Your Knees; Protecting
a complex and vulnerable joint
Whether you're a professional athlete, a fitness buff or
totally unplugged from a regular exercise program, knowing how to protect your
knees from injury can mean the difference between a fulfilling lifestyle and years
of painful, limited mobility.
Most people don’t realize how vulnerable the knees are to injury.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that injuries to knee joints
are responsible for sending nearly 15 million Americans to the doctor each
"It's not just athletes who at risk of injury,” says
orthopaedic specialist Jonathan Foret, MD, with Center for Orthopaedics, an
affiliate of Imperial Health. "Knee problems can happen to anyone.”
He explains that each knee joint is a complex hinge where
the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), fibula (next to tibia) and kneecap
all come together. This hinge joint, which functions as the literal "hinge”
between the ground and the rest of your body, is held together and protected by
an intricate system of ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscle.
"It’s the complexity of the joint that actually makes it so
highly susceptible to injury,” Dr. Foret says. "It's difficult to find the
right balance between mobility and stability. Your knee needs to needs to move
back and forth, twist a little, and pivot too – often all at the same time. We
place a lot of demands on our knees. Ligaments can tear, cartilage can be damaged,
tendons can swell, osteoarthritis can develop and even everyday wear and tear
can lead to pain and limited mobility. Ask anyone who has had a knee injury,
and they can tell you what a big impact it has on their normal activities.”
Because the knees play a pivotal role in keeping you not
only mobile, but active and fit, it’s easy to see why it’s important to do
everything you can to keep your knees healthy.
Dr. Foret provides a closer look at some of the most common threats to
knee health and how to avoid them.
An occasional, minor ache is common, but when the pain is
frequent, and/or limits your ability to do what you normally do, you should see
a doctor. Dr. Foret says it’s important to listen to the signals your
body is sending you and to never ignore ongoing or recurrent pain.
Every pound of body weight delivers five pounds of force on
the knee, so even 10 extra pounds can put a considerable load on those joints. Being
overweight also increases your risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee, a
common and often disabling form of arthritis that wears away the knee's protective
cushion of cartilage.Although diet and exercise are critical for weight
loss, it can be difficult to exercise if your knees hurt, says Dr. Foret. He
recommends choosing low-impact activities that put less stress on the knees,
such as water aerobics or a stationary bike.
A sudden increase in intensity or duration of exercise can
cause overuse injuries from repetitive strain.Tendonitis and kneecap pain
are common symptoms in the knee. Dr. Foret says the best way to avoid these
types of injuries is to allow your body time to recover. "Be sure to
include stretching exercises before and after working out, and follow intense
training days with easy ones to allow for recovery.”
muscles around the knee.
Weak muscles and lack of flexibility are primary causes of
knee injuries, according to study after study. When the muscles around
the kneecap, hip, and pelvis are strong, they keep the knee stable and
balanced, providing support by absorbing some of the stress exerted on the
joint. Dr. Foret says this is why it’s important to build the quadriceps
and hamstring muscles, as well as strengthen the body’s core muscles.
Neglecting your ACL.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most
commonly injured ligaments in the knee. There are about 150,000 ACL injuries in
the U.S. each year. Dr. Foret says sports like soccer, basketball,
football and volleyball, which involve quick cuts, twists, and jumping, put the
ACL at higher risk for rupturing.Women in particular have a
two- to eight-times higher risk for ACL tears compared to men, mainly because
the way women naturally jump, land, and turn puts greater strain on the ACL.
However, Dr. Foret says both male and female athletes can lower
their risk of knee injury with targeted training directed at improving agility,
leg strength, and jump-landing techniques for better knee joint stability.
Giving your knee time to recover after an injury is critical
to avoid future injury and complications, stresses Dr. Foret. "Depending on the type of injury and treatment,
recovery from a knee injury could take a week or two, or several months. It’s
important to follow the advice of your doctor and therapist during this time. All too often, especially with young athletes,
we see re-injuries occur because they returned to activity too soon. The knee
needs time to heal, and work has to be done to regain strength in the
supporting muscles and structures around the knee to prevent another injury.”
When it comes to your knees, "protect and
preserve should be your motto,” says Dr. Foret. "If you take the time to give
your knees attention and protection throughout your life, you’ll be much less
likely to have serious knee problems, and much more likely to enjoy pain-free
movement for many years to come.”
more information on knee pain, call the Center for Orthopaedics at (337)
721-7236 or visit www.centerforortho.com.