By John Parker, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon
Did you know roughly 20 million visits are made to physicians’ offices each year for knee injuries? That’s a lot of aching joints!
And many of these visits happen during the summer months, when weekend warriors and seasonal athletes resume activities they may have put on hold during the winter – such as running, tennis, biking, hiking, soccer, golf and other pastimes.
If this sounds a lot like you, take a moment to learn how to protect your knees and how to spot an injury.
Protecting Your Knees
If you're about to get back into a sport or hobby that may be tough on your knee joints, first ask yourself these questions:
- When was your last physical exam? Doctors always recommend having a thorough physical before starting any new exercise routine, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about concerns you may have about your 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? Making that initial doctor’s appointment could save you a lot of agony down the road.
- 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 (your quadriceps and hamstrings)? Could you benefit from a knee brace or protective kneepads? Do you have the right footwear? These are all questions you should ask yourself – and if you work with a trainer or coach, be sure to cover these topics.
One thing many of us are reluctant to do, especially the weekend warriors among us, is to act quickly when an injury presents itself. Because the knee has many parts – ligaments, tendons, bones, cartilage and muscle – there are many problems that can occur when using your knee joints. So, when exercising, always 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 common 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, take 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 or swelling or “popping” of the knee needs evaluation by a physician. You’ll also need treatment if you can’t 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 knee 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. Web sites such as orthoinfo.aaos.org and orthopedics.about.com can help with your research, but 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.
So remember – please play it safe this summer and keep these tips handy to help prevent knee injury!
The El Camino Hospital Orthopedic Institutes (Mountain View and Los Gatos, Calif.) El Camino Hospital is one of the leading centers for joint replacement in California. The hospital is the first in the state to be Joint Commission-certified in three joint programs (total hip replacement, total knee replacement and hip fracture). For a physician referral or to learn about the hospital’s free health lectures, call 800-216-5556.