How to Tell Whether or Not You Have an Injury or It’s Just Arthritis

Do you have knee pain with running and think it is just because you are getting older?

Have you been told that running is bad for your knees?

We are going to tackle those questions in today’s post! So, how can you tell if you have arthritis or if your knee pain is because of an injury? A lot of the time, people come to us saying that they were told to get an x-ray or MRI to know the problem. Turns out that usually you don’t even need to get imaging done to figure out the cause of your pain. Sometimes your pain isn’t due to anything inside of your knee.

New research is coming out that shows arthritis is just like wrinkles on the inside. They took people that were all ages and did imaging of their joints and asked them where they had pain. A lot of the older adults did truly have what would be diagnosed as arthritis in their joints. However, not that many of them were actually experiencing pain in the joints where they had the arthritis. So what does that tell us? Basically that you can have arthritis in a joint and not have pain in that joint. Arthritis doesn’t necessarily always cause pain.

That leads us to the bigger question:

What is pain and what does it tell us?

Pain is just input from your body to your brain. It tells you that it doesn’t feel safe and is just telling the body to protect itself. Pain doesn’t always mean that there is damaged tissue or an injury. If pain always meant that there was damage, then every single person that had that MRI done on their joint that had arthritis in that specific joint would feel pain in that joint. But the truth is not all of them felt pain. Arthritis really is just wear and tear on our bodies is just a sign of, living a long, healthy, active life. You don’t always have to be in pain because you have arthritis.

If you do have arthritis and it is truly the source of your pain, you will show some classic signs. Usually your joint just feels a little bit stiff and usually it’s mostly in the morning. People with arthritis will experience most of their pain in the morning, but as the day goes on and they get moving, they feel pretty good and they usually feel their best when they’re exercising, moving, or at night. The pain is also dull, achy, and in a specific joint, and you can pinpoint it. It usually doesn’t radiate. The good news is that even if you are having pain because of arthritis, you do not need to suffer! What can you do about it? So the awesome news is that research is showing us that movement is medicine for arthritis. So motion is lotion. Um, exercise has been proven to be one of the best treatments for arthritis and it’s one of the most effective treatments. If you’re kind of struggling with not knowing what exercises to do, not knowing how much to do and you have arthritis, that’s also another great reason to come see a PT is so we can help you figure out the exercise dosage.

Just like you would take a certain number of milligrams of Tylenol, the same thing applies to exercise. So exercise is a physical therapist’s medicine and it’s important to get the dosage right for you because at first we’ll start at a lower dosage and then increase the dosage as your body is ready and tolerates it better.

So how can you prevent arthritis? Just keep moving!

Research is showing us that lifting weights can be helpful in preventing arthritis because whenever you load your tissues, they get stronger. It’s called this science term called Wolff’s law. So if you load your muscles, cartilage, and bones, they will basically get stronger to meet that resistance. So running, walking, and lifting heavy things are all great ways to help strengthen your body, to help prevent arthritis.

If your knee pain is due to an injury, the pain is usually more sharp, shooting, stabbing, and you are usually very much more aware of it. Also, the pain usually varies. So it might hurt with a specific movement or It hurts all the time. Usually new injuries only hurt with a specific movement, but sometimes injuries can cause pain and problems after they have healed, and this pain tends to be more persistent.

One of the stories that we hear all of the time with patients is that they picked up something heavy in the yard years ago, and they have had back pain ever since. Usually, their back isn’t actually injured. What usually happened is that your body wasn’t used to picking up something so heavy, so your body told you, “Hey, I wasn’t ready for that,” and your back tightens up because your body doesn’t feel safe. This can lead to pain, and it’s just your body saying, “Hey, you did a little bit too much back off. Prepare me a little bit better.”

Most people don’t know this, and they avoid lifting things and moving their back because it hurts. That can eventually lead to chronic pain where your back just gets stiff and locks up and it just doesn’t move very well, which then causes you pain, six months or a year later down the road. This pain is usually more persistent so you’ll hurt more throughout the day, and your pain will come and go.

Ideally, you would go see a Physical Therapist when you first feel your back hurting to prevent the pain cycle from starting, but a lot of the time, people just sit around and hope for their pain to go away. Once you have entered the pain cycle , and you have been in pain for years, does that mean that it is too late and that there is nothing that you can do? Absolutely not. Physical therapy can also help you even if you have been in pain for years. We help your body stop guarding, and help your body move and feel safe while doing so, that way you can live life and do the things you love with less pain.

If your pain isn’t from an injury, and isn’t arthritis, then what is it coming from? Our whole body is connected, so the cause of your pain isn’t always in the area where you feel pain. A lot of the time, we see people with low back pain and they think the problem is their back. So they tried to foam roll their back, they try back stretches back, strengthen their back with exercises and they’re just not getting anywhere and they don’t get the results that they want. Then, they come to LeBauer Physical Therapy for a Total Body Diagnostic, where we look at them from head to toe. We find that the problem wasn’t actually in their back, their hip wasn’t moving that well. They’re just feeling it in their back because their back is having to work a lot harder than it wants to because it’s making up for that lack of hip range of motion. So that’s why a Total Body Diagnostic is so important to figure out, hey, where is the problem? Is the problem where we’re feeling pain or is it elsewhere?

If anything that I mentioned resonated with you, or if you are struggling with arthritis and not knowing what exercises you should be doing, what your exercise routine should look like, give us a call!

Or if you’re someone who is concerned that you have an injury, or you’re still experiencing pain currently from a past injury and you just don’t know where the pain is coming from, how to fix it, and you’ve tried to fix it on your own and you’re not getting results, give us a call!

Or, you can apply for one of our Total Body Diagnostic visits. We’ll listen to you and help you come up with a plan to address your goals. Because I can’t fix you. I can tell you where the problem is and tell you how to fix it, but we have to work together to execute that plan to reach your goals. If this is something that you are interested in, go ahead and apply for a Total Body Diagnostic on our website, or you can also give us a call at (336) 271-6677.

About The Author

Dr. Kaitlin Herzog

Dr. Herzog attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. She went on to earn her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Wheeling Jesuit University. Kaitlin has been an athlete for most of her life and was introduced to physical therapy when she had several sports-related injuries. She decided to become a physical therapist to help others maintain an active lifestyle while staying pain free. Kaitlin uses a hands-on approach to help people of all backgrounds optimize their movement and performance. Dr. Herzog is a record-holding competitive powerlifter, and you can find her training or competing in her spare time. She also enjoys Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, sports, hiking, baking, crafts, traveling, and exploring Greensboro with friends.​

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