The First Step in Diagnosing Knee Pain

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

  -vs-

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 knee and patellar ligaments

The knee joint and patellar ligaments

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.

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Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.
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