When your knee hurts, it can be hard to walk, let alone run, jump, or play the sports you love. One added challenge is the fact that persistent knee pain can have many different causes. The best way to handle knee pain depends, to a large degree, on its causes. So, here's a look at some common causes of knee pain and how to tell them apart.
IT Band Syndrome
The IT band, or iliotibial band, is a thick band of connective tissue that runs from your ileum (part of your hip) to your tibia — the outside of your knee. If this band becomes inflamed, you may feel soreness on the outside of your knee. The soreness is also likely to radiate up your upper leg, at least from time to time.
IT band syndrome is really common in people who run or do a lot of other repetitive activities. It's an overuse injury, so it develops over time, not all of the sudden.
Most cases of IT band syndrome clear up with a few weeks of rest, icing the joint, and perhaps wearing a compression sleeve around your knee. In rare cases that this does not work, your doctor can give you a cortisone shot in the IT band, which should clear things up.
You have two menisci in your knee — one on the outside, and one on the inside. They are cushioned pads of connective tissue. One or both of them can tear if you plant your knee and turn sideways. This is generally an acute injury. You'll remember having moved in a certain way and then feeling pain in your knee. However, the pain is not always too serious at first. It may worsen over time. With a torn meniscus, you may have trouble fully straightening your knee, and the knee will often appear swollen.
Minor tears may heal over time with rest, but most do require surgical repair. The surgery can be performed arthroscopically through small incisions.
The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is located on the front of your knee just under your knee cap. This ligament can tear if you are hit in the knee, or if you plant your knee and turn. You'll often feel a really sharp pain and may even hear a snap when the ligament tears. The knee generally swells quickly after the injury.
Torn ACLs almost always need to be surgically repaired. Minor tears can be repaired arthroscopically, and others need to be repaired via open surgery.
If you are suffering from knee pain, see a sports medicine doctor or an orthopedist. They can give you a better idea of which specific injury is to blame.