Ow, my perfectly-fine knees!
September 19, 2012 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Non-injury causes of knee pain?

Twice in the last month or so (last night and at least one other time in that span, not totally sure when), I've been woken up in the middle of the night with a dull ache in both knees. The pain isn't excruciating, but it's bad enough to wake me up and keep me up, though both times I took some ibuprofen and managed to get back to sleep after an hour or two.

My knees don't seem swollen or inflamed, the pain is about equal on both sides, and it doesn't get better/worse when I stretch or change knee position. I am female, in my 20s, average weight for my height, with no history of knee injuries or joint problems in general. All of this leads me to think that this is probably nothing too serious and that there might be some sort of situational factor that I could fix to avoid this happening again.

So, YANMD, but what kind of stuff can cause temporary knee pain in the absence of any actual injury to the knees?
posted by kagredon to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In the absence of a change in exercise or other activity pattern, change in shoes, change in car seat configuration etc., the fact that it is bilateral would suggest Osteo-arthritis. Any history of OA in the family?

Have you had any kind of virus or flu-like anything in the last weeks? Sometimes your body's mechanism for fighting infection can lead to lots of gunge in the joints afterwards.
posted by Wilder at 7:59 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

As weird as this sounds, when I was in my early/mid twenties I started to get dull aches in my knees when the wearer changed. As in "it's going to rain tomorrow I can feel it in my knees". At first I had no idea what it was but after a while I noticed a pattern that coincided with the weather.
posted by ruhroh at 8:03 AM on September 19, 2012

In addition to weather-related aches, I used to get weird aches and pains when I had PMS. Make a little tick-mark on your calendar when/if it happens again and see if you can spot a pattern.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:19 AM on September 19, 2012

Certain kinds of infection can affect joints. Strep comes to mind, in part because it tends to cause people to feel weak in the knees.

Restless leg syndrome is rooted in nutritional deficiency. I am prone to it and also at times have knee issues, though I have a complex history so can't say for sure how interrelated these issues might be. They do both bother me more at night. Getting the right nutrients in my diet helps keep these things in check.
posted by Michele in California at 8:31 AM on September 19, 2012

My non-injury-related knee pain turned out to be bursitis in my hip, which inflamed the IT band and spread the pain down to the knee. Physical therapy cured it, but you could find exercises to do at home.
posted by desjardins at 8:32 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

the fact that it is bilateral would suggest Osteo-arthritis. Any history of OA in the family?

Osteoarthritis isn't that often bilateral - are you thinking of rheumatoid arthritis? (Not a doctor, but I do research support related to arthritis).

But it still could be osteoarthritis. I am in my mid-30s and I have proto-OA, in that my doctor felt my kneecaps and said: you have some damage here that could develop into full-blown OA. I have never had a knee injury, but I do sit cross-legged often, which is stressful to your knee joints. I have gotten dull aches in my knees (sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both) when lying in bed.

OA is extremely common and affects younger people as well as older people. We don't really know what causes it, though we know some of the risk factors.

My knees stopped aching as often when I increased my overall exercise (mostly walking), did some specific exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint (sitting down and lifting my legs straight, sometimes with ankle weights), and stopped sitting cross-legged as often.
posted by jb at 9:01 AM on September 19, 2012

In my twenties I had knee pain that turned out to be caused by a muscle imbalance. The sports medicine doctor I went to gave me some exercises to strengthen my quadriceps, and had me start wearing orthotics in my shoes when walking long distances or running. It worked beautifully. I could never have figured this out on my own, without either a doctor or a physical therapist.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 9:30 AM on September 19, 2012

My brother used to get knee and hip pain as one leg is ever so slightly shorter than the other so getting a custom lift in one shoe stopped his problem, and cured the head/neck aches he'd had all his life as well.

Also I get knee and leg pain from bursitis in my hips at times.
posted by wwax at 9:46 AM on September 19, 2012

Are you taking any medication that could cause joint pain? I was on a low level statin for about a year, and it took about that long to start hurting my joints. I thought I was developing osteoarthritis, but after being off the statin for a few months the pain is almost completely gone.
posted by blurker at 10:37 AM on September 19, 2012

For what it's worth, sometimes adding Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet can help with arthritic symptoms (probably not with the actual disease, but perhaps with similar syndromes associated more with hormones, stress, etc.). You're a bit young for the issues I started having in my 40s, but fish oil capsules pretty much cured it. (Mine was mostly finger joints, but sometimes my knees kicked in too.)
posted by acm at 10:37 AM on September 19, 2012

I have similar knee pain and have also been diagnosed (by a physical therapist) with a muscle imbalance. I now make sure to do more lateral movements (i.e. don't just use the elliptical machine; hiking is great for strengthening the "stabilizer muscles") and I stretch a lot more. My chiro thinks that my current knee pain may be caused by sore/tight quads, so I am doing more intense stretches for those. (I'm 40, but have had knee pain for 3-4 years now.)
posted by chowflap at 10:49 AM on September 19, 2012

Bursitis (?).
posted by windykites at 11:25 AM on September 19, 2012

That has happened to me most of my adult life. Both knees so sore I had to get up and take tylenol or advil. It didn't occur every night, but it would happen when I was extremely fatigued, during wet weather, or if I had had a very physically stressful day.
I was diagnosed with arthritis in my late teens. Never really affected me other than the night time knee aches until much later in life when I took up running, and now I've essentially ruined my knees.
I would highly recommend doing leg muscle strengthening exercises that support the knees such as lunges and squats...there is a lot of info online on what helps keep knees healthy.
For my personal knee ailment I find that if I miss my regular murderous routine on the stairmaster too often the pain quickly sneaks back up on me.
posted by newpotato at 12:28 PM on September 19, 2012

I have knee issues but I found that drinking/smoking would lead to a few nights of bilateral knee achiness. Or excessive amounts of dehydration/standing (had to be both, so summer events suck).
posted by geek anachronism at 4:30 PM on September 19, 2012

All right, the bursitis/arthritis answers have convinced me to set up an appointment with my doctor, just so they can poke at it and see if there's anything there that requires careful watching or PT. I initially expected more answers along the lines of dehydration/weather/menstrual cycle weirdness (and it could very well be that), but I hadn't realized how common joint disorders can be until you guys prompted me to read up. I'll get it checked out. Thanks, all.
posted by kagredon at 2:48 PM on September 20, 2012

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