The knee is the largest and most complicated joint in the human body, comprised of a number of ligaments and muscles. Connecting the two longest mechanical levers in the body, the thigh and the lower leg, forces are always acting on the knee joint. While the large thigh muscles give the knee strength and mobility it is the ligaments that surround the knee that provide the most stability.
Not only does the knee joint bear the weight of the upper body but it also absorbs the shock when we walk or run. In addition, there is no part of the skeleton, unlike the hip joint, that protects the knee joint.
It is actually not surprising that millions of people are impacted daily by knee pain. Pain can range from a slight annoyance to full-blown disability in some people. Here are just a few reasons for knee pain.
- Sprains and strains
- Anterior knee pain
Knee pain can restrict movement, reduce strength, limit mobility and impact muscle control.
Are Knee Replacements Always The Best Answer?
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, over 600,000 knee replacements are done each year in the United States. According to the Academy, this number is expected to rise to over 3 million by 2030.
But, not everyone would agree that a knee replacement is always the best answer to solving knee pain. Research indicates that there are many people who have the surgery either prematurely or unnecessarily and that it is only the seductive nature of the surgery that makes so many people jump at the option.
Research out of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond found that knee replacements are only appropriate for those with severely advanced arthritis that impaired physical function. This would be someone who could not climb a flight of stairs or get out of a chair or walk without help.
Data from 4800 people in the U.S. with knee osteoarthritis or at high risk of developing osteoarthritis was analyzed. From this group, 205 had total knee replacements. Researchers judged surgeries as appropriate, inappropriate or inconclusive based on a number of factors like pain, the range of motion and degree of arthritis. Researchers expected to find about 20% of these surgeries as being unnecessary but they were shocked to see the number as high as 34%. Patients in this group had only moderate pain and their arthritis was not widespread. Fewer than half of the 205 replacements done were found to be appropriate. The inconclusive group was 22% and included patients younger than 55 with severe symptoms and those who had less damage and normal mobility.
The results of this research suggest that patients spend ample time reviewing the necessity of a total knee replacement with their physicians based on their individual level of need.
Going under the knife for any kind of surgery carries a whole host of risks on its own. This begs the question, should all non-invasive therapies be exhausted before a patient considers surgery? My answer to this would be an overwhelming YES, and adding to that, all “natural” therapies – this rules out the masking of pain with over the counter prescription painkillers and inflammation busters that carry a whole host of their own risks.
Always speak to your doctor before attempting any of these natural remedies.
Here Are Some Of The Best Ways To Alleviate Knee Pain Naturally
Although it may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you have knee pain, there are many exercises and stretches that can help to alleviate pain and increase flexibility. This is dependent on the nature of your pain and the source. If you have arthritis, daily moving will help to reduce stiffness and increase your range of motion. Here are some suggested exercises for knee pain caused by arthritis. If you have knee pain from a meniscal injury or any other injury be sure to consult a physician before exercising.
- Standing leg lifts – Stand against a wall. Raise your leg to the side keeping the toe pointed forward slightly. Try not to lean. Repeat 15-20 times on each side.
- Stand up, sit down – Sit in a chair with your back straight. Cross your arms over your chest. Stand up slowly, unassisted and sit back down slowly. Do this for one minute.
- Standing kickbacks – Stand straight and lift a foot off the floor bending your heel towards your buttocks. Hold for a few seconds and lower slowly. Repeat 20 times each leg a few times a day.
- Hamstring stretch – Lie on your back with your legs stretched out. Bend the right knee and grab the back of your thigh with both hands. Gently pull your leg towards your chest. Relax your arms so that your knee is pointed straight up. Relax your arms so that your knee is pointed straight up. Straighten your leg upwards as much as you can. Bend again, then stretch again. Repeat both legs three times.
- Seated leg cross – Cross your ankles over each other while contracting your thighs. Hold this for 20 seconds and switch sides. Do three to four sets on each side.
- Swimming, cycling, yoga and elliptical training – All of these aerobic exercises are good for people with knee pain as they are low impact. In contrast, if you have knee pain, it is wise to avoid the following activities; running, skiing, intense biking, jumping, and high-impact sports.
Weight management is crucial if you suffer from knee pain. The closer you are to your ideal weight the easier it will be on your knees. Even just losing a few pounds will make a tremendous difference if you are overweight. Eliminating refined carbohydrates, sugar, and wheat from your diet is a great place to start. Consume whole, organic foods as much as possible. Including powerhouse anti-inflammatory foods such as tuna, salmon, leafy green veggies, apples, carrots, beets, broccoli, celery, blueberries, pineapple, honey and bone broth.
3. Heat & Cold Therapy
Reduce pain and swelling by applying a cool pack to your knee. To help keep the joint from stiffening up use a heating pad or warm pack. Alternate between hot and cold for 24 hours after an injury. You can purchase hot and cold packs on Amazon.
4. Willow Bark
A study found that some people suffering from arthritis had reduced pain after using willow bark. Willow bark is often used to remedy fever, pain, and inflammation. Do not use willow bark if you are allergic to aspirin or are taking blood thinners.
