Knee stiffness is the feeling of trouble moving the knee joint or the loss of range of motion in the knee, which impedes your flexibility, strength and stability throughout the entire leg. If you suffer from stiff knees, then you know all about difficulty straightening or bending your knee - not to mention the struggle with walking normally. Stiff knee problems can affect your daily living, so it's important to get a handle on what's causing your knee stiffness for effective treatment.
Common Causes of Knee Stiffness and Pain
There are many causes of stiff knees which can dramatically affect the kind of knee pain treatment your doctor recommends. Oftentimes, the more information you can share about the injury (is there stiffness behind the knee? Stiffness in the front of the knee? Did you recently participate in strenuous activity?), the easier it is to isolate the cause of knee stiffness. In most cases, stiff knees are also accompanied by knee pain.
Trauma to the Knee Joint - A recent injury to the leg, such as a knee sprain, ACL tear, bone fracture, or meniscus tear, may be a factor in knee stiffness. Many knee injuries may swell up as damage to the area causes blood and other fluids fill the joint. This may cause a stiff knee and make the area difficult to bend or straighten. In the case of injury, it is common for both knee stiffness and knee pain to be present at the site of trauma.
Arthritis - One of the most common causes of knee stiffness is arthritis. There are many types of arthritis, but the ones most associated with stiff knees are knee osteoarthritis (the wearing down of the knee joint as we age), rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints), and post-injury arthritis.
Knee Bursitis - Around our bones and tendons there are small, fluid-filled sacs known as bursae. These help with cushioning and supporting areas such as the knee joint. If a bursa sack becomes inflamed, it is known as bursitis. This inflammation around the knee may cause stiff knees and knee pain.
Gout - Gout is a type of arthritis where the consumption of certain foods and beverages causes uric acid to fill up in the joints, leading to swelling. As a result of that swelling, patients with gout often find themselves with stiff knee pain.
Knee tendonitis/tendinitis (also known as patellar tendonitis) - Tendonitis may occur from overuse of the knee, especially in athletes participating in sports that involve a lot of jumping. This may cause inflammation in the patellar tendon, which in turn causes discomfort toward the front of the knee, right below the kneecap. This pain may make it difficult for patients to bend or fully straighten the leg, a sign of knee stiffness.
Diagnosing a Stiff Knee
If you are suffering from knee stiffness, consult your physician for further assessment. He or she may ask about your recent activities and also review your medical history. Your doctor may also request a radiological exam, such as an MRI or X-ray.
What can be done for Knee Stiffness
As with most conditions, it's important to determine the cause of your stiff knee in order to receive the appropriate treatment. You should always see your physician for an appropriate diagnosis of your stiff knee problem. Here are some common ways to help relieve knee pain associated with stiffness:
In the case of recent trauma or injury to the knee joint, you may want to consider cryotherapy (cold therapy). Ice the area with ice packs. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend a cryotherapy product which will provide prolonged cold to the area. (These are often used for patients who have knee stiffness from recent knee surgery as well.)
For knee stiffness as a result of swelling, your doctor may aspirate (or drain) the area. For example, an ACL tear may cause the knee joint to fill with blood. To relieve the area of pressure, your physician may use a needle to remove some of the excess blood and fluid. This may help minimize the swelling and also reduce stiffness in the knee.
Physical therapy may also be recommended for knee stiffness. A physical therapist will work with you to increase your range of motion and to find exercises that help decrease inflammation. Exercise helps to stretch the muscles and strengthen the areas around the joint.
Nutrition and weight loss may be another recommendation in the cases where weight may play a role in the knee stiffness. In the case of gout, a change in diet may help reduce the amount of uric acid in the body.
While these are the most common treatments for stiff knee, it is not a comprehensive guide. Be sure to consult your physician for any knee stiffness problems to get the most appropriate treatment for your situation.