When it comes to preventing fitness injury, one of your primary focuses of concern should always be the knees. Often taken for granted, the knee joint is the phenomenal precipice of biological design which allows you to walk, run, jump, you name it! It is also one of the most common reasons people pay their doctor a visit.
As the juncture at which the femur (thighbone) meets the tibia (shinbone), the knee is the largest joint in your body. The patella (kneecap) covers that point at where the two bones meet, and articular and meniscal cartilage, ligaments, and tendons help everything stay in place and glide smoothly when the knee is bent and straightened.
Common Causes of Knee Pain
Understanding which injuries and conditions most commonly impact knee health helps you paint a picture of the best ways to prevent and manage them.
Tendinitis – inflammation of tendons in and around the knee, like the patellar tendon which holds the kneecap in place, can cause knee pain that makes walking and jumping difficult.
Ligament tear – ever heard of a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) or torn MCL (medial collateral ligament)? A common athletic injury, ligament tears can immobilize the knee and lead to inflammation and swelling. They may require surgery and rehabilitation too.
Bursitis – inflammation of the bursa sacs in the knee, which help cushion the joint to reduce friction when the knee moves, can cause pain, swelling, and limited range of motion.
Arthritis – several forms of arthritis including osteoarthritis, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis can lead to painful knee inflammation and stiffness, sometimes caused by dietary triggers (with gout), or an autoimmune degeneration and painful deformation of the joint.
Meniscus tear – when the rubbery, tough cartilage called the meniscus (which helps absorb the shock your knee experiences with physical activity) becomes torn, the knee may lock in place, swell, and feel tender.
Additional sources of knee pain might include a fracture of the kneecap or surrounding bones, IT band syndrome, bone tumors or cysts.
Preventing and Managing Knee Injury
When it comes to optimizing your knee health, keep these important tips in mind:
Weight matters – the bigger the load your knees have to carry around, the faster the cartilage may wear down and the higher your risk for stressing critical tendons and ligaments. Losing even a little bit of weight can make a big difference on your knee burden.
Avoid overuse – many knee injuries are the result of simple overuse, i.e. increasing running distance drastically in a short amount of time, or playing basketball for years and years. Avid athletes and workout gurus should aim to cross-train every week with low-impact activities like rowing, cycling, and swimming which are less stressful on the knee than sports like running, basketball, and soccer.
Address pain – don’t let acute knee pain keep you from the activities you love without trying to do something about it. A quick trip to a doctor or sports medicine specialist may help you acknowledge form or technique issues causing your problem, or other underlying conditions like arthritis. Non-surgical treatment options like the best cream for knee pain, bracing and wrapping, ice and heat therapy, even massage can make a big difference in your knee health.
Stretch and strengthen – when the connective muscles in the leg which help support the knee joint are strong and flexible, your risk of injury may go down. Practice dynamic stretching prior to your workouts and games and static stretching after to help keep leg muscles limber.
Wear proper footwear – footwear that supports your physical activity is key to avoiding injury. Old worn out running shoes can negatively alter your pronation when running and playing sports leading to a painful knee injury. Update running shoes every 500 miles, and wear orthotic inserts as needed for arch or pronation issues.
Be mindful of re-injury – unfortunately, injuring your knee once often increases your risk of injuring it again so returning to normal play of high-impact sport like rugby, football, or basketball might not be in your best interests. Maintaining physical activity levels with lower impact exercises like hiking, dancing, and yoga can promote continued strong knee health and limit chances of re-injury.
A knee injury can quickly sideline a healthy workout or sports habit and often leads to bouts of inactivity, which can negatively affect both your physical and emotional health. A basic understanding of knee health and injury prevention, however, can lend a hand towards helping you take proactive actions to keeping your knees healthy. Be smart about taking care of your body and it will always take care of you in return.