Knee Pain: What’s Your Type & Treatment Plan?

From rest to reconstruction, the Padres head team physician discusses patient care options

Watching Cameron Maybin patrol the power alleys or Jason Bartlett barrel around the base paths, it’s clear the Padres rely on their speed game.

Even those of us who move at a slightly slower pace need good knee health to keep active.

Knee pain can stem from long-term overuse, sudden injuries, or underlying degenerative conditions. Depending on the type of pain and how quickly it develops, treatment options may range from rest to reconstructive surgery.

“People should pay close attention to how their symptoms develop and affect their everyday lives,” says Padres head team physician Dr. Heinz Hoenecke of Scripps. “It takes more than diagnostic test results to determine the most appropriate treatment.”

Dr. Hoenecke describes four common types of knee pain and a sampling of patient care options.

Dull pain that develops gradually

Such pain often stems from long-term deterioration of the knee’s cartilage (chondromalacia), or from arthritis. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can ease pain and arthritis supplements such as glucosamine may also help. Exercises that maintain alignment of the knee and strengthen the core may alleviate pain. If symptoms worsen or don’t improve within a few months, consult a physician or orthopedic specialist.

Pain related to increased activity

Intensified workouts may cause pain in the front of the knee, due to deterioration of the kneecap’s undersurface. Anti-inflammatory medications may help reduce swelling. Exercises should focus on strengthening the core and hip. Reduce or avoid activities that led to the pain until symptoms resolve. If symptoms don’t improve within a few months, consult a physician.

Sudden pain from small movements

Twinges and sharp pain may be caused by a tear in the cartilage of the knee joint (meniscus). Rest, ice and pain relievers may help with pain and give the meniscus time to heal. If symptoms don’t improve after six weeks, the next step may be an MRI scan to diagnose the extent of the damage. A severe meniscus tear usually requires arthroscopic surgery.

Traumatic injury

Sudden, severe injury to the knee, such as ligament or cartilage damage, often causes sharp pain and joint instability. These injuries should be evaluated by a physician immediately. Surgery may not be needed, but the physician can recommend steps to limit the damage and help the joint recover. If symptoms continue after four to six weeks, reconstructive surgery may be needed.