Welcome to the third installment in our series of common injuries and what you can do to treat them. In this post, we will talk about knee pain treatment. If you missed our first two posts on Hip Pain and Shoulder Pain, check them out here and here.
For anyone who has ever even felt a slight twinge of pain in your knee, you know how it can disrupt everyday activities. It may cause you to limp, throwing off your gait, and then your feet and hips can start to hurt because you are overcompensating in other areas and it all can go downhill from there. It pays to keep your knees happy and so here are some ways to recognize and treat knee injuries.
Anatomy Of The Knee
The knee is a rather complex instrument. For a joint that that has far more simplistic movement than the shoulder or the hip, it sure seems to get in a lot more trouble. As the largest joint in the body, it allows you to jump, walk, do squats and sit by working as a hinge. The femur, tibia, and patella are the bones that make up the knee and the muscles and ligaments around it are numerous:
- Quadriceps Tendon: the tendon that extends from the Quad group and attaches at the tibia. Fun fact: the patella bone (aka the “kneecap”) is a sesamoid bone, meaning a floating bone. It is housed within the quadriceps tendon.
- Medial Collateral Ligament, or, MCL: stabilizes the inner part of the knee
- Lateral Collateral Ligament, or, LCL: stabilizes the outer part of the knee
- Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or, ACL: prevents the tibia from moving forward too much
- Posterior Cruciate Ligament, or, PCL: prevents the knee from shifting in a back motion
- Hamstring Group: the muscles on the back of the upper leg
- Quadriceps Group: the muscles on the front of the upper leg
Along with the articular cartilage (the substance that helps the bones move smoothly across each other) and the meniscus (two cartilage cushions between the femur and tibia), these all make up the knee joint.
Common Knee Injuries
Your knee being what it is, can be subject to a whole host of injuries from a minor sprain/strain to something more significant. Knee pain should not be ignored. Pain and swelling can be the first signs that something can be wrong. It is ALWAYS worth having your doctor check it out.
- Fractures: These will be caused by a high-velocity trauma such as car crashes or falls. The most common fracture in the knee joint is the patella bone, although the ends of each of the femur and the tibia can fracture as well.
- Dislocations: When a bone is displaced, either fully or partially, this is considered a dislocation.
- ACL/PCL: Athletes are at higher risk of ACL and PCL injuries. Participation in soccer, football, basketball and the like are common sports with these injuries. The rapid change of direction, landing incorrectly from an explosive movement can injure the ACL. PCLs are often injured from a direct trauma while the joint is bent.
- Lateral Collateral: This is usually caused again, by a blunt force trauma, which pushes the knee to the side. These are less common, but none the less traumatic when they do happen.
- Meniscal Tears: Another common sports injury, especially for soccer, football, and rugby players. The sudden change of movements or being tackled are common culprits. However, the process of aging and arthritis can cause tears as well.
- Sprains/Strains: Tendons can become stressed, overstretched and sometimes torn. These, unfortunately, are a lovely side effect of the aging process. Middle-aged weekend warriors and professionals alike are at risk for sprains and strains. Falls, blunt force to the front of the knee, landing awkwardly can all contribute to this problem.
Treatment and Recovery
Fortunately, simple nontraumatic knee injuries can be treated at home. However, if you have pain, you are unable to move the joint, have to limp to walk or swelling, and/or redness is coming from the joint, go see your favorite Sports Medicine or Orthopedic Doctor. If you are fortunate enough to not need major medical/surgical intervention, you can do the following:
- Bracing: Immobilizing the joint can keep the joint in place to aid in healing. These can be purchased at your local drug store, or for a better fitting brace, have your doctor write you a prescription and take it to a medical supply store to get fitted.
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): If your doctor deems it appropriate, they can help to reduce pain while you heal.
- Physical Therapy: PT can go a long way in helping you to re-stabilize, strengthen and help to restore full function after your injury.
- RICE: Rest the knee, Ice the knee for 20 min at a time, Compression (check with your doctor before trying to place a brace right after the injury), and Elevation (prop up the knee with pillows or cushions, preferably above the heart).
If you see your doctor, and more intervention is warranted, chances are surgery is in your future. Not to worry, though, the technology for knee surgery has come a long way, even in the past ten years. You might be in a brace or have crutches, but your surgery will most likely be outpatient with about a 6-week recovery period, depending on the severity of the injury.
What To Do In The Meantime
Stretch. I know I sound like a broken record. However, just like with the hip, if your muscles are more apt to adapt, bend and sway without much resistance, the better off you will be. Now, that’s not to say that having supple muscles will prevent injury, but every little bit helps.