Conditions > Knee Pain

Natural Knee Pain Relief

Quick Summary

  • Most knee pain does go away on its own, and surgery is often times unnecessary.
     

  • In most cases, knee pain is caused by one of two things: an acute knee injury, or knee degeneration that occurs as you age.
     

  • Natural remedies for knee pain include: rest, osteopathic manipulation, acupuncture treatments, and regenerative prolotherapy injections.

 

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What causes knee pain?

The knee is a complex structure with a lot of moving parts. Your knees bear the weight of your entire body, while simultaneously allowing it to walk, run, squat, and jump. In this complex system, one thing going “wrong” can lead to pain. Some of the most common conditions that cause knee pain are:
 

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Runner’s knee (Patellofemoral pain syndrome or IT band syndrome)

  • Bursitis

  • Baker’s cyst

  • Ligament tear (e.g. ACL tear)

  • Meniscus tear

  • Tendinitis

  • Referred pain from hip or foot problems

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Knee pain when running?

If you experience knee pain when running, your pain is likely occurring in the front of the knee (under or around your knee cap), or along the sides of the knee.
 

This type of knee pain is commonly called runner’s knee. The term actually describes one of two problems in the knee. The first is called patellofemoral pain syndrome, which refers to pain in the front of the knee. The second is called iliotibial band syndrome, or IT band syndrome, and refers to pain along the sides of your knee.

 

Patellofemoral pain syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome continues to be a bit of a medical mystery. Pain occurs behind or around the kneecap (the patella bone), and is noticeable when you flex the knee when climbing stairs or after sitting. Although common symptoms have been observed, the cause of runner’s knee is still guesswork. The best guess today is overuse of the knee strains the ligaments that hold the patella bone in place.



IT band syndrome

Iliotibial band syndrome, or IT band syndrome, causes pain along the side of the knee. Although IT band has been associated with hip and thigh problems, it is actually limited to the side of the knee. Pain is most often felt when running or bending. Like patellofemoral pain, the cause behind IT band syndrome is still being debated, but evidence points to overuse of the knee as runners, hikers, and cyclists are the most common sufferers.

 

Referred knee pain

Knee pain when running can also be coming from the hip or foot. If you have low arches or develop a bad gait, weight bearing patterns on the knees change. Uneven distribution means new stress to the muscles, ligaments, meniscus and cartilage, all of which can be painful.

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Knee pain when bending?

Pain when bending the knee to sit, squat, or climb the stairs occurs because of the pressures inside the knee joint. Where the pain is felt will help determine what is causing the pain. If you experience noticeable pain when bending down or climbing the stairs, it can be a sign of bursitis, osteoarthritis, or damaged ligaments and tendons.
 

Bursitis

Knee bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae in the knee joint. Repetitive movements of the joint, prolonged pressure on the joint can cause bursitis from kneeling, or from an acute injury such as a fall. A knee with bursitis experiences more pain when bending as pressure is applied on the inflamed bursa.

 

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It can affect any joint in the body, including the knee joint. As the cartilage in the knee joint wears down, or degenerates, pain is experienced. The pain is especially noticeable when bending the knee because it causes all of the structures to tighten. Knee osteoarthritis is a possible cause if you have a family history of degenerative joint disease, and have had a previous knee injury.

 

Sprained ligaments

A sprained knee occurs when ligaments in the knee stretch or tear completely. This is an acute injury and can happen during training or sport, a force to the knee, or a sudden jerky movement. Depending on the ligament injured, pain can occur when the knee is bent. Ligament injuries are typically accompanied by swelling and bruising.

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Pain behind the knee?

If you experience pain in the back of the knee, called posterior knee pain, you may have a strained hamstring muscle, a meniscal tear, or a condition known as Baker’s cyst. However, though pain feels like it is in the back of your knee, it may still be caused by runner’s knee, osteoarthritis, or a ligament injury.

 

Hamstring strain (Tendonitis)

Pain behind the knee can occur if your hamstring tendon is strained. The hamstring is a tendon in the back of your knee. A sudden force on the tendon can stretch it beyond its range of motion, resulting in a strain. Your risk of injury increases if you have generally weaker hamstrings.

 

Meniscal tear

Pain behind the knee can also be a sign of a torn meniscus. The meniscus is the cartilage the sit between the bones of the knee. The job of the meniscus is to be a shock absorber and prevent the two bones from touching. When this cartilage is damaged from a sudden twist of the knee, it hurts. Depending on the tear, pain can feel like it is coming from the back of the knee.

 

Baker’s cyst

A baker’s cyst is a noticeable bump on the back of your knee. Pain caused by a baker’s cyst (also known as popliteal cyst) can vary from mild to very noticeable. Most times, it is not a sharp pain but rather dull pain accompanied by a feeling of tightness. A baker’s cyst forms when one of the bursae in the knee fill with fluid that occurs when a knee is injured.

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Knee pain and past injuries

Problems with the knee can occur as a result of poorly treated injuries that occurred earlier in life. When the knee is injured and suffers trauma - think football injury, a fall off a bike, a fall on ice, an abrupt and sudden twist - you may experience an acute injury, such as an ACL tear or a meniscal tear.
 

