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Sharp Health News

Women and knee pain

Oct. 1, 2020

Woman holding her knee in pain
When it comes to knee pain, it’s women — not men — who are feeling the brunt of the agony. And while women also have higher instances of knee injury, their pain can be caused by a wide range of reasons, including hormones and their general anatomy.

“It’s a misconception that men suffer more knee pain than women,” says Dr. Steven Allsing, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and joint replacement doctor affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “Men may tend to be more vocal about their aches and pains, but in general, women account for a greater percentage of issues with the joints.”

Some reasons for pain, including inherited conditions or obesity, can happen regardless of gender. But women in particular experience knee pain for the following reasons:

  • Anatomy — Women tend to have wider hips than men, putting extra stress on joints.
  • Ligaments — The ligaments in a woman’s knee are more limber than a man’s, making it more susceptible to injury and wear and tear.
  • Estrogen — Female hormones can contribute to the weakening of the ligaments in the knee.
  • Muscles — Women can develop stronger quad muscles than hamstrings, creating an imbalance of strength.
  • Osteoporosis — Women have higher incidences of developing osteoporosis, which can lead to damage of the bones around the knee joint.
Preventing knee pain
While there’s nothing women can do about their genes or physical build, there are ways they can anticipate knee issues and tackle them before they occur.

“The development of arthritis will happen despite a woman’s best efforts,” Dr. Allsing says. “And unfortunately, women are three times more likely to have it than men. But certain lifestyle changes, or simply staying in tune with your doctor, can help a woman keep her knees healthy and relatively pain-free.”

Some ways women can protect their knees from injury or pain include:
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce stress on the knees.
  • Wearing good shoes that match their activity for the day.
  • Doing specific exercises that strengthen leg muscles.
  • Consulting with a primary care doctor to maintain appropriate hormone levels and allow for early treatment of osteoporosis.

Dr. Allsing also stresses the importance of consulting with a doctor immediately when experiencing pain. “There are some conditions that cause knee pain, and if left unchecked may go on to develop more severe problems with time. With some conditions, early treatment can prevent long-term damage to the structures that make up a healthy knee joint.”

Treating knee pain
Because women experience knee pain for many reasons, there’s no easy answer for how to make it go away. Consulting with a primary care doctor is the best way to learn if pain can be managed at home, or if it requires medical treatment or surgery.

Treat knee pain at home if it’s caused by a flare-up of mild osteoarthritis, or mild stress or injury.
Use rest, ice, compression and elevation, and/or take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Over-the-counter creams or patches can also be helpful in providing temporary anti-inflammatory benefits.

See a doctor about knee pain if home remedies are not helping, or if the pain is caused by a traumatic event.
For chronic arthritis, a doctor can help shape a lifestyle plan to better manage weight loss, medications and physical therapy. Osteoporotic fractures or sports injuries can be treated in several ways, depending on the severity of the condition. And in some cases, surgery can help with more severe knee problems.

Knee pain, whether mild or chronic, is not something women should simply have to live with. Knowing the cause and addressing it early could make a big difference in preventing or managing pain in years to come.

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