Knee problems can be complicated.
But if you grasp one basic concept, it will simplify your understanding of your knee problem.
How to Diagnose Knee Pain
The first major step in diagnosing an individual’s knee problem is to distinguish between two broad categories:
Issues within the knee joint itself
Problems of the patellar-quadriceps mechanism.
Take a look at this picture of the knee so you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The Most Common Cause of Knee Pain
The knee joint itself is where motion flows between the thigh bone (the femur) and the shin bone (the tibia).
But overlying the knee joint is the quadriceps muscle (not shown in this picture) along with the patella (kneecap) and the tendons attached to the patella (the patellar and quadriceps tendons). Problems with these patellar and quadriceps structures are the most common cause of knee pain.
Diagnostic possibilities within this general category include:
- quadriceps tendinitis,
- patellar tendinitis,
- quadriceps strain,
- chondromalacia patellae, and
- patellofemoral disorder.
Second-Most Common Cause of Knee Pain
The next-most-common cause of knee pain is disruption of the ligaments or cartilage inside the knee joint. Some of the various problems inside the knee joint include injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, or one of the menisci.
The physical examination your doctor performs should be designed for starters to determine the general category of condition that’s affecting your knee. (Of course, you can have a mixture of problems of both types.) In many cases, X-rays or MRI’s are not needed to tell what’s going on.
The good news is that most knee conditions can be treated with the right combination of bracing, connective tissue therapy, rehabilitative exercise, and anti-inflammatory measures. Surgery can be an effective option in some cases, too, but fortunately it’s not often necessary.
Here’s a great guide to self-care for the most common variety of knee pain, written by my colleague Paul Ingraham: Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.