5 'Check Engine' Lights for Your Knees

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Like the warning lights in your car, your knees can also give early signs of potential issues down the road.

Knee pain is a common complaint for many people. It is estimated that frequent knee pain affects 25 percent or more American adults at any given time. Generalized knee pain can have a variety of causes. Whether from a traumatic injury like an ACL tear or rupture, or a chronic condition such as osteoarthritis, there are various reasons pain in the knees can arise throughout a lifetime. Pain that has lasted more than a few weeks without progressively getting better warrants a visit to the doctor. But sometimes, other knee symptoms can present without the presence of pain. For example, below are some of the ‘check engine’ lights for your knees that can signal issues down the road. These, too, are symptoms that should be evaluated by a health care professional.

Stiffness – Knee stiffness is a common issue among a wide variety of people. Stiff knees can be experienced by those who are highly active, as well as those who are of more advanced age. In some cases, the stiffness can result from a muscular imbalance in the legs or poor flexibility. In other instances, stiff knees can result from meniscal or ligament injury or the beginning stages of arthritis.

Swelling – There is a variety of potential causes for a swollen knee. A traumatic injury, overuse, infection, and underlying disease can all be reasons for swelling in the knee. Depending on whether other symptoms are present, a physician may need to obtain a fluid sample that is causing the swelling to determine its cause more precisely.

Sounds – Clicking, popping, or crunching sounds can all indicate a problem with the proper function of the knee joint. Knee clicking can signal a ligament tear, osteoarthritis, or extra tissue present in the knee. Popping sounds can sometimes signal a meniscus tear or a piece of cartilage that has become loose within the knee joint. When the sound takes on more of a “crunching” quality, it can be due to the surface of the articular cartilage in the knee becoming roughened over time and not allowing the bones to glide over it smoothly.

Instability – Also described as weakness or buckling, an unstable knee can feel like it might or does “give out” with any movement. Many cases of knee instability are caused by an injury – commonly an ACL tear, torn meniscus, loose pieces of cartilage floating around the knee joint. Still, other causes of knee instability may also be to blame. These can include arthritis, nerve damage (femoral neuropathy), or Plica Syndrome. Plica Syndrome is characterized by inflammation of a fold in the middle membrane (called the medial plica) that covers the knee joint.

Extension – The inability to fully straighten the knee is always a cause for concern. As previously mentioned, even if you don’t experience pain when trying to flex the knee, the inability to do so can indicate a problem that should be evaluated. The joints in our bodies were designed to achieve a normal range of motion. When that ability is diminished, no matter the cause, it can put us at an increased risk of future injury. When a person cannot achieve full range of motion in their knee joint, it can lead to overcompensation or an imbalance in other areas of the body – that’s a flashing warning sign for disaster ahead.

Though unresolved knee pain alone is plenty of reason to visit the doctor to have it evaluated, so too are the five knee symptom ‘check engine’ lights mentioned in this article. Remember, pain isn’t the only signal that something might be wrong. There can be some signs that precede knee pain. Knowing what to watch out for, and talking to your doctor if the symptoms occur, can stave off the pain and get you back in the last line of healthy living much faster.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/knee-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20350849

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-you-can-do-about-stiff-achy-knees/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327499#causes

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swollen-knee/symptoms-causes/syc-20378129

https://www.verywellhealth.com/popping-and-snapping-2549494#:~:text=Mechanical%20Popping,-Patients%20may%20experience&text=This%20type%20of%20popping%20symptom,forth%20causing%20a%20popping%20sensation.

https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/by-itself-knee-crunching-sound-generally-not-cause-for-concern/#:~:text=The%20crunching%20you%20hear%20likely,or%20rising%20from%20a%20chair.

https://www.betterbraces.com/injury-info-center/knee-injury-guide/clicking-knees

https://www.healthline.com/health/knee-buckling#nervedamage

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