KNEE PAIN IN YOUNG ADULTS.
CHONDROMALACIA PATELLA (ANTERIOR KNEE PAIN)
The most common location of knee pain in young adults is at the front of the knee joint. The problem usually arises from patella (Knee cap bone) and surrounding soft tissue.
Knee cap (Patella) is a small bone which lies in front of lower end of thigh bone (Femur). The back side of knee cap is lined by smooth tissue called cartilage. This covering helps the patella to glide in a groove on the lower end of thigh bone. The knee cap is held on the top by thigh muscles (Quadriceps) and lower part is connected to the shin bone by Patellar tendon. Function of knee cap is to aid knee movement and stabilize knee joint while walking.
There are many theories suggesting softening and micro injuries to this lining resulting in pain. It could be due to repetitive micro trauma during falls, or vigorous unaccustomed exercises etc. Abnormal position of knee cap over the knee joint with or without weak ligaments may also damage the cartilage lining. As cartilage lining gets softened and roughened it may cause pain and crepitus (clicks and sounds) over the knee cap. Obesity makes the condition worse.
·Pain in front of knee.
·Pain on climbing up and down the steps or ramps.
·Sudden ‘catch’ over the knee cap while getting up from the ground.
·Dull aching pain after sitting for long time.
·Discomfort during squatting (Using Indian toilet) and sitting cross legged.
·Occasional clicks and sounds over the knee cap.
Orthopaedician can make diagnosis based on your symptoms and examining the knee. Grating sensation behind knee cap might give us some idea of the roughness of patella when you tighten the knee cap muscles.
Some times there may be a little swelling the joint.
Blood tests are normal.
X-rays are not helpful as the problem is with cartilage lining which cannot be seen on X-rays.
MRI (Magnetic resonance Imaging) scans can detect changes in the cartilage, but is used as last resort in unresponsive cases.
Arthroscopy: It is possible to look inside the knee joint and back of the knee cap with pencil shaped camera (Arthroscope) to confirm the diagnosis. But arthroscopy is not done just for diagnosis and is only done if there is any need for surgery.
This condition generally improves over a period with some changes in the life style. But in some patients, symptoms persist for several years.
Analgesics (Pain Killers): Simple pain killers like Paracetomol and tramadol may be sufficient in most of the cases. Sometimes anti inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) may be necessary for a short period.
Nutritional supplements to cartilage lining like Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM and collagen peptides can be taken for 2 to 3 months which may relieve the symptoms.
In some unresponsive cases Intra articualr Hyaluronic injections can help. They act by providing lubrication between joint sufaces and help to nourish cartilage lining of knee cap.
Strengthening the anterior thigh muscles (Quadriceps) and muscles around the knee cap (VMO) helps to keep knee cap in right position.
Surgical management is last resort in severe or unresponsive patients. It can be performed with arthroscope (Key hole surgery). The principle is to smoothen the rough surface of the back of knee cap. In some cases where there are large defects in the cartilage, multiple drill holes into the bone may help regrow some cartilage. Now a days we are combining this procedure with stem cell treatment in selective cases.
Dos & DON’Ts
Please avoid any movement or position of which makes you feel the pain. It is better to avoid kneeling, squatting or sitting cross legged. One may go up and down the steps occasionally but avoid repeated stair climbing. Pain may get worse with exercise bicycle and walking on a treadmill with upward gradient (slope).
What is the prognosis?
Prognosis in these cases is usually good. Severity of symptoms may vary from time to time and patient may have good and bad days. Maintaining ideal body weight with exercises to strengthen the knee muscles plays a key role in the recovery. There are no serious side effects with any of the nutritional supplements and one can use them without any hesitation.