Athletes, older individuals who are rarely active, young individuals who are active all the time, and everyone in between has the potential of suffering from some form of knee pain at some point in their lives. Today’s article will cover the common causes for knee pain, the R.I.C.E principle and the importance of knee cold compression.
Common Causes of Knee Pain
There are a lot of different reasons why you might be suffering with knee pain. One of the most common is a knee injury, such as a fracture, dislocation, meniscus tear and ligament tear. For many people, knee injuries are caused by supportive muscles not being properly warmed up before an activity. It doesn’t matter whether you are about to run a marathon, or even just bending down to do some gardening. If your muscles and joints are not warmed up, there is a chance of injury. For example, the thigh muscles located above the knee are not often stretched before cardiovascular activity. This causes your knees to absorb more of the shock since the supporting muscles have not been activated.
Other common reasons for knee pain include (but are not limited to):
- Excess strain -- Doing the same repetitive exercises, using weights that are beyond what the muscles can handle, or even just from poor form.
- Osteoarthritis -- This is where pain, inflammation, and joint destruction are caused by degeneration and deterioration of the joint.
- IT Band Syndrome -- Extremely common injury among runners. It occurs when the iliotibial (IT) band, which is a ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh, all the way from the hip to the shin, becomes extremely tight or inflamed. (It attaches to the knee and helps stabilize and move the joint.)
- Bursitis -- A bursa, which is essentially a “sac” that contains a tiny amount of fluid, helps to prevent friction when the joint moves. However when it is overused, such as repeated bending and kneeling, the bursa can become inflammed, causing knee pain.
- Patellar tendinitis -- The patellar tendon runs from your kneecap down to your tibia and is responsible for absorbing a lot of force during physical activities that involve running and jumping. With overuse, the connective tissue that make up the tendon can become injured or irritated.
Whatever the case may be, the pain that is felt in the knee is typically the result of inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s natural response to dealing with pain or other stressors and usually it will cause a temporary loss of function in the knee joint, pain in the knees, stiffness, redness, and swelling. If you have too much inflammation then it can wear down the cartilage in your knee which is not healthy for you in the long term and can lead to bigger issues down the road. For that reason, being cognizant of your knee pain and making sure you treat inflammation properly, will go a long way to saving your knees.
The R.I.C.E. Principle & Knee Cold Compression
R.I.C.E. is a well known principle that has been recommended by doctors for several years now and is crucial to managing your knee pain and/or recovering from a knee injury. R.I.C.E. stands for:
- Rest -- You want to rest and protect your knee as soon as it becomes injured or sore. This means stopping any activities or sports that cause increased pain or soreness, or at least changing what you are doing for the time being.
- Ice -- Applying ice to the affected knee area helps to reduce the pain and any swelling by slowing the rush of blood to the aggravated joint and it also numbs nerve endings, which helps to dull the pain.
- Compression -- Compression is where you wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage. Doing this also helps to decrease swelling in the area. This is the key to knee cold compression, combining the cold and compression together.
- Elevation -- Elevating the injured joint above the level of the heart to reduce the pressure and accumulation of fluid around the joint.
Knee Cold Compression Therapy
Cold compression therapy is when you mix the benefits of cryotherapy and compression therapy, by applying ice and some sort of compression wrap around the affected joint. This form of therapy is widely used in the treatment of pain and inflammation after certain types of injuries and after a medical or surgical procedure. How does it work and does it provide relief? Keep reading.
Ice is used to lower the temperature of the tissue surrounding the injured area, which has the effect of narrowing the blood vessels. It’s a process called “vasoconstriction” which is a decrease in the amount of blood being delivered to the affected area, which helps in reducing the amount of swelling that occurs. After approximately 10 minutes or of applying ice, the blood vessels will dilate (begin to open up once again) which increases the blood flow. This allows the delivery of much-needed oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the tissue. (Although blood flow is higher, it is still lower compared to a situation where ice wasn’t applied.) This process is called “vasolidation” and slows down cell death, reduces the change of further tissue damage and gets rid of waste. (Note: The cycling between vasoconstriction and dilation is known as the Hunting Response.) In addition to the above, ice also helps to numb the nerve endings which dulls the pain and makes it bearable.
The added compression puts pressure on the tissue and helps to prevent edema, which is the build-up of fluid which causes swelling as well. The compression hinders fluid loss from the blood vessels into the area that is injured, which decreases the chances of it accumulating. In addition, ice with compression is significantly colder than just using ice by itself, because the compression increases the contact of the ice pack with the skin. This means that the affected tissue reaches lower temperatures quicker and it also maintains the lower temperatures even after you are done treatment.
Many studies, such as the one at the Kreiskrankenhaus Bopfingen, Germany, have proven that the combination of compression and cold therapy for treating injuries or post surgery recovery has many benefits over just ice by itself. It is also known to help with arthritis, patella issues, meniscus injuries, chronic knee pain, sprains and more. Will it work for you? We believe that it will, but again, it all depends on the type of pain and/or injury you are dealing with. We highly recommend that you have a conversation with your doctor or health practitioner before you decide to go down this road.
Disclaimer: We are not doctors here at SimplyJnJ. The information posted above on “Knee Cold Compression” was posted for information purposes only. Always consult a doctor before implementing a new treatment method for your pain.