Understanding Lateral Knee Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

by Dr. David Anderson
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I. Introduction to Lateral Knee Pain

Lateral knee pain is a type of pain that occurs on the outer side of the knee. Several factors, including injuries, overuse, and medical conditions, can cause this pain. Extreme knee pain can be quite severe, affecting an individual’s ability to participate in physical activities. Understanding the causes and symptoms of intense lateral knee pain depends it is important to manage and prevent it effectively.

Many injuries and underlying illnesses can result in lateral knee pain, a common complaint. It is characterized by pain on the outside of the knee, which may be either severe pain, or dull, and is made worse by activities like jogging down hills, lunging, or squatting while using a longer stride.

One of the body’s most intricate joints, the knee, is held together by several strong ligaments and tissues. The femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shinbone) are separated by two strong, rubbery bits of cartilage called menisci. Injury to either of these structures might lead to lateral knee discomfort.

Irritation or inflammation of the iliotibial band, a tough band of fibrous tissue, contributes to lateral knee discomfort. The patella and biceps femoris tendons are attached to this band, which extends from the hip joint and travels down the outer side of the tibia. The iliotibial band and the lateral epicondyle of the first femur bone might rub against one another over time due to frequent knee flexion and extension, resulting in lateral knee pain.

Movement may be limited by extreme knee pain, which might be a general, deep aching pain or a specific, intense pain. It might or might not be related to a certain activity.

The least frequent location for knee pain is on the outside of the knee. An injury to one of the structures outside the knee often causes localized extreme knee discomfort. Repeated jumping and pivoting in sports can harm the lateral collateral ligament and result in lateral knee discomfort. A direct hit or twisting force on the outside of the knee might strain this medial collateral ligament too, which is intended to stop aberrant knee extension.

II. What Causes Lateral Knee Pain?

Your doctor will take a history of your symptoms and perform a physical exam. They will test the knee’s range of motion, stability, bruising, swelling, and tenderness.

Your physician may also recommend X-rays or an MRI of your knee. It will help confirm the cause of your lateral knee pain.

· Iliotibial Band Syndrome

One of the most typical reasons for pain outside the knee is iliotibial band syndrome or ITBS. When you bend and extend your knee, the iliotibial band rubs on the lateral epicondyle of your kneecap. The outside of your knee may experience pain and even a snapping feeling due to this friction, leading to inflammation. Runners, bikers, and other athletes who practice on hard surfaces and tend to over strain their legs are most frequently affected by this condition.

The iliotibial band is a substantial, thick band of fibrous tissue extending from the pelvis to the knee outside your leg. It covers the lateral femoral epicondyle and inserts at a location on outer side of your knee known as the Gerdy tubercle.

ITBS could have several causes. According to one idea, repeated rubbing inflates the contact region between the lateral epicondyle and ITB over time. This friction is considered to happen as your foot makes contact with the ground and your knee is flexed by 30 degrees.

According to other hypotheses, the ITB’s compression of a fat pad is the issue’s root. This pad, positioned close to the ITB, is compressed as your knee flexes and extends. A weak hip or buttock muscle can strain on the ITB and tighten it, which is another potential cause of sudden onset of ITBS.

ITBS can affect persons of any age and activity level, but it most typically affects runners and other athletes. Most ITBS sufferers benefit from conservative treatment, which may involve stretching your iliotibial band and changing your exercise routine. Your doctor may advise steroid injections into the iliotibial band syndrome an bar to minimize inflammation if your symptoms don’t disappear. If other therapies don’t help, surgery may be required in some circumstances. Ibuprofen and naproxen are two drugs that may aid with ITBS pain relief. They also lessen knee joint edema and irritation. If your doctor prescribes a medication, discuss the dosage and timing with your pharmacist.

· LCL Injury

The lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which runs down the outside of the knee, joins the tibia (lower leg bone) to the femur (thigh bone). Your knee is kept stable, thanks to it. Lateral side ligament tears and knee pain may result from LCL damage. Your knee may feel as though it is giving way as a result. LCL injuries are frequent in contact sports, particularly ones that require a lot of rotation, including basketball, football, and soccer.

The ligament may be stretched or torn by a direct hit to the knee. Additionally, acute injury to it might occur when you suddenly change directions or do a sudden stop or jump when playing a sport. For instance, wrestlers may suffer an LCL injury if another opponent strikes them from the side while spinning on one foot.

The doctor will examine your knee and other leg part during physical examination. They’ll be looking for bruising and swelling. They might also apply pressure on your knee injury certain areas to test for stability. They might also do tests like the McMurray test, which involves bending your knee while defying pressure, and the Garrick test, which consists in flexing your knee while pressing down on your foot.

