Pain in your knees or hips can range from irritating to debilitating. Knee and hip pain can stem from a number of causes, including injury and overuse, and can cause discomfort in different areas of both joints.

Joel Phillips, a nurse and orthopedic care coordinator with Porter Regional Hospital’s Total Hip and Knee Replacement Program, helps run a monthly arthritis seminar at the Valparaiso hospital. The instructors address joint pain causes, prevention and treatments, and answer questions about joint replacements.

“Hip and knee pain can have many causes, but our program focuses on pain caused by osteoarthritis,” Phillips said. “Osteoarthritis has many causes itself, ranging from genetic factors, overuse from repeated tasks through work or activity, previous traumatic injury (motor vehicle, sports injury, etc.), and straightforward aging of the body.”

Hip pain can manifest in the thigh, inside or outside of the hip joint, groin, and buttocks. Symptoms of common knee injuries include pain, swelling and stiffness.

In any case, Phillips said, the first step in treating knee or hip pain is getting a proper diagnosis. He recommends seeing an orthopedic surgeon, for which a referral from a general practitioner is not necessary. The surgeon will be able to identify the the source of the pain and create an appropriate treatment program.

These treatments are progressive and generally start with weight loss and activity modification. Recent studies have shown that weight loss exponentially reduces the amount of pressure on joints, particularly the knee. 

Heat and cold therapy might be recommended for continual pain, as will over-the-counter arthritis medications, steroid injections or even joint replacement surgery. Physical therapy is also a great option, but, Phillips said, a proper diagnosis is needed to form a treatment plan.

It isn’t always possible to avoid injury and prevent osteoarthritis, but a few lifestyle changes may help reduce pain from these conditions. “Maintaining a healthy weight and remaining active, specifically resistance-based exercise, have been shown to be the most effective in reducing the frequency in joint pain,” Phillips said.

Low-impact exercises such as swimming, water aerobics, biking or rowing can be effective ways to stay active without encouraging injury. Phillips adds that resistance training with bands or pulley machines has been shown to put less stress on joints while building strength.

Bolstering the muscles that support your joints can also help. For example, weak glutes and tight hip flexors can cause your pelvis to tilt forward, which may further knee pain. Strengthening exercises build these muscles to support your joints. However, if you are experiencing pain, check with your doctor before starting any fitness routine.