The knee joint is the largest synovial, or movable, joint in the body, according to The Pain Clinic. This means the knee has many moving parts that can become damaged due to injury or wear and tear over time. When you experience radiating knee pain, the pain is not only in the knee, but it also is spreading to areas around the knee. Knowing how to recognize this pain and what steps to take to reduce it can help you to experience relief.
Although a supportive joint, the knee often is not made for the demands a person places on it, according to Dr. James Fox, director of the Center for Disorders of the Knee in Van Nuys, California. The knee wasn't designed for such things as playing football or soccer or for being a carpenter or plumber, says Fox. It was well-designed originally, but there was no way to anticipate everything a knee would end up doing, he adds. Frequent abuse can lead to pain and, potentially, radiating pain.
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A number of structures related to the knee—in addition to the knee itself—could be causing your knee pain. These include ligaments, tendons, meniscus and bone. In addition to these areas, other areas of the body can cause knee pain. These include the lower back, which shares a common nerve with the knee. For this reason, a physical examination is important when you experience radiating knee pain.
In addition to a physical examination, your physician may use a number of testing methods to pinpoint the source of radiating knee pain, according to MayoClinic.com. These include X-rays, computed tomography, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, all of which examine different structures in your body that could potentially cause radiating pain. A blood test also can identify any infection that is present in or around your knee joint.
Although your radiating knee pain may make it difficult to move, if your pain is not due to injury, it's a good idea to increase your activity level, according to MedlinePlus. You should always engage in injury prevention techniques, such as warming up and cooling down to stretch the muscles around the knee. If you are an avid runner or participate in another high-impact activity, regularly replacing your athletic shoes can help relieve pain as well.
If you experience radiating knee pain following an athletic injury—perhaps hearing a soft "pop" while exercising—you could potentially have torn cartilage, a torn ligament or a combination of both, according to MotherNature.com. To ease the pain before a doctor's visit, elevate and ice the leg, which can reduce inflammation and pain. For radiating pain that has slowly progressed, over-the-counter pain medications may offer some relief. Remember the RICE method—rest, ice, compression and elevation—when you experience this type of pain, advises MayoClinic.com. If the pain persists, your physician may recommend steroid injections, medications or joint replacement surgery as a last resort.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.