I’m currently nursing a meniscus tear. Believe it or not, this knee injury happened almost 26 years ago.
Knee pain is a very common ailment. If you’re active in sports, or if you live long enough, you’ll probably experience knee pain at some point in your life. When you’re young, knee pain is most likely the result of a sports injury or from some deformity or misalignment. As you age, knee pain can result from all the wear and tear the joint has endured over the years. If you’re overweight, you’re also a likely candidate for knee problems, as the extra weight means more work for your knees.
Most of us take our knees for granted when they’re working properly. When they’re doing their job, we might not give the joints a second thought. When they fail us, however, because of injuries or other problems, we’re quickly reminded of just how complex our knee joints are, as we can be put almost totally out of commission. Believe me—knee problems can pretty much turn your world upside down and cause intense pain and severely restricted mobility. Your normal daily routine can change in an instant.
In this article, I have gathered some information about knee pain that you might find helpful.
The knee is actually a pretty complicated structure. Obviously, it’s where the femur, the thigh bone, and the tibia, the larger bone in the lower leg, meet. The bottom of the femur and the top of the tibia are covered with a tough substance, articular cartilage. Within the joint are cushions, the menisci. The two bones are held together on the edges by the lateral collateral ligament and by the medial collateral ligament. In the center of the knee joint are two more ligaments, the anterior cruciate ligament and the posterior cruciate ligament. On the lateral or outside portion of the knee, the fibula, the smaller bone in the lower leg, is attached to the femur by the lateral collateral ligament. The patella, commonly known as the kneecap, is held into place by ligaments and tendons. The joint also has sacs filled with fluid, called bursae.
When you take all this into account, you’ll see that there are a lot of knee parts that can go wrong, whether it’s cartilage, a tendon, a ligament, or a bursa. When you really think about it, it’s sort of surprising that humans don’t have even more knee problems and knee injuries than we have already. The knee is the largest joint in the human body, and it’s a weight-bearing joint. Its design allows it to move smoothly and to be strong and flexible, but even with the best designs, something can always go wrong.
Knee injuries are fairly common. That’s not really surprising when you think of all the tasks we require of our knees. They bear our weight and allow the legs to bend and twist. Injuries can be caused by a number of things, including sudden stops, pivots, and twisting. Blows to the inside, outside, front, or back of the knee can also cause injuries, especially if the knee is caused to overextend. Jumping, lifting too much weight, shifting your body weight from one leg to the other leg, and landing on the knee from a fall can all cause injury. Knee pain might occur immediately following an injury or trauma.
Some of the most common knee injuries include a loose or torn posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, and lateral collateral ligament. The tendon that connects the tibia and the patella can become injured and inflamed, causing patellar tendinitis. The patella can become dislocated or forcefully moved out of its correct position, which causes patellar subluxation. If the cartilage beneath the surface of the patella is irritated, a condition called chondromalacia patellae can occur. Perhaps the most common knee injury of all is a meniscus tear, which I’ll go into details with further down in this article.
Knee problems aren’t always caused by injuries to the knee. Knee pain from osteoarthritis, for example, is often caused by wear as we age, as the cartilage begins to thin. Knee effusion can be a result from osteoarthritis, causing fluid to accumulate within the joint. When this fluid builds up behind the knee, it’s referred to as baker’s cyst. The bursae in the knee can become swollen and inflamed, too, resulting in bursitis.
Like other joints in the body, knees are susceptible to the painful and damaging effects of rheumatoid arthritis. The joint can also be affected by a bacterial infection called septic arthritis. Another member of the arthritis family that might affect the knees is gout. Gout occurs when crystals of uric acid form in a joint. When the crystals are made of calcium pyrophosphate, the painful condition is called pseudogout.
Even the way your leg bones are aligned can cause problems with your knees. For example, I have a pal who’s extremely bow-legged, and his doctor-wife has already told him that he’ll wind up in knee surgery because of it. The medical term for bow-leggedness is varus alignment. Valgus alignment is commonly referred to as being knock-kneed. These “bad alignments” can cause all sorts of knee problems, as the body weight places more stress on certain parts of the joint instead of distributing it equally. Some of the problems that can be caused my malalignment might include the ligaments, the menisci, the articular cartilage, or even the bones.
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Meniscus – Menisci
What is the meniscus? It’s the singular of menisci. The menisci are two rubbery discs located within the knee joint, where the femur and tibia meet. The C-shaped disc on the outside of the knee joint is the lateral meniscus, and the one on the inside is the medial meniscus. The menisci are made up of cartilage, fibers, collagen, and water. They help distribute the weight borne by the knee joint and help reduce the amount of stress placed on the tibia.