Past injuries that were never healed properly can also lead to chronic knee problems later in life. Not healing a knee injury properly (or more accurately, not healing it long enough) can result in weakened knee ligaments or tendons. This makes the knee susceptible to re-injury as you grow older.
 

If you’ve suffered a knee injury in the past and did not experience complete or sufficient healing, treatments like regenerative injections that can naturally restart the healing process.

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How to relieve knee pain?

In most cases, knee pain is caused by one of two things: an acute knee injury, or knee degeneration that occurs as you age.
 

Treatment to relieve your knee pain will depend on which of these two causes is responsible for your knee pain. Let’s examine the best course of action for treating an acute knee injury.

 

Treating acute knee injury

If your knee pain started after a possible knee injury, such as a fall, a sport injury, or a sudden twisting motion of the knee, consider the following course of treatment:
 

  • Stay off the knee, and let it rest.

  • If necessary, stabilize the knee using a brace, and let it rest.

  • Don’t exercise! Let it rest more.

  • Take NSAIDs (Advil) if absolutely necessary. Continue to rest.

 

If you can’t tell, the best way to recover from an acute knee injury is to stay off the painful knee. This doesn’t mean jumping into a wheelchair and not walking, but it does mean cutting out running, exercising, and activities that put excessive pressures on the knee. Using ice, compression, and elevation to suppress inflammation can help with pain, but I’m not a big fan of reducing inflammation. Your body can and will heal itself. But first you must let it. But how long?

 

Recovery time for acute knee injury

Most people with knee pain try to “work through the pain” and return to normal activities too quickly. They exercise, run, squat too soon. Often times, how you think your knee is recovering versus how your knee is actually recovering are not the same.
 

Recovery time for a knee injury depends on a number of factors:

  • Past knee injuries

  • Your current state of health

  • Diet

  • Stress levels

  • Genetic predisposition

 

If you’ve suffered previous trauma to your knees, or if you have a family history of arthritis, or if you have a high-stress job, your rest period will likely need to be longer just in case.
 

If you are relatively healthy, stress-free, and do not have a history of arthritis in your family, you may be able to return to normal activities faster. It all depends on your body, and every body is unique. However, it’s better to rest longer than to risk further injury.

 

Prolotherapy for acute knee injury

If your acute knee injury involves ligament or tendon damage, regenerative injections, prolotherapy, PRP, or stem cells, may help with strengthening the damaged tissue. Like its name implies, regenerative injections regenerate damaged tissue and stimulate the body to regrow healthy, new tissue.
 

Acupuncture and osteopathic manipulation are recommended adjuncts to prolotherapy treatments and help ensure normal function of the knee following prolotherapy or PRP treatments.

 

Stretches to relieve knee pain

Stretching a painful knee after an injury is not recommended. You’ll feel lots of pain with very little long term relief. The best thing you can do is rest the knee.

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Relief from chronic knee pain

If you experience chronic knee pain, you may have arthritis of the knee. Knee arthritis is a degeneration of the knee joint structures. Pain can vary depending on the progression of the arthritis.
 

There are several forms of arthritis that affect the knee joint and result in chronic knee pain. These are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.


Natural remedies for chronic knee pain include lifestyle changes, gentle exercise, weight loss, and herbal ointments. Positive lifestyle changes can include:
 

  • Gentle exercise such as tai chi, yoga, and swimming.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight to relieve pressure on the knees.

  • Herbal ointments such as capsaicin ointment and Emu Oil.

  • Supplements like glucosamine sulfate.

  • Osteopathic manipulation treatments.

  • Acupuncture treatments.


Chronic knee pain and debridement surgery

The body is very capable of healing and regeneration. When considering debridement (or meniscectomy) surgery for knee osteoarthritis, remember these words. According to a growing body of research, debridement surgeries provide no additional benefit than manual therapies for osteoarthritis of the knee. If surgery is needed, consider natural alternatives such as prolotherapy or PRP.

 

Accurate knee pain diagnosis matters

Before starting any exercise or treatment plan, you will need to see a physician to understand what is causing your pain. If you have an acute tear, regenerative treatments such as prolotherapy and PRP can improve healing. If it’s tight muscles or trigger points, manual manipulation or acupuncture treatments can dramatically speed up recovery. The key takeaway here is to not ignore any knee pain that persists beyond a “reasonable” amount of rest and recovery.

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Can sciatica cause knee pain?

Yes, nerves from the sciatic nerve run through the knee. To learn more about sciatica, and whether or not you experience the real symptoms of sciatic pain, read our full guide here.

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How to prevent knee injuries


Runners and athletes

To prevent knee injuries during sport or exercise, consider the following suggestions:
 

  • Wear proper-fitting shoes for your activities

  • Stretch and warm up the knees before intense exercise

  • Get regular osteopathic manipulation treatments

  • Maintain a healthy weight

 

Office workers

Sitting down in a chair all day also puts a great deal of strain on the ligaments in the knee. Consider the following suggestions to prevent knee pain:
 

  • Get up and move around

  • Keep your activities up

  • Maintain a healthy weight

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