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Knee Pain: Not the Bee's Knees.

Knee pain is a common issue that affects people of all ages. The knee is a hinge-like joint providing our body with flexibility, support, and a wide range of motion for our legs.(1) This weight-bearing joint bears significant stress as we perform our usual routines, and it serves a powerful role in our walking patterns and the ability to walk forward.

The knee is the largest joint in the body and comprises a series of bones, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons. The knee is part of a team who works with the other joints of the leg (i.e the hip and ankle) to function! The knee's proper movement allows us to go for a jog, climb stairs, sit for long periods, and do the things we love.

But how does the knee work? What does it do in the body, and is it susceptible to injury? What does it mean if someone has knee pain? Is knee pain treatable? To answer these questions, it is important to understand the structures inside the knee and how they move and protect the joint!

Understanding the Anatomy of the Knee Joint

Your knee joint is a junction of several bones: the kneecap (patella), the shin bone (tibia), and the thigh bone (femur).

Between the bones is a rubbery, C-shaped cartilage called the meniscus that cushions and protects the bones. (2) There is a medial and lateral meniscus. The meniscus absorbs internal and external forces on the joint. This function lets us jump on trampolines, walk downstairs, and apply our body weight onto the knee without pain. Athletes are prone to injuring the meniscus when too much force is applied to the joint.

There is another type of cartilage that lines the bones where they connect--This slippery cartilage, is called articular cartilage,(2),. Articular cartilage allows for smooth movements of the bones around the knee joint. Articular cartilage protects bone surfaces from rubbing and grating on each other. This soft tissue structure prevents wearing down or degeneration of bony surfaces. You may have heard the phrase “bone on bone” to describe joints; articular cartilage helps prevent this!

Within and surrounding the knee are several important, rope-like ligaments connecting the bones. Several muscles from the pelvis, butt, and hip regions also connect to the knee. Several small-but-powerful muscles are specific to the knee, too. Lastly, there are tough, rubbery cords of tissue called tendons connect the muscles to the bones.

Anatomy of Knee
Anatomy of Knee

Is the knee prone to injury?

The knee is prone to pain due to wear and stress on the joint. Normal aging, repetitive activity, traumas, and sudden movement can create a knee injury. This is due to the knee’s role in lower extremity (leg) movements and the combination of bone surfaces together.

Not all knee injuries or knee conditions feel the same. Some types of knee pain are described as dull and achy, sharp, burning, pulling, tight, or sore. Knee pain can also feel like a deep aching in the joint or right on top of the skin.

Some injuries that occur to the knee are:

  • Arthritis

  • Fracture

  • Tendinitis

  • Bursitis

  • Torn knee cartilage

  • Dislocated kneecap

  • Sprained ligaments

  • Muscle tears

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome

  • And more

Problems in the knee can result from trauma or a medical condition.(3) A knee injury can also exist without pain! When the knee is not working properly, inflammation and other symptoms can occur. You may have symptoms of a knee condition such as clicking, popping, and locking of the knee. You may notice your knee has decreased overall movement, or specific movements cause discomfort.

Knee pain may not involve the entire knee. Some individuals report having knee pain on one side of the knee. Knee pain can occur in the front, on the back, on the inner or outer sides, or deep within the knee joint. Sometimes pain can prevent proper movement and functioning, such as weight-bearing, on the knee.4 The location of the pain is an important characteristic regarding knee pain treatment.(4,5,6)

Who is at risk for developing knee pain? Several risk factors increase the likelihood of developing a knee injury. These include increasing age,(4,5) being overweight, certain diseases like gout or autoimmune conditions, previous history of injury, lack of exercise, and more.(3)