Meniscus injuries are seen frequently and occur in any age group. A torn meniscus can result from a single event, usually from engaging in sports or other strenuous activities. Tears can range in size, too. A small tear might be able to heal with conservative remedies, while a longer tear might require surgery. In addition, the menisci can degenerate with age. In those cases, a meniscus might develop frayed edges instead of an actual tear. If a small piece of the material breaks off and winds up in the hinge part of the knee, locking of the joint might occur, making completely straightening out the leg impossible.
My son-in-law, Justin, played college football, and he suffered a torn meniscus. Knee injuries from playing football are rampant, by the way. The surgeon trimmed away part of the tissue instead of doing a repair with sutures. Amazingly, he was back at football practice in just two weeks. From what I understand, a sutured repair takes longer to heal than a trim or removal do.
I’m currently nursing a meniscus tear. I have a torn meniscus on the inside of my right knee. Believe it or not, this knee injury happened almost twenty-six years ago. I was standing on a landing of some steep stone steps when I fell all the way down, twisting my right leg badly beneath me. I fell because I got dizzy. I didn’t know it at that exact moment, but I had a fever and was coming down with Scarlet Fever. I could barely walk after the fall. I went to the emergency room, where x-rays and a physical exam were done. The attending physician saw no broken bones, so he sent me home to recuperate. At the time, I had a two-story house, and all the bedrooms were upstairs. I literally had to “slink” up the stairs like a snake, as I couldn't walk up them.
With a lot of rest, elevation, ice, heat, and pain relievers, my knee got better – but it never stopped hurting completely. For the past two and one-half decades, the knee pain has flared up from time to time. At times, the pain has been mild, but at others, it’s terrible. A few years ago, I went through a knee program that involved injections of Hyalgan into my knee, along with physical therapy. These treatments for knee pain really helped, and until recently, my knee pain was manageable. Then I started on a weight loss and exercise program that included distance walking, stair stepping, and weightlifting. I guess I overdid it. This last round of severe knee pain – the worst it has ever been – prompted me to get proper medical attention for a repair…finally. I went to my primary care physician, and she took x-rays. She sent me to the local hospital for an MRI. The MRI showed a long meniscus tear, a bone spur in the knee joint, a cyst behind the patella, and very thin cartilage on the end of the femur. My doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon, and I saw him this morning.
He explained what was going on with my knee. His biggest and most pressing concern was the torn meniscus. The meniscus tear is very long, going completely around the entire disc. I was surprised to discover that the tear is in the lateral meniscus, since all my pain is coming from the other side of the joint. The ortho doc told me that such a situation isn’t unusual. He said knee problems from anywhere in or near the joint can result in referred pain to anywhere in the knee. Also, he told me that the medial meniscus in my right knee is frayed, so it needs to be addressed, too. He said I needed knee surgery, and he wanted to do it tomorrow at their surgery center. I was so ready to get this taken care of! My health insurance, however, will only allow the surgery to be performed in a hospital operating room, so my knee surgery is scheduled for next Wednesday.
My knee surgery is going to be done at our local hospital, performed by an orthopedic surgeon. The procedure will be done on an outpatient basis. I’ll arrive early that morning, and if everything goes well, I should be able to return home that afternoon. Should any unforeseen problems arise, I might have to spend the night in a hospital room.
First, I’ll be wheeled into the operating room and put under general anesthesia. The knee surgery will be done via knee arthroscopy. Two small incisions will be made in my knee, and an arthroscope will be inserted, allowing the surgeon to see inside the joint with a light and a camera. The camera will be hooked up to a monitor to enable the surgeon to get a good look. If he can’t see everything he needs to see, he might have some sterile liquid injected into the knee joint, causing it to expand.
Medical instruments and tools will be inserted through the incisions, and the doctor can make the necessary knee repairs. In my case, he’s going to suture together the torn meniscus. For the frayed meniscus, he’ll do some trimming and smoothing. If there are any pieces of torn meniscus in the hinge section, they’ll be removed. Once the incisions are closed, my knee will be wrapped with a bandage and iced down. That knee and leg will also be elevated.
I’ll wake up (hopefully!) in the recovery room. If it’s like my other surgeries have been, the first thing I’ll be doing is looking for somewhere to throw up. General anesthesia makes me terribly nauseous. Once I’m good and awake, I’ll probably be offered something to drink. After I’m monitored for a while, I should be able to go home – probably on a pair of crutches. When I get home, I’ll have hubby put my knee brace on me.
Knee surgery outcomes vary from person to person, so I don’t how long I’ll be on crutches. I’ll be doing some exercises and physical therapy, too, in order to strengthen my quadriceps and my hamstring. If I survive the surgery, (I have no doubt I will, but you never know when you’re given general anesthesia), I’ll come back to this article and provide an update. I’ll also give you some feedback on the knee braces I’ve used, as my newest one should be here in a day or two.
