Find the source of knee pain and feel better

December 29, 2010 By Richard Scarlett, M.D.

One in three people over age 45 has some kind of knee pain. Why are our knees so prone to pain? They're the largest and heaviest hinge joints in the body. They're also the most complex. Knees bend, straighten, twist and rotate, which is why they suffer more injuries than other joints do. Whether your pain is due to arthritis or other diseases, injury, overuse, being overweight or plain old aging, you need relief.

Many people undergo surgery, but not every knee problem requires surgery. Take these steps to reduce your risk of injury or disease and keep your knees healthy:

-Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts strain on your joints, raising your risk of ligament and tendon injuries and osteoarthritis.
- Strengthen supporting muscles. Do exercises to keep your quadriceps and hamstrings strong.
- Choose workouts wisely. If your knees hurt after jogging or playing sports, consider switching to swimming, water aerobics or other low-impact exercises for a few days a week.
- Choose a well-fitting shoe. And pick footwear that suits your sport. Running shoes aren't made to pivot and turn, for instance, but tennis and racquetball sneakers are.
- Don't overdo it. If your knees hurt or you're tired, take a break. You're more likely to get injured when tired.

Some types of knee pain need immediate care. Call your doctor if you:

• can't bear weight on your knee
• have visible inflammation or redness
• see an obvious deformity
• have a fever or extreme pain
• have swelling (water on the knee)

Unfortunately, sometimes surgery is required to repair the problem. Thanks to advances in the field, surgery ranges from a relatively minor procedure to repair damaged cartilage to total knee replacement.

Arthroscopic surgery
Arthroscopic surgery involves cutting, shaving or removing damaged bone and cartilage. The surgeon makes small slits in the knee and then inserts a lighted optic tube called an arthroscope that includes a tiny camera. The surgeon operates with very thin instruments, eliminating the need for large incisions or a long recuperation.

Long-term relief
Total knee replacement is designed to leave surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments intact while replacing damaged bones with an artificial knee joint made of plastic and metal. A hospital stay is required, along with physical therapy afterward to speed the healing process.

Today's knee replacements can last up to 20 years. They generally are not as effective as the real thing, but they are popular alternatives to chronic knee pain and disability.