What are some of the most common causes of lateral knee pain? Find out why do they happen and how to recover from them.
Joints need movement in order to be healthy, however it is really common issue to experience pain from inflammation or other issues with your joints when you perform exercises or overuse them. Being active is good, but being too active - for instance when you are motivated to lose weight and you jog every day - you are actually damaging your joints and ligaments. Joints need a lot of time to recover, unlike muscles. Taking a break means slowing the progress or not participating in the fun activity with the rest of your teammates, but proper healing would speed up the healing process and prevent any further complications.
There are many common injuries and issues with joints however, we want to talk about one not that common problem - lateral knee pain. Lateral knee is not a usual place of pain, and thus might be a little difficult to find the source of the problem. Let's go through few of the most common causes, why they happen, ways to ease the pain and how to prevent it.
Iliotibial band friction
The Iliotibial band is thick connective tissues strip connecting muscles in the thigh. It is located at the lateral side of the leg. Iliotibial band has an important role, it is used for the movement of the legs connecting the hip muscles and the tibia (the larger and stronger bone in the leg below the knee).
The inflammation occurs because the iliotibial band rubs against the knee joint. The more activity you have the more chance there is of band inflammation, which is why more active people have a bigger chance of experiencing this unpleasant issue. The most common symptom of inflammation of the iliotibial band is a pain on the outside of the knee. And the issue is usually resolved by reducing or completely stopping the activities (for instance running, swimming, jogging, playing basketball and etc.). Also, great option is to place ice to reduce the pain and improve the recovery rate from inflammation of the band.
Lateral collateral ligament injury
Lateral collateral ligament is ligament located in the knee area - more specifically outside of the knee joint and connects the thighbone with the fibula (the smaller bone of the lower part of the leg). Its main function is to provide stability to the knee during movement. The injury occurs because of rotation force applied to the knee, mostly due to quick movements or lifting heavy weights. Symptoms of lateral collateral ligament injury include:
weakness in the knee
swelling and tenderness
pain in the knee
A rest of the joint and knee support such as a knee brace is often recommended to help recover from such injury. Icing is also applied if there is swelling or the pain is moderate or severe.
Biceps femoris tendonitis
Biceps femoris is a large muscle located on the back side of the thighs. Its main function is to help your flex the knee. Being such an important part of knee flexion, biceps femoris tendons could get inflamed and develop tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons).The most common reason of developing tendonitis in the biceps femoris is overuse of the muscle.
Symptoms of tendonitis of the biceps femoris include:
pain when performing movements such as running, walking, bending, squatting and sitting
pain with rotation of the foot
lateral knee pain
pain when bending the knee
pain at the back of your knee
Avoiding too much activity, avoiding stretching (at least at the beginning of the recovery process) and compresses are often recommended to help ease the pain and help the recovery process. Sitting too much is also not recommended, you have to be active but in moderate levels.
As the name states it is a rather common injury for many athletes, it is the most often found in runners but it could be developed by any active person, especially in sports that require a lot of movements with your knees (jogging, running, bicycling, jumping, dancing and etc)
The main causes of runner's knee are:
problems with the feet
Few of the most common symptoms of runner's knee are:
pain around the knee joint (lateral, at the back side and infront)
pain during movement - walking, running and even sitting
To help speed up the recovery process it is often recommended to:
give your knees a time off
try not to lock them (when lying down for instance) put a small cushion under your knees to relieve the pressure on them
Bursitis of the knee
Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa (thin cushions filled with fluid, located between bones and other tissues such as tendons or muscles).Bursitis is mainly caused because of overuse of the knee and surrounding tendons, muscles and ligaments. It can be caused by injury as well. Activities like shoveling, tennis, gold and other that require repetitive actions are often the most common source of this issue.
Symptoms of bursitis, similar to other inflammations include:
To prevent bursitis is always a great idea to train after warming up properly and try not to increase the weight dramatically. If however you already are experiencing this issue, you should give your knees some time off of most activities, but not completely. Joints need movement to be healthy, as well as tendons, so refrain from lifting weights and too much athletic activities but do not stay immobile too much. Medicaments might help reduce the pain, but we would strongly advise you to consult with physician in order to perform the tests required to identify your issue.
Few things to help you avoid lateral knee pain
Warming up - It might sound so boring, but is so much overlooked to warm up properly. Warming up your joints and muscles should take about 5-15 minutes and will greatly reduce the risk of injuries and complications. Take for example athletes, they always warm up. It is like preparation for the fun activity they are going to perform.
Rest enough - It is great to be active regularly but you need to take some time off to help your recovery process. We know that you probably want to keep progressing and not to miss a lot of the fun activities and good emotions but your bones, joints and muscles need proper recovery. Recovery time depends on the activity type and the time that you perform it. For instance if you train 5 times a week, it would be a great idea to take a week off every 6-10 weeks.
Lose weight - if you are overweight and have been waiting for yet another reason to motivate you to lose few pounds, this might be exactly what you have been waiting for. Lowering the weight decreases the pressure of your joints and would help you recover more quickly and improve the health of your knee joints.
Few things to help you relieve the pain
Leave them heal - do not return to your activities if your knees are not pain free - you have to allow your knees to heal and if you hurry to go back to woking out or practicing your tennis movements you might further facilitate the issue. Although sometimes you might not feel pain at first if you experience any knee pain during the activities that you normally do, that might be strong evidence that though you do not experience pain, but you experience it when return to the normal activities, your injury is not yet fully healed.
Consult with a doctor to make sure that you do not have other issues with your ligaments or joints.
Apply ice - ice helps to relieve the pain and swelling in the inflamed area.
Try not to lock your knees - locking the joints is a bad habit and hurts them, instead of putting the pressure on muscles and tendons it is all over the knee and ligaments.
Take notice where hurts you the most and try to avoid this movement or activity.
Knee braces- are used to help your knees be more stable and recover more quickly after an injury. Their usage should be discussed with
your physician, to make sure that you have chosen the correct braces.
Perform stretches for hamstrings, calves and hips. Stretching improves the mobility of the joints, tendons and muscles. If you have tight muscles, which is really common for active people, would be a great idea to relieve the tension by stretching. However you should be really careful and should avoid stretching right after injury. Stretching is usually recommended after the inflammation starts to heal. You have to wait at least 4-7 days after the injury and if you have been experiencing a lateral knee pain for a long time it would be better if the stretches are performed by physician.
Here is a video showing how to do great stretching on your hamstrings
If you are working standing up - consider sitting once every 30-50 minutes for few minutes. Standing up for a prolonged period of time puts a lot of pressure on your knees and might be the source of your pain.
If you are working sitting - you should consider moving every 30-45 minutes to give your joint some movement and make it produce joint fluid (which is lubrication of the joint that feeds it and helps it heal).
Medicaments - medicaments might help you reduce the pain, we do not recommend it. If the pain is too severe it would be best to consult with a physician and not to wait and reduce the pain, because relieving the pain with medicamends might help you reduce it, but the trauma might not heal properly.
If you are experiencing joint pain in your lateral knee you should really consider taking a break from your activities. If you leave the injury or trauma without proper treatment it might lead to a lot of complications. Prevention is always the better option, but proper treating is crucial for the overall knee health. As you can see, most of the traumas have similar symptoms and causes of the issue, and in order to be sure about the problem you have to consult with a physician.