Severe Knee Pain
I’ve had severe knee pain from my torn meniscus. At times, my right knee is swollen and inflamed, making walking, sitting down, rising from a sitting position, and standing difficult and painful. Sometimes I can’t straighten my leg or bend it very much without a lot of pain. At times, my knee causes pain even when it’s stationary. At those times, sleep is difficult. I can’t seem to find any position in which I don’t suffer from knee pain.
When I have severe knee pain, I’m never sure exactly what’s causing it. As I’ve mentioned, I know from an MRI that I have a torn meniscus, but the MRI also showed thinning cartilage on the end of my femur, a baker’s cyst, and a bone spur. Two physical therapists, independently of each other, have also suspected that I have some damage to my medial collateral ligament (MCL). I’ve known for years that I have osteoarthritis in that knee, too. I suppose that when I’m experiencing severe knee pain, it’s coming from a combination of these knee problems.
What does the pain feel like? It can be hard to describe, as it somewhat changes. At times, it’s just a dull ache or a “pulling” sensation. At other times, it’s a sharp stabbing or burning pain. Sometimes it feels as if someone has stuck a knife into the side of my knee and is twisting the knife blade. At times, my knee feels wobbly, like it’s going to buckle. It also pops and clicks a lot when I stand up and sit down.
Best Shoes For Knee Pain
I was sort of surprised to learn that one form of knee pain treatment has to do with which shoes you wear. I’ve had pain in the knee for years, and I began to notice a pattern. Whenever I wore heels with hard soles, my knee hurt much more. For a while, I thought it was due to the height of the heels. After some experimenting, I discovered that the hard soles were just as responsible for increasing my knee pain. When I wore shoes with thick rubber soles, my “bad” knee didn’t bother me nearly as much.
Most people say the best shoes for knee pain are athletic shoes, like sneakers, walking shoes, and running shoes. For me, though, the best shoes for knee pain are flip-flops with wide straps and thick, cushiony soles. They provide a shock absorber-like action, reducing stress on the knee joints. Every time your foot strikes a hard surface while walking. When jogging, running, climbing, playing sports, or dancing, the force of your weight and gravity place a lot of stress on your joints. A soft cushion under your foot will soften the impact blow. My soft flip-flops are my normal everyday footwear. I used to go barefoot around the house all the time, but wearing the extra cushioning helps my knee, as we have hardwood floors throughout our home.
I’m sure some readers will question my choice of footwear, but I’m just telling you what works best for me. Athletic shoes or some other type of shoes might work better for you. Perhaps I don’t have the right type of athletic shoes. I can tell you this, though: soft-bottomed shoes with thick, rubbery soles will make your knees feel a lot better. They help with my lower back pain, too.
Knee Pain Treatment
You can bet your bottom dollar that I’ve checked out all sorts of knee pain treatment! For the last two weeks, I’ve been experiencing severe knee pain. Sometimes I could barely make it to the bathroom, and once I got there. It was extremely hard for me to get on and off the toilet. And that’s with a grab bar. The knee even hurts when it’s immobile, and it sometimes prevents me from falling asleep or staying asleep. I think I’ve tried just about everything.
My knee pain treatment routine includes some pain medications and anti-inflammatories. I take aspirin, tramadol, and hydrocodone. My physician wanted to give me an injection or Toradol, but she was afraid to because I’m allergic to ibuprofen. I have no idea what the implications are for that association, but I trust her judgment. Toradol is the brand name for ketorolac tromethamine, a strong nonsteroid that’s used to relieve inflammation and moderate to severe temporary pain. If you have moderate to severe knee pain, your doctor might give you an injection of Toradol and/or give you a prescription for oral Toradol. He or she might also give you a steroid injection.
When my knee is swollen and sore, packing it in ice usually helps. A bag of frozen peas works well here. Keeping it elevated also reduces the swelling. On the other hand, heat feels better sometimes. I often turn the water in my shower to as hot as I can get it, and I dial my hand-held shower massage to a gentle pulse. I aim it right on the sore or stiff part of my knee, and it occasionally helps with the pain and more often helps with the stiffness. My knee feels most comfortable when it’s slightly bent, so when I’m sitting with the knee elevated, I place a rolled-up towel underneath the joint.
I have a TENS unit that I use for back pain, and I’ve tried it with my knee pain. It was sort of a hit-and-miss. Sometimes the TENS helped, but at others, it had no effect. From my experience, a TENS works better on muscles. Maybe when it helped with my severe knee pain was at times when I had strained the muscles around my knee.
As far as prescription paid meds go, I’ve tried hydrocodone and tramadol. The tramadol actually works better for me. And besides, taking hydrocodone often makes my dizzy and nauseous. Jumping up and hobbling to the bathroom on a bad knee in order to vomit is no picnic. I also take aspirin, which seems to help with the inflammation. A couple of other Hubbers have suggested arnica gel, but I haven’t been able to locate any.
