This article will describe all the most common causes of lateral knee pain and how best to treat it. Pain in the knee occurs in approximately 1 in 4 adults. Mostly it limits the mobility, waning quality of life.
Lateral knee pain normally occurs as a result of an overuse injury. Inflammation in a tough fibrous tissue band can also be the source of this pain. This band goes down the outer side of the thigh and has its attachment anterior to the shin bone (tibia). Arthritis can also lead to pain in this region.
While lateral knee pain commonly occurs in distance runners (runner’s knee), it can also occur due to injuries in which twisting of the knee takes place or one in which the knee is pushed outwards, i.e., away from the other leg. Sports injury is a prominent cause of lateral knee pain.
There are several treatment options for lateral knee pain. However, they largely depend on the source and severity of your symptoms. In most cases, effective pain relief can be achieved with conservative, nonsurgical treatment options. Nevertheless, surgical procedures may be necessary in some cases. Its recovery time depends upon the severity of your condition.
Here, we’ve got you covered with the most common causes of knee pain, diagnosis and management. Read on to know more!
Muscles and IT band surrounding the knee cap include the following
- Vastus lateralis muscle
- Tensor fasciae latae muscle
- Vastus medialis muscle
- Iliotibial band (ITB)
- Rectus femoris muscle
- Vastus medialis obliquus muscle
Causes of Lateral Knee Pain
Iliotibial band syndrome
According to research, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is more prevalent in males as compared to females and mostly affects distance runners. The iliotibial band is a dense connective tissue strip running from the outer hip down to the shinbone.
Those athletes who are engaged in repeated motions, including climbers, cyclists, and jumpers, are at higher risk. Pain surrounding your kneecap (patella) can also occur due to lateral patellar compression syndrome in athletes.
Lateral meniscus tear
There are two tough menisci of rubbery cartilage pieces sitting between the thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia) – the medial meniscus is on the inner side, and the lateral meniscus is on the outside of the knee.
Such meniscal tears mostly occur without a clear injury. However, it can lead to substantial pain, swelling, a locking sensation while trying to straighten the leg (done with quadriceps femoris), and pain while squatting.
Tightness in the leg’s posterior region (calves and hamstrings) can also lead to patellofemoral pain, such as in hamstring tendinopathy.
Lateral collateral ligament injury
The arterial collateral ligament or anterior cruciate (ACL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) are among the 4 key knee ligaments. LCL attaches to the tibia and femur‘s outer side and is mainly responsible for stabilizing the outside of the knee.
LCL sprain is mostly caused by a blow to the proximal (medial) side of the knee, causing stretch in LCL afar normal. This can lead to a partial or complete tear of the ligament.
Its symptoms include swelling, stiffness, and soreness on the outside of your knee, swelling, and stiffness.
Osteoarthritis as cause of lateral knee pain
Cushioning effect between the kneecap and skin is provided by the bursa – a thin, fluid-filled sac. As you age, wearing, degeneration, and thinning of the cartilage that provides cushion to the knee joint occurs. This eventually causes rubbing of the bones, leading to osteoarthritis (bursitis) or friction syndrome. Stiffness and reduced range of motion and knee pain can follow.
In the United States, more than 32 million adults are affected by osteoarthritis. Some individuals experience more serious wear off in the cartilage of the outer knee, leading to lateral-sided knee pain.
Lateral tibial plateau fracture
The tibial plateau is found at the uppermost part of the shin in the knee. Tear in the lateral part of the tibial plateau (bone in the lateral lower leg called fibula) can be caused by a hard fall or a vehicle accident and can lead to significant knee pain.
However, aligned bones do not need surgery for their treatment. In case the alignment of the bones is affected, surgery may be needed for repositioning and securing the bones.
How is lateral knee pain diagnosed?
Your physician or orthopaedic surgeon will inquire about the type of the pain – whether it is sharp or aching, and its location. You will also be asked about how and when the pain started.
Next, a physical examination will be done, which involves flexion and extension of your knee and moving it from side to side. This will help your doctor identify any areas of tenderness, swelling, or loose ligaments.
Imaging tests that may be conducted can include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
Once a diagnosis is made, as per your symptoms, physical exam, and imaging, your physician will be able to identify the source and severity of your knee injury and devise an appropriate treatment plan.
How are these potential causes of lateral knee pain treated?
Minor lateral knee sprains can heal with time through rest and nonsurgical (conservative) measures such as sports medicine. However, meniscus tears, ligament injuries, as well as advanced arthritis may need surgery. Following are the treatment options as per their causes.
Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS)
ITBS can generally be managed with rest and reducing activity. Workouts that show improvement in the iliotibial band’s flexibility and strength of the knee can also be helpful. Additional medical advice can also include:
Application of ice on the lateral side of the knee
Anti-inflammatory medications, including ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen – this are not good to take long-term
Published research in the “International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork” has shown that soft tissue mobilization – a form of physical therapy, may also be effective at improving symptoms.
Lateral meniscus tear
Most menisci do not have enough blood supply except for the outermost portion. Thus, most meniscal tears do not heal on their own. However, minor tears can be managed with a combination of:
- Ice application
- Prolozone Therapy
- Knee braces (compression bandage)
- Cortisone injection.
- Severe tears mostly need surgery
Minor ligament injuries such as tears or sprains may not necessitate surgery and can be alleviated with rest and bracing. However, complete LCL tears mostly require surgery.
According to the Osteoarthritis Research Society International’s recommendations, some nonsurgical options can be used for treating knee arthritis. These are as follows.
Strength training – to support and stabilize the knee joint muscles
Biomechanical devices (knee braces, shock absorbers) – to support the knee while doing activities like walking
Land- and water-based exercises – to improve knee flexibility and function
Weight loss (for overweight individuals) – to relieve pressure on the knees joints
Surgical options – partial or total knee replacement – for individuals with severe pain, advanced arthritis, or those who have not responded with conservative treatment.
The structures in and around the knee have a poor blood supply, which is why they can struggle to heal on their own. It is the oxygen and nutrients in our blood supply that helps to heal these structures.
Prolotherapy involves the injection of a regenerative solution into these structures to provide a direct supply of what is required to heal and repair.
As the treatment is helping to treat the root cause of the problem, it is deemed to be a permanent fix.