An isolated LCL injury may require surgery, depending on how severe the rupture is. Most small sprains and grade 1 tears heal on their own without the need for surgery. While your ligament heals, your doctor might advise using a knee brace to lessen side-to-side motion.

Your doctor could advise surgery to repair the ligament if it is completely ripped or connected to another ligament injury. They could use big stitches or a metal bone staple to join the torn ends of hamstring tendon to your ligament. The torn ligament could also be replaced with a tendon transplant from your hamstrings or thigh muscles.

Your physical therapist will demonstrate activities to help your knee heal and become stronger after surgery. They’ll also advise you to wear a knee brace while participating in sports or other activities to avoid the ligament becoming more irritated. You’ll need to progressively up the intensity of your workouts once your doctor indicates you may resume normal activities. You’ll begin with mild jogging and work your way up to sprinting and running before you may once more participate in your favorite sports.

· Lateral Meniscus Tear

Menisci are crescent bands of thick, rubbery cartilage cushioning and stabilizing the knee joint. The lateral (outer) and medial (inner) menisci are located on either causes of outer knee and bent either side of the shin bone (tibia). Tears in these C-shaped cartilage structures can occur with twisting injuries to the outer knee itself.

The initial symptoms of a meniscal tear are usually well-localized pain and swelling on the outer knee, not around the kneecap. A feeling that the outer knee itself is giving way, a popping sound, and stiffness are also commonly associated with this type of knee injury. Often, patients can recall the specific motion or event that caused the damage.

Most lateral meniscal tears are caused by sports such as football, soccer, and skiing involving rapid knee rotation or forceful impact to the knee. Injuries can also occur due to a fall onto the kneecap or aggressive twisting of the knee while attempting to stop or change direction suddenly.

Meniscus tears can range in size and severity. Some, called simple tears, are minor and may heal independently without surgery. Larger, more complex tears, such as bucket handle tears or displaced longitudinal and horizontal tears, can cause the knee to catch, lock or buckle. If left untreated, these types of tears can lead to osteoarthritis in the future.

The ability to repair a lateral meniscal tear depends on the location of the damage within the meniscus. The meniscus’s outer portion is called the “red zone.” This area has a good blood supply and can heal on its own. The inner part of the medial meniscus however, referred to as the “white zone,” cannot heal on its own and requires surgical treatment.

MRI is typically used to diagnose a meniscus tear. This non-invasive diagnostic test allows the physician to see inside the knee and identify the location, size, and type of tear.

Depending on the results of the MRI and the patient’s symptoms, surgery may be needed to repair the meniscus or remove it entirely. Surgical procedures for lateral meniscus tears can include arthroscopic meniscectomy, a process in which the doctor removes the torn cartilage through small portals in the knee, or a partial meniscectomy, where only the affected portion of the meniscus is removed. After surgery, the patient will need a physiotherapy program to regain knee strength and function.

· Lateral Knee Arthritis

Many injuries or underlying medical disorders that affect the outside of the knee can cause lateral knee discomfort, a common issue. The most frequent cause specific sharp pain is ligament damage, such as a meniscus or lateral collateral ligament (LCL) rupture. Osteoarthritis, a disorder that happens when the smooth cartilage covering the ends of the bones in the knee joint wears away over time, can sometimes develop in the knee. It may result in the bones rubbing against one another, which can cause discomfort, stiffness, and loss of knee mobility.

Overuse of the iliotibial band, which attaches to the knee and runs along the outside of your outer thigh side, can also result in knee injuries that cause lateral knee pain started discomfort. Exercise-related lateral knee pain can develop from overuse, causing irritation and inflammation at the distal end of the iliotibial.

Injury to the tibial plateau, at the top of the shin bone at the front of your leg, is one of the additional causes of lateral knee discomfort. Jumping and running are two sports-related movements that might result in a break or fracture on the tibial plateau. In rare instances, the injury may be so sudden onset severe that surgery is required.

The outside of your knee may also hurt if you have a lateral knee contusion or bruise. The normal course of treatment for a bruise on the knee consists of rest, ice, and elevation. A doctor may occasionally administer a cortisone injection into the knee to minimize swelling and relieve discomfort.

Popliteal nerve entrapment syndrome, a medical disorder that happens when the primary blood vessel supplying the lower leg with oxygen and nutrients becomes compressed or constrained in the area surrounding the knee, is another reason for the lateral knee pain caused discomfort. The outside of your knee may experience pain, numbness, and weakening at home treatment. According to several studies, wearing “motion-control” shoes, which feature medially stiffer than laterally stiff midsoles, can lessen the pain and discomfort brought on by this kind of lateral knee arthritis.