Knee pain can be uncomfortable, or it can be excruciating. It might also be somewhere in between. It might also come and go and vary in intensity, sometimes based on your activity level, as mine often is. Sometimes your knee might “act up” for no apparent reason, however. You need your knees, so it’s important for you to see a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect a problem. It’s easy for small knee injuries and minor knee problems to worsen over time, often involving and damaging other parts of the joint. If you have pain that isn’t resolved fairly quickly, or if you have intense pain, throw in the towel and see a doctor. Even if there’s nothing major wrong, he or she can help you learn to take care of yourself and reduce pain with conservative measures. Take it from me – knee pain is nothing to fool around with.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do you need dye for a MRI of the knee?
Answer: No, I don't believe they used dye on me.
Question: Can you have more than one cortisone shot in a certain time frame for a torn miniscus?
Answer: My doctor allows me to have 3 per year.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 29, 2017:
Chelsea, let us know how your knee surgery goes!
Chelsea Howard on June 29, 2017:
I hope they go ahead and schedule the surgery when I go today! I can't take the pain much longer! My appointment is in 2 hours so hopefully I will get some answers today!
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 28, 2017:
Chelsea, I don't know what could be causing your knee pain, but I do know that not everything shows up on an MRI. Once the surgeon got into my joint, he found a big hole in the end of my femur. And that wasn't visible on the scan. Good luck!
Chelsea on June 28, 2017:
HI! I have been dealing with knee pain for about 3 months now, not exactly sure what i've done but xrays were clear I went for an MRI on monday and get the results tomorrow! The pain is along the inside of my right knee. I can walk but have a clicking sound/feeling when i walk flat footed nothing if i walk on my tip toes! The pain is excruciating when I squat or bend, swelling is minimal but I am on Indomethecin(sp?) for swelling and flexeril 10 mg for pain. I myself and three drs(2 ER drs and 1 ortho dr) are pretty sure its a tear in my medial meniscus. Any input on anything else it could be or do you think that may be the cause as well? I work as a CNA at a rehabilitation center and have worked with PT with them and also done exercises at home the pain is only getting worse.
My knee has at times locked up on me while im walking and the pain is HORRIBLE! I have to pop it back to continue to walk!
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 18, 2017:
Wilma, maybe it's a baker's cyst?
wilma gahret on June 18, 2017:
I had a torn meniscus and had an operation about 10 years ago. I have had no problems until recently had a shooting pain up the back of the leg near the knee - it goes away, but it comes and goes intermittently throughout the day. Stopped exercising and put ice on it - what could this be?
muhammad on February 08, 2014:
I never though that Knee problem is so painful until I recently experienced it...It took doctor more than one month to diagonise that I had meniscal tear after examining MRI...It will definitely limit your movement...difficult to climb or get down a stair..difficult to bend knees difficult to lie on bed...
Still suffering with it for morethan two months...
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 21, 2013:
Howdy, Doc. Sounds like you've "been there." Ugh. I'm so ready to get this knee surgery over with!
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 21, 2013:
Hi, Sis. Like you, I've had my share of horse-related falls and injuries, but I can't blame this one on equines. 'Twas a set of stairs what threw me. lol
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 21, 2013:
Tireless, I have one of those, too. Now...if only I could find it!
drbj and sherry from south Florida on February 20, 2013:
Good luck with your knee surgery, Holle. While reading this explicit meniscus information, I really felt your pain. Trust me!
Angela Blair from Central Texas on February 20, 2013:
Excellent article, Habee -- I'm now finding (in my dotage) that all the years of being in a saddle, a fall on the right kneecap many years ago and a couple of barrel racing injuries are rearing their ugly heads and occasionally my right knee feels like it "goes out of joint" which is tremendously painful (and scary). Guess, like you, I'm going to have to address the issue before the knee causes a fall resulting in a broken hip. Lord, all that sounds terrible, doesn't it? Best/Sis
Judy Specht from California on February 20, 2013:
Frozen peas, some things that worked years ago still do a good job.
We have a hot pack that you dampen and heat in the microwave to moist heat. Best of luck with the surgery.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 19, 2013:
Hi, Will. Yeah, shoulder pain is tough. I think I'll opt for knee injuries! lol
WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on February 19, 2013:
My knees have been remarkably strong through the years, but both shoulders have been injured and both required surgery, one for a torn labrum, and one for a torn rotator cuff.
Be glad it's your knee. They heal quickly, but shoulders take up to a year.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 19, 2013:
Yep, BB, consider yourself lucky! I didn't know knee pain could be so bad until recently. Are you working on your entry for my writing contest?
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 19, 2013:
When you want to know something about a subject, go to a person who has experienced it. This is a great resource for someone experiencing this kind of injury. I have been incredibly lucky over my lifetime. I have played sports for decades, hiked, climbed mountains and not once did I have an injury. There is no logic behind that fact and I am very grateful.