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What Causes Knee Aches?

A person with a swollen knee.
A person wearing a knee brace.
Bursitis and osteoarthritis are common causes of knee aches.
Many runners sustain knee injuries when pushing their limits.
Old sports injuries can cause chronic knee aches.
Article Details
  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Knee aches can be caused by injuries, strain, and a range of chronic conditions that affect the knee. Among the most common causes of achy knee joints are bursitis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis may cause achy knees as well. Since the cause of knee aches can be difficult to discern without a doctor’s help, a person may do well to seek medical attention for his aching knees, especially if a new problem develops. Additionally, a patient will typically need swift evaluation if knee aches interfere with walking or his movement is impaired in any way.

Sometimes knee aches are caused by a condition called bursitis. When a person has bursitis, small pads that provide cushioning in the knee become inflamed. The inflammation of these pads, which are called bursae, leads to painful, aching knees. In many cases, rest is helpful for treating bursitis. Pain relievers may also be used to make the patient more comfortable, and ice can be helpful for relieving swelling. Unfortunately, some people experience relief from this condition, only to have symptoms return later.

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Osteoarthritis is a condition in which cartilage gradually wears down. It can develop in any joint of the body, but the knees are among the most commonly affected. In addition to aches, a person with osteoarthritis may experience tenderness, stiffness, bone spurs, and impaired flexibility. This condition typically gets worse as time passes, and there is no cure for it. Pain relievers, physical activity, and physical therapy may be used to treat it. Sometimes surgery is recommended as well.

Some people develop achy knees because of a chronic condition called rheumatoid arthritis. This condition is marked by the chronic inflammation of the lining of a patient's joints and can lead to swelling, pain, bone deterioration, and even the development of deformed joints. It normally affects a person’s hands and feet, but can affect the knees as well. This condition is caused by an attack of one’s immune system on his own body tissues. Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes this condition, but they suspect a genetic link.

As with osteoarthritis, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Pain medication, anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy may help. Medications that suppress the immune system may sometimes help as well. When such measures prove ineffective, however, doctors may use surgery to repair the joints.

Sometimes, aching knees are not caused by a condition. In some cases, they are caused by injury or strain instead. For example, a person may experience knee pain after a fall, a hit to the knee, or even landing on his leg in an awkward position while playing sports.

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