making the bones rub against one another, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. This is the most common type.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – RA is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, causing chronic inflammation and pain.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis – Post-traumatic arthritis may develop after an injury when bones and cartilage don’t heal properly.

Regardless of the type of arthritis, there are some things you can do to lessen the pain. Those who are overweight may want to make some dietary changes to slim down. A decrease of just one pound results in four fewer pounds of pressure on the knee joints. Other non-surgical approaches include: physical therapy, walking aids, heat/cold therapy, and medications like NSAIDS, cortisone injections, and joint fluid therapies. Most people will be able to get some relief with these treatments for some period of time.

Is Surgery The Solution?

When these methods fail to control the pain, there are several surgical options that may be considered. The decision to have surgery is subjective – each person needs to determine the point at which the pain has made movement too difficult or has impeded their ability to enjoy activities and life in general.  Patients should talk with their doctor about the potential benefits and risks of various procedures for their specific condition.

Knee replacement surgery might be an option if the cartilage damage from arthritis is no longer manageable with non-surgical treatment approaches. The operation involves placing a new surface—made of metal and plastic—on the damaged part of the knee. A partial knee replacement surgery addresses the inside (medial), outside (lateral), or kneecap (patella). A total knee replacement resurfaces all three compartments of the knee.

Innovative Option

New technology is available to help surgeons place knee implants with greatly improved precision. At Tufts Medical Center, for example, we use the Mako robotic-arm assisted technique, proven in clinical studies to significantly improve patient-specific implant sizing and alignment.

Watch a video about it here.

The good news for those with knee pain?  There have never been more options for treatment. Talk to your doctor about seeing a joint specialist and get on the path back to your favorite activities.

To make an appointment with a joint specialist at Tufts Medical Center call 617-636-5160.

The above content is provided for educational purposes by Tufts Medical Center. It is free for educational use. For information about your own health, contact your physician.  Posted July 2017

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