Nearly half of elderly Singaporeans suffer from knee pain, and 23.7% of Singaporean adults between the age of 18 and 50 are reported to be suffering from arthritis or chronic joint problems.
People often dismiss knee pain as nothing serious because it's just so common.However, it's important to realise that if your knee hurts, it's actually sending help signals to you. Don't ignore it for too long, as it might develop into something dangerous!
Here's what you need to know.
First of all, you need to understand your knees
The knee joint is made up of 3 main compartments:
- Thighbone (femur)
- Shinbone (tibia)
- Kneecap (patella)
Cartilage is found on each of these compartments to ensure smooth movement of the joint. Then, you have the knee ligaments. They are bands of tough, elastic, connective tissues which helps to stabilize your joints. These bands ensure that your knees don't buckle when you walk or do sports.
A simple muscle pull/strain or tendon inflammation is not difficult to treat
If your knee pain is caused by a muscle pull/strain or tendon inflammation, you can expect to recover quickly. This condition responds very well with rest, anti-inflammation medication, and physiotherapy.
Knee pains should go away within 1 - 2 weeks
Knee pains caused by the usual "strain" or "muscle pull" should typically go away within 1 - 2 weeks. If it persists beyond that, there might be some extend of damage to your cartilage or even the underlying bone.
Dr Henry shares some signs and symptoms that you should look out for. These are the "red flags" that might indicate potential serious knee issues.
1. Swelling in the knee
Dr Henry emphasised that all joint swelling are abnormal. Hence, if you notice that your knees swell up after an injury, or intermittently, something is definitely wrong. Your ligament or the meniscus could be torn.
2. Your knee feels unstable
Do you feel that you're knee is "loose'" or giving way when you attempt to change direction rapidly or when you're trying to go around a corner/staircase? This might indicate that your ligament is torn.
3. You are unable to bend or straighten your knee fully
This symptom is referred to as locking. This can be due to a torn meniscus trapped inside the joint, preventing it from straightening fully.
Weak knee muscles cause your knee to buckle
When the muscles controlling your knees are weak, your knees might buckle even while standing.
The most common cause of such muscle weakness is due to nerve compression in the spine, usually due to a slip disc or bone spurs. Other causes of knee muscle weakness include medications like steriods or cholesterol-lowering drugs, or prolonged inactive lifestyle.
Knee buckling is not normal, get them checked!
According to Dr Henry, knee buckling is not normal. If you're experiencing this, he strongly feels that you should to seek advice from an orthopaedic surgeon to determine the cause of it.
A MRI scan of your knee or your spine would be required if your doctor suspects knee ligamentous injuries or a nerve compression in your spine.
PRP injection is good for soft tissue conditions in knees
If your knee pain is due to soft tissue injuries such as ligament partial tear, tendinitis, or muscle tears, you can safely give PRP injections a try. They are readily available in most established orthopaedic clinics.
PRP stands for platelet rich plasma injection. This technique is developed based on the fact that platelets cells in our own blood contains a vast amount of our bodies’ natural growth factors and healing power.
How does a PRP injection work?
Your doctor will start by drawing some blood from you, and processing this blood in a sterile environment for 15 minutes.
Afterwhich, the processed plasma (the “liquid” portion of the blood) containing a high concentration of the platelets cells (aka the "goodies" that will heal the injured body parts), will be injected into the affected area.
Mild to moderate arthritis can be controlled with medication or injections
Stages of knee osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a result of "wear and tear" of the cartilage in the knee. It's typically comes with aging, but of course, to varying degrees and different severity.
Dr Henry assures you that it's not a life-threatening disease. Hence, not everyone who suffers from this have to go under the knife. For people with mild arthritis, you can heave a sigh of relief! The condition can be well controlled with medication or lubricant injections.
A knee replacement is the only solution for severe knee arthritis
Dr Henry points out that if your persistent knee pain prevents you from doing your daily activities and affects your quality of life, it's quite possible that you have severe knee arthritis.
Here's a small checklist provided by Dr Henry to see if you need a knee replacement.
- You can no longer take morning stroll
- You cannot walk to the nearby cafe for a cup of coffee
- You are unable to go the supermarket to buy groceries
- You have to rely on daily strong painkillers to when you are on a holiday
If you have answered yes to most of the above, Dr Henry strongly suggests that you at least see an orthopaedic surgeon and do an X ray/ MRI scan to determine the severity of your knee arthritis.
Knee replacement surgeries have a success rate of >95%
Total knee replacement
With modern technology, orthopaedic surgeons are pushing the success rate of knee replacement surgeries to >95%. According to Dr Henry, knee replacement surgery is the most reliable treatment option for end stage knee arthritis in the elderly population.
Don't suffer in silence, seek treatment early!
Dr Henry enjoys using this analogy when he's counselling his patients – “humans are just like cars, and the knee joints are like the tyres. If your car engine and everything else are still fine, what would you do when the car tyres are worn out?”
Don't let your condition worsen. If you're in pain, get it checked as soon as possible and let your doctor find the best treatment plan you. Take care!
To find out more, you can read Dr Henry Chan's full DoctorxDentist Session on knee pain here.