Many of the patients visiting our clinic for their initial clinical assessment admit that knee pain has great impact on their life style, making it hard to cope with the simplest day-to-day activities like climbing stairs, walking the dog or even standing up from a chair.
Why do knee pain sufferers experience pain whilst performing these basic activities? What is the best way to cope with it in the short and long run?
We experience knee pain whilst performing simple day-to-day activities due to 2 main factors:
- Load on a joint – caused by weight of the body and forces of the muscles acting on and around a joint. When you engage in daily activities such as climbing the stairs or going for a walk, the knee has to support the weight of the body in each step. In addition the muscles moving and controlling the knee also increase the compression inside the joint.
- Poor neuromuscular control – the brain’s ability to sense the body and understand where each limb is and its movements in any given moment and the ability to correctly command the muscles in order to control each part of the body. Obviously good neuromuscular control requires reasonable muscle strength.
- When you are going up or down the stairs or getting up from a chair, each knee has to carry the full weight of the body as you move your other leg to the next step. If the knee is maligned (bowed knees or knock knees), there is an excessive load on one part of the joint. As the knee alignment has been that way for a long time, the part of the knee that has an excessive load is degenerated and painful. The more that part of the knee becomes degenerated, the more severe the malalignment becomes. The more severe the malalignment, the greater the load that part of the knee has to put up with – and then, presto, more pain…
- In addition to the above, when the knee starts hurting, the body becomes protective of if it and tells the muscles around it to brace. This disrupts the neuromuscular control and also further increases the load on the knee.
Sounds terrible? There is actually a lot you can do to improve your pain:
- As an immediate measure for pain relief when you use the stairs, lead up the stairs with your less painful knee.
- When you go down- lead with your more painful knee. When getting up from a chair after a long period of sitting; place the foot of the more painful knee slightly in front of the other. That way, that knee will have a decreased load.
- Stay active despite the pain: we don’t mean that you go for a walk with tears in your eyes. Studies have shown that even mild activities with a reasonable amount of pain can help maintain better muscle strength and control over the knee.
- If you have been active (which is good) and your knee pain has increased, ice your knee for 10-15 minutes. Make sure to use a thin towel between the ice and your skin. If you know you are going to be very active or are planning a vacation’ use a soft knee brace for the more demanding activities.
- To find lasting pain relief you need to address the two main factors which are causing it (as described in the first part of the blog). Consult a GP or a physiotherapist and ask them to provide you with treatment and exercises best suited for your condition.