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Published on July 25, 2018

Knee Pain and How to Prevent It

More people in the United States visit an orthopedic surgeon because of knee problems than for any other complaint. Knee pain results in more than 12 million visits to a doctor's office a year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

“Over time, many people will end up with knee osteoarthritis requiring various types of treatment,” says Dr. Jervis Yau, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with the Cottage Center for Orthopedics. “Although we cannot stop the aging process, there are things that may help decrease the risk of developing painful osteoarthritis. A little prevention now can save considerable pain later.”

How do knees get injured?

Osteoarthritis describes the phenomenon where joint cartilage wears away. The condition may result from chronic joint deformities, repeated injury, and excessive body weight, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). This form of arthritis most often affects middle-aged and older individuals. However, knee injuries as a teenager or young adult can make you prone to develop osteoarthritis earlier in life.

The knee is the largest joint in the body and one of the most easily damaged. Ligament sprains and cartilage tears are the most common knee injuries. Ligaments help control motion by connecting bones and bracing joints against abnormal forces. Cartilage cushions your knee and helps to disperse force when the joint is in motion.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) connecting the tibia and femur bones inside the knee are commonly injured ligaments; less common is tearing of the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).

Many ACL tears are caused by quickly changing direction, twisting or pivoting, and landing awkwardly from a jump. Sports such as soccer, football, basketball, volleyball and skiing are common causes of this type of injury. Athletes will often feel a "pop" in their knee at the time of the injury, followed by knee pain and the feeling of “giving way” or instability.

MCL injuries are often caused by a blow to the knee and are common among football players. PCL tears or strains are also often the result of contact sports. A simple misstep or twist can tear knee cartilage and meniscus.

Inflammatory diseases can also cause knee problems. Certain autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and lupus can cause pain and swelling in the knee. Other diseases that can cause recurrent pain and swelling will include gout and pseudogout.

Although musculoskeletal injuries are usually not gender specific, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes that women appear to be more susceptible to ACL injuries than men. Women basketball players are twice as likely as their male counterparts to experience this kind of ligament injury. Women soccer players are four times as likely as men to experience an ACL tear.

Researchers speculate that women have differing loading mechanics and muscle imbalances when compared to men during turning, pivoting, or landing from a jump. Learning to crouch and bend at the knees and hips when playing sports could reduce pressure on knee ligaments, the group advises.

Preventing knee damage

NIAMS recommends the following for people of all ages to avoid knee injury:

  • Before exercising, warm up by walking, riding a stationary bicycle, or doing some other low-impact activity. Then stretch the muscles in front of the thigh (quadriceps) and the back of the thigh (hamstrings) to reduce tension on your tendons and relieve pressure on your knee.
  • Strengthen your leg muscles to help maintain stability in your knees. You could try walking, stairclimgin or doing a supervised workout with weights.
  • Avoid sudden changes in exercise intensity. Increase or decrease the force and duration gradually.
  • Wear shoes that fit properly and are in good enough condition to help maintain balance and leg alignment when you walk or run. Knee problems can be caused by flat or pronated feet (feet that roll inward). Special shoe inserts (orthotics) custom-molded to the shape of your foot can help.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you're overweight, lose those extra pounds. Being overweight or obese stresses joints and increases the risk of osteoarthritis.
  • If you ride a bicycle, make sure that the seat is high enough so that pedaling won't put too much pressure on your knees. Ask the people at your local bike shop if you're unsure how high it should be.

Recognizing and treating knee injuries

If you injure your knee, you may feel a popping sensation or feel your knee give out from under you. You may also feel excruciating pain with inability to walk. Occasionally, you may not feel the pain right away after injury, but develop pain and swelling 24-48 hours later.

It's important to get treated as soon as possible. For minor knee injuries, doctors often recommend following the RICE method of rest, ice, compression, and elevation for the first 24 to 72 hours after the injury. Try to take it easy immediately after you injure yourself. Ice your knee for 20 minutes every 1-2 hours to reduce inflammation and pain; anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can be helpful as well. Wrap the knee with an elastic bandage or stocking and elevate your leg to reduce swelling.

Taking care of your knees now will go a long way toward avoiding chronic problems that could take you out of the game for good.

Source: Health Day

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