Dealing with Chronic Knee Pain at a Young Age? What Are Your Options?

Posted on: 26 January 2016

While an active lifestyle can help fend off a number of health problems, from heart disease to stroke to even cancer, it can often wreak havoc on your joints—especially your knees. Injuries from contact sports or even overuse while training for a running or cycling event can often degrade the cartilage and damage the tendons and ligaments in your knees, leading to pain and weakness while standing or walking. As Americans have become more active over the past few decades, the number of knee replacements performed has skyrocketed. However, if you're relatively young, your orthopedist may be reluctant to perform a knee replacement surgery due to the need to replace an artificial knee every couple of decades. Do you have any options to help you live without pain? Read on to learn more about some ways to reduce knee pain and stiffness suffered at a young age. 

What can you do if your doctor has informed you you're not a good candidate for knee replacement surgery? 

Depending upon the severity of your ligament or cartilage damage, there may be one or more options short of knee replacement surgery that can provide you with significant relief.

  • Hyaluronic acid injections

If your knee pain is due to degraded cartilage, periodic injections of hyaluronic acid (similar to the same substance used to naturally lubricate your knees) can help provide some impact cushioning and protection. This procedure can be performed during an ordinary office visit, and you should be able to walk and drive normally after a hyaluronic acid injection (after waiting a few minutes in the doctor's office). 

In some cases, a single injection will provide pain relief for months. In others, you may find more frequent treatments are needed; however, you may need to obtain a physician's statement to this effect to ensure your health insurance will cover this procedure. 

  • Cortisone injections

Another relatively noninvasive option for cartilage issues or osteoarthritis can be cortisone injections. These injections help decrease inflammation around the joint, diminishing the amount of pain you'll feel while engaging in strenuous activities. While these injections will need to be repeated periodically, they shouldn't provide any disruption to your active lifestyle and can help you continue to run, bike, or swim without knee pain.

  • Meniscus trimming

In some cases, your knee pain may be due to a torn meniscus rather than degraded cartilage or damaged tendons or ligaments. The meniscus is the doughnut-shaped piece of flexible tissue that sits between your kneecap and lower leg bones, helping cushion the impact each time you step down. A damaged meniscus may "catch" during movement, pulling other tissues in your knee and eventually leading to bone-on-bone impact. 

While the common solution for this a generation ago was simply to remove the meniscus, this can lead to premature osteoarthritis and other potential complications. However, trimming or repairing your meniscus can help restore it to like-new condition. Although technically classified as a type of surgery, this procedure can sometimes be performed under "twilight sleep" or local anesthesia, rather than requiring you to undergo general anesthesia. A surgeon will use special tools (guided through tiny cameras) to trim the torn pieces of meniscus or stitch a tear together. 

What should you do if these options don't relieve your knee pain?

If these procedures haven't provided you with any relief, you may need more serious intervention. If you're dealing with damaged cartilage or a torn (or missing) meniscus, a meniscus transplant may be your best option. This involves the harvesting of a meniscus (and a small piece of bone) from an organ donor. A piece of bone beneath your kneecap is then removed and replaced with the donor bone while the meniscus is guided into place. During the healing process, the cadaver bone will fuse with your own bone, helping secure the healthy meniscus in a single spot. For tendon or ligament damage, a cadaver transplant may also provide a viable treatment option.