Knee pain is a problem that can affect the young and the old alike. In the elderly, the knee pain is most likely due to wear and tear also called osteoarthritis or due to other chronic problems of the knee.
In the younger more active age groups, knee pain is more commonly secondary to increased activity, injury or contact sports. There are numerous underlying causes why an adolescent or a young adult could have knee pain.
The Knee Joint:
To understand the problems of the knee, one has to know about the structures in the knee. The knee joint consists of the joint between the thigh bone (femur) and the leg bone(tibia), in addition to the knee cap. The articulation is covered in all directions by a tense tissue named the capsule. Inside the capsule, in between the bones there are a few tense soft tissue structures namely the menisci and the cruciate ligaments.
The major function of the meniscus is cushion effect and guiding in smooth movement of the joint while the main function of the cruciate ligaments is stability of the joint. There are another set of strong tissues outside the capsule that also help in the stability of the joint. These are called the collateral ligaments.
Pain in the Front of the Knee:
Adolescents, especially females have a tendency to have pain in the front of the knee. The pain worsens when climbing up or down the stairs or while sitting on the floor or standing up from this position. This problem commonly occurs due to softening of the cartilage under the knee cap and is usually temporary. The treatment usually consists of anti-inflammatory medicines and a specific group of exercises. This condition almost always improves with exercises.
Pain in the Knee After a Twist while Playing:
Most commonly children or young adults present with pain in the knee following a twist in the knee while playing. The swelling may start immediately after the injury or 12 hours after the injury. This usually signifies an injury to the menisci and/or the cruciate ligament. In addition to pain killers, an X-ray is needed to make sure there is no bone fracture and then an MRI scan has to be taken to assess which ligament is injured and to study the severity of the injury.
Depending on the severity of injury, you either needphysiotherapy or need to undergo surgery to rectify the injury to the ligament. With the current advances in joint care, such injuries can be managed with state of the art keyhole surgeries (arthroscopy). With such procedures, the patient can get discharged from the hospital the same day or the next day of the surgery.
Pain in the Knee After a Hit from the Side:
Sometimes while playing contact sports you get hurt in the knee due to a hit from the side. If you are not able to walk normally after this injury, it means that your collateral ligaments are injured. These ligaments are needed for side to side stability. An initial X-ray has to be taken to rule out a fracture. After this, an MRI scan will show the severity of the collateral ligament injury. Only the highest severity of collateral ligament injury needs surgical treatment while the lesser grades can me managed with braces and the person has to walk with support for a few days.