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Knee pain may not be knee pain

If you suffer from knee pain it can affect your quality of life and every day activities. In 2018, a study in American Family Physician found approximately 25% of U.S. adults suffer from knee pain, with the prevalence of the condition skyrocketing 65% over the past 20 years alone.

Many people are surprised to learn that knee pain isn’t always a simple issue. “Why is my knee bothering me?” is a great question to ask. However, the real problem may not be in your leg – it may be your back or ankle. Sometimes it’s not immediately apparent where a specific pain source is coming from – this is where a physical therapist can come in with a thorough evaluation.

So, how can I know for sure if this is a real knee problem or something else? 

First, note the time and place where your knee pain began. If you’ve suffered the pain following a fall or other injury or trauma to your knee, and you experience knee pain or swelling shortly after in the same place, chances are its isolated knee ailment that may be related to a single-source injury. Participating in regular, intense activities like soccer, hiking, skiing, football, golf, and tennis can lead to knee injuries.

Generally, you’ll be able to recognize when something hurts. Or even have a sense that something has happened.

Osteoarthritis knee pain (OA) is a tricky issue. OA symptoms often appear in people over the age of 50, and it can show up on X-rays even though you may have no symptoms. And if your pain continues, you may get treated for that OA knee by a doctor as the source of your arthritis pain, but yet, it still could be something else.

Signs your knee problem is more than a knee problem.

Usually, one of the strongest clues that you’ve missed for the source of your knee pain is that it either keeps coming back or doesn’t go away after trying different things to alleviate the pain. If icing, pain medications, stretching, and strengthening don’t work, then it’s time to look elsewhere for the problem.

It is not uncommon for us to have a new patient that is three-months post knee surgery and still experiencing the same level or worse pain after a procedure to have it cleaned out of some cartilage and wear and tear to relieve the pain.

Clearly, the problem started from something else and now there will be the potential for more problems in the future because they had surgery that really was not ever needed.

How can something like this happen? 

The medical community relies to much on X-rays and MRIs that are frequently used in determining whether someone needs to have surgery, and because doctors are so focused on finding joint damage, people with the same level of pain get knee surgery unnecessarily. Older people sometimes have painless tears or small arthritis changes that don’t need to be addressed through surgery. But imaging tests seem to require them to get surgery that is not helping.

The important thing is to understand is what the science says. What is overwhelming clear is there is no way to tell for certain where your knee pain is coming from just by looking at an X-ray. You risk unnecessary surgery if you don’t do any movement testing, which is the first place we start.

Why personalized evaluations matter

When evaluating a patient and getting a detailed picture of the function of their musculoskeletal system we are looking for things like trouble pinpointing the pain, does it move around or change, does it come on slowly or out of nowhere. Taking into account posture and alignment are just a couple of additional measures we take to help us inform a diagnosis.

All of these things point to another source in the body of the pain.

Whether you undergo often costly imaging, or consider knee surgery, you should be certain that your knee is not just in pain, but that your knee joint is in pain and your bones, cartilage, and ligaments, are too. If you feel a pain, you also need to be sure you are experiencing the right kind of pain and not rely solely on the imaging. This is why an evaluation by a physical therapist specializing in functional movement is important. Remember that knee problems can be worked on and resolved nearly 80% percent of the time without invasive or surgical procedures. You just have to give yourself the time to work with skilled physical therapists that can help you resolve your issue and progress you to a more active and productive life.

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If you have failed PT elsewhere, not seeing improvements or reduction of pain in your current exercise program, or looking to get started and need a little help with setting up a rehab program customized for your situation, give us a call today to schedule an evaluation.

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