Physiotherapy Q&A: I get catching pain in my knee, what could be the cause?

‘I am a 55 year old active walker and recently I have been getting catching pain in my right knee. It never locks or gives way but is often achy at the end of a long day of walking. I don’t really want surgery as I still consider myself quite young but my partner is insisting I see a doctor for this. What do you think this might be and could I be doing more damage by not getting it looked at?’ 

Anne Marie Pier, Horder Healthcare Chartered Physiotherapist, answers the question:

From the symptoms you describe you are likely to be experiencing some early arthritic changes in your knee. This is fairly common and nothing to be concerned about. It is thought that 18% of the population in England aged 45 and over are affected by knee osteoarthritis.  Arthritis, or more specifically osteoarthritis, is the medical term for degeneration of the articular cartilage lining the ends of your bones at a joint. Although often associated with aging it does not mean you are getting old or have to curtail activities such as walking. In fact, quite the opposite; exercise is very beneficial.

In a healthy knee, the cartilage provides a smooth surface between the tibia (your shin bone) and the femur (your thigh bone). This allows the knee to bend and straighten easily and also provides a stable weight bearing surface. In a knee that is affected by arthritis, the cartilage tends to wear out unevenly, becoming rough and thin similar to potholes on a road surface. The ‘catching pain’ you describe can be an awareness of the decreased smoothness of the joint surface. This can also be compounded by other changes happening in your joint, including the thickening of the bones at the joint surface and thickening of the joint capsule.

Research suggests that the symptoms of arthritic joints can be well managed with a combination of conservative measures such as exercise, over the counter medication such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, pacing and activity modification and weight management to name a few. This essentially means there are plenty of options for you to explore before considering surgery.

With regards to exercising, low impact activities such as walking, cycling and swimming are best as they reduce the amount of stress going through the joint compared to high impact activities such as running, jumping or racket sports. You may also benefit from some specific strengthening and stretching exercises for the muscles around your knee and hip. 

If you have more specific questions or concerns about this type of problem, then seek a referral to a physiotherapist or ring and book in to see one. Horder Healthcare provides physiotherapy services in East Sussex at our locations in Eastbourne, Seaford and Crowborough.

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