Dr David Su, Medical Director at The Orthopaedic Centre, shares the common causes of chronic knee pain and other knee problems like knee osteoarthritis and Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.
Chronic knee pain for people below 45 is commonly caused by overdoing and overuse from sports. As for those above 45, the common cause is age-related wear and tear leading to degenerative knee conditions. Three common knee pain problems are Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (runner’s knee), knee osteoarthritis and knee ligament and cartilage injuries.
Runner’s knee happens when the kneecap is misaligned and rubs against the lower end of the femur. This is often caused by repetitive stress on the knees due to an excessive running or cycling routine. Dr David Su recommended that runners incorporate cross-training in their fitness routine to get a good mix of load on joints and muscles. Some supplements can help to stimulate the formation and repair of the cartilage or keep it from deteriorating.
Knee osteoarthritis, which is the wearing away of the knee cartilage, is the most common form of knee arthritis. There is no cure for this degenerative disease but there are ways to decelerate the cartilage erosion. Shedding 5kg of weight, especially for those who are overweight, can reduce knee pain by 50%. Knee joint injections like hyaluronic acid and platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy are common temporary measures as well.
ACL tear is the most common ligament injury, especially for soccer players. Physical therapy is often used to restore the knee. However, orthopaedic specialists may advise for ACL reconstruction in the case of complete ACL tears.
The term “shin splints” refers to pain along the inner edge of the leg bone (tibia). Shin splints typically develop after physical activity. They are often associated with running or walking/marching for prolonged periods of time. A shin splint is an inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue around the tibia bone. In general, shin splints develop when the muscle and bone tissue in the leg become overworked by repetitive activity.
Since shin splints are typically caused by overuse and they are self-limiting. Standard treatment includes several weeks of rest from the activity that caused the pain. It may be advisable to switch to lower impact activities such as swimming or stationary bike. Shin splints usually resolve with rest. Before returning to exercise, you should be pain-free for at least 2 weeks.
If the pain in the shin persists it is best to seek a medical opinion. Occasionally a stress fracture occurs in the tibia. A stress fracture is a small crack in the tibia caused by overuse. Your specialist may sometimes order a bone scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study to pick up on a stress fractures in the tibia.
It is best to prevent the occurrence of a shin splint. It is important to make sure you wear shoes designed for your sport and they must be of the right fit. Slowly build your fitness level by engaging in a structured fitness program. Avoid bursts of exercise routines and consistency is the key to avoid any overuse injury to the tibia.
Visual adapted from: https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/88972839 Last assessed on 20/3/2018
Seeking treatment early may prevent need for replacements
I always observe how patients with knee pain walk into my consultation room. From that, I can tell which leg is hurting, and how bad it is hurting .
After all, knee pain is one of the most common symptoms that I see in my practice.
Mr X hobbled into my clinic one day, complaining of pain in both knees. He could not play golf, and even walking around a shopping centre with his wife was painful.
He had tried medication (painkillers, supplements, traditional Chinese medicine), medicated plasters, gels, walking aids, physiotherapy, lubricant injections and even had special shoes designed to shift the stress away from the knees.
He had read up extensively about the surgical options available and he wanted my opinion.
After looking at his X-ray scans, which showed severe osteoarthritis, and considering his age of 69, I recommended the most reliable operation for someone in his situation: A total knee replacement.
He then asked a question that I had heard many times before.
Was there any way to preserve his knee and avoid replacing it with metal and plastic?
My answer was no, not in his case - his arthritis was too advanced.
But I have wondered if I could have preserved his knees had he come to see me years earlier.
VITAL PARTS OF THE KNEE
Knee preservation surgery is a broad concept that uses minimally invasive keyhole techniques (arthroscopy) to preserve the vital components of the knee.
Knee arthritis occurs when there is cartilage damage, which causes pain and stiffness. Vital components of the knee that contribute to its longevity are the meniscus, cartilage and ligaments.
The meniscus is a crescent-shaped structure made of cartilage. It absorbs shock and stabilises the knee. Forty years ago, surgeons routinely removed the entire meniscus when it was torn.
We now know that removing the whole meniscus is a bad idea. Without it, the knee will almost always develop arthritis .
There is now a big push to repair a meniscal tear and even if you cannot repair it, only the torn potion should be removed.
The cartilage is the white shiny layer covering the ends of the bones. It has lubricating and shock-absorbing qualities. Once you damage it, however, it has limited potential of healing itself.
But we know that cartilage damage in the knee should be treated early. By the time the damage is widespread, there is little doctors can do to regenerate the cartilage.
The patient may have no choice but to undergo a knee replacement with metal and plastic components.
Mr Y, 49, a university lecturer, was fortunate. He sought help early and managed to preserve his knees.
An avid basketball player, he started to experience pain in both knees after a game. It worsened to a point where he could not stand in front of his class for more than 15 minutes.
Magnetic resonance imaging scans showed cartilage damage, as well as "loose bodies" in his knees - little pieces of bone and cartilage that form during the degeneration process. These free-floating objects occasionally jam up the knee, causing a sudden locking sensation.
It is like having a pebble in your shoe when you are walking.
The loose bodies accelerate cartilage damage, grinding away the cartilage when the knee moves.
The advantage of keyhole surgery is that even if both knees are operated on at the same time, the patient can often walk out of the hospital the next day.
Mr Y eventually underwent keyhole cartilage regeneration and removal of loose bodies in both knees. He is now able to stand and teach for an hour.
More importantly, he started playing "old man basketball". He described it as more passing, less running and jumping, and playing with people his own age.
If he continues to take care of his knees and modify his activities to avoid further wear and tear, he might not require a knee replacement at all.