III. Symptoms of Outer Knee Pain

Depending on the underlying cause, the symptoms of extreme knee discomfort can change. Discomfort on the outside of the knee, swelling, and stiffness are typical signs of external knee discomfort. The discomfort could be continual or sporadic and might worsen when you move about. A popping or clicking sound could occasionally be heard in the knee joint.

Running or cycling may worsen the causes of outer knee pain or discomfort if ITBS is the root cause. There may be a sensation of instability in the knee joint if a lateral meniscus tear is the source of the outer knee pain.

IV. Diagnosis of Outer Knee Pain

An injury or other issue with your knee may result in pain on the outside of your knee. The pain on the outside of your knee may be subtle and dispersed, or it may be acute and localized. Your knee may click or lock or hurt or feel stiff. When you exercise, your kneecap may not track smoothly in its groove (patellofemoral pain syndrome) or snag on the iliotibial band.

Your physician will enquire about your symptoms and the events that led to them. Then, your doctor will examine your knee physically. You should also feel for sensitive or swollen regions near your knee joint. Your doctor will also move your knee in various positions to determine whether your discomfort varies or worsens with particular movements.

Kneecap tracking issues may be brought on by arthritis or by a loose or damaged ligament that regulates how your kneecap moves within the groove at the back of your knee joint. When you move your knee, especially when you’re going downhill, you may experience pain.

A bruise on the outside of your knee, known as a lateral knee contusion, may result from a hit to your knee. It could happen if the impact is hard enough to break several bones in your knee joint. If this occurs, your knee may feel sore and swollen, which could lock or catch when you try to straighten it.

V. Treatment of Lateral Knee Pain

Depending on the origin and extent of the damage, there are many lateral knee pain treatment options. Treatment usually starts with rest and ice to lessen swelling and discomfort in the affected area. It is also possible to be prescribed drugs to reduce inflammation and pain. Physical therapy can strengthen the knee and increase the patient’s range of motion if the damage is severe. Surgery may be necessary for some situations, like meniscus, ACL tears, or powerful knee osteoarthritis.

The iliotibial band friction syndrome is the most typical cause of lateral knee pain. The iliotibial band presses on the outside of the knee joint, inflaming the joint line and soft tissue injuries, and resulting in this ailment.

One of the four main ligaments that support the knee, the lateral collateral ligament, or LCL, is one of the other often occurring reasons for lateral knee discomfort. A direct impact on the knee can result in an LCL tear. A twisting motion at the knee that presses on the kneecap might also result in an LCL tear.

Another typical reason for lateral knee discomfort is damage to or a sprain of the lateral meniscus. A segment of cartilage with a crescent shape called the lateral meniscus cushions and supports the knee. The damage may arise from a violent event, such as a fall on a bowed knee, or worsen over time through wear and tear or arthritis.

Rest, icing the knee, and taking painkillers to reduce inflammation and pain are typically the mainstays of treatment for lateral knee injuries. Avoiding stair, climbing stairs and downhill running, aggravating pain and stiffness, is also crucial. Squats and lunges are two knee-strengthening exercises that can help stop additional damage and increase the stability of the knee joint.

VI. Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the medical term for pain on the outside of the knee?

The medical term for pain outside the knee is lateral knee pain.

  1. Do braces for knee or hip pain cause discomfort or pain?

Braces for knee pain can cause discomfort or possible pain, but this should be temporary and lessen as your healthy body weight adjusts to the mount and you continue to use the knee bent over it in daily activities.

  1. What are some common causes of extreme knee pain?

Common causes of extreme knee pain include strain or overuse; iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome; meniscal tears; osteoarthritis; bursitis; plica syndrome; patellar tendonitis; runner’s knee, and kneecap dislocation.

  1. How can outside knee pain be treated or managed?

The cause of knee injury often determines outer knee pain treatment. Still, some methods may include rest, physical therapy exercises to increase range of motion and strength, wearing a compression sleeve or brace, using cold/ice packs to reduce swelling causing pain, stretching before exercise/activity or after rest, taking over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, receiving a corticosteroid injection if chronic inflammation is causing symptoms, and more serious interventions like arthroscopy.

  1. What is another term for side knee pain?

Another term for left side of knee pain is lateral knee pain.

  1. What are some possible reasons for experiencing pain outside of the knee joint?

Possible reasons for experiencing outside of the knee joint could include wear and tear due to age or heavy athletic activity (e.g., running), injury from trauma (e.g., fall), fracture or other medical conditions (e.g., arthritis), misalignment in leg bones due to overpronation (turning inward) while walking/running, weak muscles from disuse, tightness in ITB muscles, etc.]

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