Photo By: Mike Ichikawa/ El Camino Hospital
Approximately 20 million visits are made to physicians’ offices each year for knee injuries. Many of these visits occur when weekend warriors and seasonal athletes resume activities they may have put on hold, such as running, tennis, biking, hiking, soccer, golf and other pastimes.
Before getting back into a sport or hobby that may be tough on your knee joints, answer the following questions.
• When was your last physical exam? Doctors recommend undergoing a thorough physical before starting any new exercise routine. It’s a great opportunity to discuss concerns about the joints. Do you have a knee that tends to act up when you exercise? Have you felt any odd pains when you move your knee in a certain direction? Do you have an old injury you’re concerned about?
• Do you know how to prevent a knee injury? Do you take time to warm up? What stretches do you do before a big game or a run? (One good stretch for the front of the knee is to lie face down, then reach back and gently grab your ankle.) Have you taken time to strengthen the muscles that support your knee – quadriceps and hamstrings? Could you benefit from a knee brace or protective kneepads? Do you have the right footwear?
Weekend warriors may be reluctant to act quickly when an injury occurs. Because the knee has many parts – ligaments, tendons, bones, cartilage and muscle – many problems can arise when using your knee joints. When exercising, keep your knees in mind. Ask:
• Is your knee in pain? Is it swollen or stiff? It’s easy for conditions such as bursitis, tendinitis, torn cartilage (torn meniscus) or runner’s knee to develop in the knee as a result of intense running or movement during a sport. Or, if you’ve twisted your knee in an odd way, you could have a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) – the most commonly injured ligament in the knee.
• Do you need to rest your knee? If you’re feeling any pain or suspect an injury, stop what you’re doing immediately. Playing through the pain may seem heroic, but it could make your injury worse – and could put you on the sidelines for the rest of the summer. So, treat any knee injury seriously and take some time off before resuming the activity.
• Do you need medical attention? Although many knee injuries heal on their own or with the standard “RICE” treatment (rest, ice, compression and elevation), severe pain, swelling or popping of the knee needs evaluation by a physician. You’ll also need treatment if you are unable to put any weight on the injured leg or if your knee feels loose or unstable.
• Does your injury require surgery? Examples of common knee injuries that may require surgery include: damaged cartilage, injury of the plica tissue on the knee, kneecap damage, tendon injuries and, as mentioned earlier, the torn ACL. If your doctor suggests surgery, be sure to ask about new approaches to knee surgery, such as the use of computer navigation and less invasive methods that involve smaller incisions and shorter recoveries.
Keep in mind that medical science changes quickly, and your doctor or your hospital’s joint-program coordinator may be the best resource for up-to-date surgical information.
For more information, visit orthoinfo.aaos.org and orthopedics.about.com/cs/kneeinjuries/a/kneepain.htm.
El Camino Hospital Orthopedic Institutes provided information for this article. For more information, call (800) 216-5556 or visit elcaminohospital.org/ortho.