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Got Knee Pain?

"Knees are the most vexing of the body's 68 joints and are the most common reason that people visit orthopedic surgeons, says Dr. Joshua Siegel, spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons." (June 2007 Better Homes and Gardens)

Knee pain might be less vexing if we took a more comprehensive look at its causes. And so, we will.

Are you taking fish oil supplements? Have you had your low back adjusted by your chiropractor? Are you doing yoga? If it is important to you to save your knees, and maintain your ability to walk, read on and learn what most people don’t know about getting rid of knee pain.

Knee pain, as with most conditions, is divided into two classifications, acute and chronic, which are based on how long ago the pain began, how it began, and its intensity. Chronic conditions are those that continue or recur over an extended period, often come on gradually, or may be the result of an incompletely healed injury. Acute conditions are those that begin or worsen suddenly, and are often caused by injury, infection, allergy, or abrupt change in a chronic degenerative process like arthritis. This article is primarily about chronic and acute non-injury-induced knee pain.

First, let’s deal with the arthritis confusion, recognizing that knee pain invariably includes, or is, an arthritic condition. Since 1983 I have interviewed many patients who have indicated that they suffer with chronic knee pain. It has been my practice to inquire as to what these patients believe to be the cause of their knee pain. Overwhelmingly, their response has been "arthritis." At that point, I usually ask if the patient knows what arthritis is. Most, know nothing, and erroneously believe that "it just happens", that it is inevitable following injury to a joint, and/or is a result of aging. Even young people with chronic knee pain will answer that getting old causes arthritis. For some of these patients, my questions create a beginning for consideration of their condition relative to its causes and to the approaches that can be used to restore the health of their knees.

Most chronic knee pain is a result of a combination of factors. Common factors include, 1) food allergies and food sensitivities that may result in inflammation in the joint or a reaction in which the body attacks the joint, 2) chronic illness in the digestive tract that may have no other symptoms than joint pain, 3) loss of mobility in the low back which may negatively impact gait, or may alter nerve conduction from the spinal nerves of the low back which control leg muscles that stabilize the knee, 4) insufficient stretching exercise to maintain full range of motion in the lower extremities which results in restricted motion, altered gait, and poor nutrient delivery to the joints, and 5) insufficient walking which results in weak supporting muscles and poor nutrient delivery to the joint.

Treatment for chronic knee pain should be divided into two types; functional and cover-up. Functional treatment would begin by assessing the factors that influence the knee specifically, and the body generally, and then would focus on creating changes that would enable the knee (and the body) to heal itself. (It is worth noting that the body is designed to repair itself.) Functional treatments will be discussed in this article. Cover-up treatments include medications to mask pain and block inflammation, and limitation of use. Cover-up treatments may be appropriate for short-term use, but are disastrous when used long-term. Masking body-protecting pain signals leaves an individual at risk of causing further damage. Anti-inflammatory drugs are known to damage joint structures, injure the lining of the intestinal tract, and cause more than 10,000 deaths a year in the US. Limiting knee use means walking less. Unfortunately, as we all know, when you don’t use it, you lose it.

Functional self-care is most important. Examples are listed below. Keep in mind that chronic health problems are usually caused by multiple factors, and therefore require several simultaneously combined changes to relieve the pain and restore function.

In my experience, elimination of foods that commonly cause arthritis provides the greatest relief from knee pain. Some of the foods that commonly cause joint pain are: dairy products, gluten, sugars, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, meats, and shellfish.

Full-body stretching, such as yoga, with attention to the legs and low back is remarkable in its ability to improve knee function and reduce pain. Stretching should be done for 30 or more minutes one to two times per day.

Baths with epsom salts are often very effective in the treatment of a wide variety of musculoskeletal conditions, including knee pain. I recommend using an entire half-gallon of salts in a warm to hot bath. These magnesium salts can be purchased at drug stores and large grocery stores. They have been used with amazing results for generations.

Essential fatty acids (fish oil and flax oil) taken as supplements can, in many cases, reduce inflammation and knee pain. Recall that fish oil has been used for generations in the treatment of arthritis. When supplementing with these fats, it is important to also take a fat-soluble antioxidant such as vitamin E to protect these oils from oxidizing (turning rancid) in your body.

Aerobic exercise has proven extremely effective at reducing joint pain. Effects appear to be mediated in part through improvements in circulation, detoxification, and elimination of wastes. In more general terms, balance and wellness in the body is improved by an optimization of the turnover/cycling of bodily fluids and gases, and their physiologically active compounds, that occurs with regular exercise.

Functional treatment of knee pain by healthcare practitioners can be valuable, and in many cases, invaluable. A doctor of chiropractic (DC) can provide treatment through adjustment (manipulation) of the lower part of the spine, the knees, and/or the feet. Some DCs are trained to advise patients regarding non-musculoskeletal treatments such as dietary change, improvement of digestive function, and vitamin supplementation. Other practitioners that treat knee pain include; doctors of oriental medicine, medical doctors, homeopathists, herbalists, naturopaths, bodyworkers, physical therapists, podiatrists, and osteopaths.

Knee pain is not uncommon in children. In my experience adverse food reactions are the most common cause of childhood knee pain. These pains, and associated leg pains, are often misdiagnosed as "growing pains". Beware; there is no evidence, medical or other, that demonstrates that growing causes pain. These pains are often in one leg, or favor one leg. This being the case, one would have to ask is the leg that is pain-free not growing? Again, growth does not cause pain.

Finally, I offer three pieces of advice:

  1. take the time to find out what’s causing your knee pain, and make the necessary changes to stop it.
  2. beware that chronic joint pain is an unquestionable sign of ongoing inflammation in the joint, that inflammation is destructive to tissues, and that unresolved, it is probable that your knee will deteriorate at an accelerated rate,
  3. recognize your knee pain as an opportunity to learn about your body, and appreciate that the functional changes that you make to heal your knee will enhance the health and vitality of your entire being.

Recommended reading:

Detecting Your Hidden Food Allergies by William Crook, MD

Food Allergy and Nutrition Revolution by James Braly, MD

Optimal Digestion by Trent Nichols, MD