5. Ginger Extract
Ginger is an ancient anti-inflammatory spice that has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. According to a study out of the University of Miami, ginger extract could one day be used in place of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs. In this study of 247 patients, a highly concentrated ginger was used. Forty percent of participants had reduced pain and stiffness in their joints.
According to study leader Roy Altman, MC, “Research shows that ginger affects certain inflammatory processes at a cellular level.”
In addition to its antioxidant activities, ginger also has anti-ulcer, antioxidant and analgesic properties. You won’t get the benefit from ginger eating foods like gingerbread, ginger tea, and gingersnaps because they don’t contain enough ginger to be effective. The best way to get enough ginger is to take a capsule twice a day. The study mentioned above used a capsule that contained 255 milligrams of ginger – this is equal to almost a bushel of ginger from the grocery store. This Pure Synergy Super Pure Ginger Supplement packs 42 milligrams per supplement.
As with any supplement, be sure to check with your physician before taking ginger. Start out with a smaller dose and work up from there. Be careful if you are taking blood thinners, ginger can have an effect on this.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), massage may be a useful tool to relieve knee pain. Follow these instructions for self-massage.
- Sit with knees pointing forward and feet flat on the floor.
- Make a loose fist with your hands and tap the upper, lower and middle thigh ten times with both hands. Repeat this three times.
- With your feet flat on the floor, place the heel of your hand on top of the thigh and glide it as far as the knee, then let go. Repeat this five times and do this also on the outer and inner sides of the thigh.
- Press four fingers into your knee tissue and move up and down five times. Repeat this all around the knee.
- Place the palm of your hand on top of our thigh, glide it down the thigh, over your knee and back up to the outer thigh.
7. Essential Oils
A study published in 2008 demonstrates that a massage oil with ginger and orange can relieve both pain and function in patients with mild pain due to osteoarthritis. Researchers have also found that putting an ointment containing cinnamon, ginger, mastic, and sesame oil had a positive impact on pain, stiffness, and range of motion.
A study with 570 people found evidence that acupuncture could help with pain due to osteoarthritis. Participants in the study received either 23 true or sham acupuncture sessions over 26 weeks or 6 acupuncture sessions over 12 weeks. The results showed that participants who received true acupuncture had more relief than the others as well as increased mobility.
9. CBD Oil
More and more evidence indicates that cannabis oil – also known as CBD oil can be effective in remedying joint pain. CBD is a kind of cannabinoid which occurs naturally in the cannabis plant and does not contain any psychoactive properties.
It’s ability to alleviate pain is attributed to the fact that it inhibits pain pathway signaling and its anti-inflammatory properties.
10. Tai Chi
The ancient art of Tai chi is a form of meditative exercise that may be a useful tool in managing knee pain. According to a year-long study including 204 people with knee, osteoarthritis it was found that Tai chi may have a similar or better impact on pain as conventional physical therapy.
11. Foam Rolling
Foam rolling can be highly beneficial to break up adhesions in the legs that can contribute to knee pain. Research also shows that rolling can help increase flexibility. Rolling the quadriceps and IT bands can help with pain relief when you have pain as a result of overuse or exercise. You can use a foam roller to loosen muscles that support the knees including the gluteus maximus and the tensor fasciae latae. You can purchase hard or soft foam rollers but many people with pain prefer using a soft roller. If you come across a place that really hurts when you roll, take a few minutes to wait and let the tension ease up. As you loosen up a tight area, this will feel better.
Here are some basic foam rolling instructions:
- Roll your quads – Position the foam roller on the floor and lie on your stomach with the front of one thigh over the foam roller. Your other leg should be on the floor for support. Roll over the front of the thigh from the top of the hip to the top of the kneecap in an up and down motion. Do this daily for 2 minutes.
- Roll your IT band – Put the foam roller on the floor and take a side position with the outside of your thigh over the foam roller. Your other leg should be on the floor for support. Roll the back of your thigh from the bottom of the buttock to the knee using an in an up and down motion. Do this for 2 minutes daily.
- Roll your hamstrings – Position the back of one thigh over the roller. The other leg should be on the floor for support. Roll your back thigh from bottom to your buttock to your knee in an up and down motion. Do this daily for 2 minutes.
- Roll your adductors – Lying on your side, place the inside of one thigh over the foam roller. Keep your other leg straight on the floor for support. Roll the inside of your thigh from your groin to your knee in a side to side motion for about 2 minutes.
12. Anti-inflammatory Supplements
There are a number of herbs and spices as well as other supplements that can help reduce inflammation and help with healing from injuries or degenerative diseases. Here are some of the best supplements to choose from:
13. Good Footwear
People who have knee pain should avoid wearing sandals, high heels, boots, boat shoes or Crocs. Because these types of shoes are lacking good support, they can aggravate not only knee pain but also back and hip pain.
If your knee pain seems to be related to exercise it would be wise to go speak with a specialist to get the best shoe for your exercise – especially if you are running. Some people find relief with speciality insoles.