You don’t have to be an athlete to experience a knee injury. Not only are they painful, but they can also hinder your ability to complete physical tasks like walking or playing sports. Luckily, there are ways to prevent knee issues. First, let’s look at some of the most common injuries:
1. ACL injuries
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the major ligaments in the knee. ACL injuries normally occur through a non-contact twisting motion, such as sudden stops, changes in direction or landing from a jump. They usually occur when the knee is straight and are common among highly-active people, especially athletes. If you hear a sudden pop in the knee following a movement, with almost immediate swelling, it is most likely an ACL injury. Symptoms after the injury include the knee “giving out” and being unstable.
2. PCL injuries
The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is another major ligament in the knee and, like the ACL, is often injured during physical activity. These injuries are most commonly caused by heavy trauma to the knee due to a hard fall with the knee bent, or a strike against an object, like the dashboard of a car. They are common among those who play contact sports, like football, and can also be distinguished by sudden weakness in the knee, with some swelling, but not as much as an ACL tear. Later, the person can experience anterior knee pain if left untreated. Often this injury is missed in emergency rooms, especially if it’s the only ligament injured.
3. Patellar tendinitis
Patellar tendinitis is the inflammation of the tendons or tissues that connect the thigh muscles to the shin bones, and is caused by repetitive movements. It is a major problem for many athletes who are continuously jumping and landing hard on the knee, such as volleyball and basketball players. Having chronic patellar tendinitis can lead to weakening of the tendon and put you at greater risk of tearing it.
The best way to prevent common knee injuries is to regularly exercise the leg muscles to achieve balanced strength. Many knee injuries are caused by strength imbalance and lack of proper body mechanics training. For athletes, training and practicing proper jumps and landings can help prevent the improper movement that can lead to an injury.
Seeing an orthopaedic surgeon is a good idea with any knee injury. That does not mean your injury will require surgery. In fact, if patients can recover without surgery, that is the preferred option. However, sometimes surgery is needed to regain mobility and function.
Nearly all ACL injuries require surgery to stabilize the knee and have the person return to prior athletic function. Most people don’t like the idea of surgery, but they don’t like the idea of an unstable knee for the rest of their lives either. ACL reconstructive surgery gives patients the best chance at regaining their prior functionality and reducing the risk for secondary knee damage, such as cartilage tears and arthritis.
Most PCL injuries can be treated conservatively through physical therapy. A period of rest will allow the swelling to go down, and a brace can help protect your knee from improper movement. Recovery focuses on strengthening the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh to restore knee function and to keep the shin bone (tibia) from falling backward. However, sometimes these injuries do require surgery, usually if other structures around the knee were injured alongside the PCL, or there was a failure of non-operative treatment.
With injuries to the patellar tendon, treatment is dependent on the extent of the injury. Small tears and intrasubstance degeneration can be treated conservatively, while complete tears will require surgery.
Every patient has their own goals for what they hope to accomplish following a knee injury. Be open with your doctor about your goals for physical activity and function, and don’t assume that an injury means you can’t return to the activities you love. Understanding all your options will allow you and your physician to formulate the best plan for your overall recovery.
UCF Health offers surgical and non-surgical treatment for a wide variety of sports-related injuries. Learn more at ucfhealth.com.
Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at UCFHealth.com, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.
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- ACL ACL injuries knee knee injuries knee injury prevention patellar tendinitis PCL pcl injuries prevention treatment