Knee Injuries and Their Common Treatments
Although it is one of the most stable joints in the body, the knees are susceptible to various injuries such as excessive stretching and twisting. This is particularly true for athletes and people who regularly engage in physical activity. Caused by the significant amount of stress on the joint, the knees are overworked and often endure more than what it can withstand.
Types of Knee Injuries
Based on the affected area and the mechanism of injury, knee injuries can be classified as follows:
- Sprains – Occurs when pressure is applied from a specific orientation, causing the ligaments to stretch or tear.
- Cartilage tear – Caused by extreme twisting or tackling. Aging can also affect the integrity of the knee cartilages, and it is described as a degenerative meniscal tear.
- Strains – Caused by overstretching, hyperflexion, and over-usage of the knees.
- Inflammation – Induced by the repeated application of pressure and stress, as well as over-usage of the knee joint. This causes the small fluid-filled sacs, bursae, within the knees to swell and become inflamed.
- Ligament tear – This is caused by a sudden stop or change in direction, as well as direct impact on the area. Additionally, it can also be triggered by landing incorrectly after jumping. A torn ACL is a common ligament injury acquired by athletes and physically active individuals.
- Fractures – Usually involve the patella or kneecap. Fractures are caused by extreme stress from vehicular accidents, sports activities, and a bad fall.
- Dislocation – Happens when knee bones slide out of place. Common causes include anatomical abnormalities and high impact collisions during vehicular accidents and sports activities.
Common Knee Injuries and Their Treatments
Treatments are often based on the type, cause, and severity of the injury itself. Typically, orthopedic doctors and surgeons advise patients to exhaust all non-surgical methods before opting for surgery. Conventional non-surgical treatments include RICE therapy, physical therapy, immobilization using a knee brace or bandage, and the use of athletic tape.
Knee surgeries are recommended for conditions that cause chronic knee pain and cannot be managed through non-surgical treatments. Listed below are common knee injuries and the surgical procedures that appropriately address each condition.
- Torn Meniscus
The meniscus is wedge-shaped cartilage found between the thigh and shin bones. It acts as a shock absorber, decreasing the friction between the bones. These surgical procedures help relieve discomfort from a torn meniscus:
- Meniscectomy — a surgical procedure that removes the torn meniscus
- Meniscus repair surgery – reconstructs the torn meniscus
- Meniscus transplant – the grafting of a new meniscus to serve as a replacement
- ACL Injury
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of the ligaments that stabilizes and holds the whole knee joint together. Injury to the ACL is common among athletes involved in high impact sports like basketball and football. Surgical treatment involves reconstructing the damaged ligament via grafting, commonly known as ACL Reconstruction Graft Surgery.
- Damaged cartilage
Despite its flexibility and toughness, cartilage can be easily damaged, resulting in joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Microfracture surgery is an ideal surgical procedure to correct torn knee cartilage. It works by initiating the formation of new cartilage. However it is only suitable for small areas of damage.
- Torn Tendon
A torn tendon inhibits the ability to straighten the knee joint. The patellar and quadriceps tendons, which are found in front of the joint, are prone to this injury. Management of the ruptured tendon is almost always surgical and is necessary to recover the strength of the knees.
Orthopedic doctors and surgeons consider knee surgeries as a treatment option if knee pain is persistent and has caused disability. However, you should not wait until your knees give out before opting to have surgery. These cases are good indications that you might need to have your knees operated on:
- Osteoarthritis – Common in older people (aged 50 years and above), but younger individuals also experience it. It causes painful and stiff joints due to weakened and worn out knee cartilage.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – The tissue lining of the knee joint thickens and swells, which may lead to the loss of cartilage, stiffness, and joint pains.
- Post-traumatic arthritis – Occurs following a severe knee injury. Knee injuries speed up the wear and tear of the knee joint. This may lead to chronic pain and restricted movement.
Knee Replacement Surgery for Athletes
Because of their constant involvement in physical contact and high impact collisions, athletes are prone to sustaining various kinds of knee injuries – the most common being a torn ACL. For most athletes, sustaining an injury of that magnitude could mean an end to their careers.
However, thanks to recent advancements in diagnosis and surgical treatments, the rate of recovery and career longevity have begun to increase significantly.
“ACL reconstruction graft surgery is an important surgery to consider if an athlete wants and needs to restore a torn ligament to its almost normal function, especially if non-surgical treatments are insufficient,” says Dr. Stefan Kreuzer, a Surgical Orthopaedic Hip and Knee Specialist. “However, there is a possibility that it can compromise athletic performance and even shorten playing years.”
Knee replacement surgery can also be an option when other treatments become ineffective in restoring normal knee functions.
“For athletes, it could be the end-all solution to numerous knee problems, including a torn ACL,” Dr. Kreuzer adds. “But before deciding to receive knee replacement surgery, you must first qualify as a candidate.”
He notes, “The surgery will only become counterproductive, and especially for athletes, it would only prevent them from returning to their sports.”
Taking Care of Your Knees
The joints in the knee bear the full force of the body. Regardless if you are an athlete or not, it is essential to keep your knees as healthy and injury free as possible. By maintaining an appropriate weight or engaging in the proper warm-up exercises, your knees can go a long way in avoiding the onset of knee problems.
However, it is important to schedule a consultation with an orthopedic doctor the moment you feel that there may be something wrong with your knees. An early diagnosis, along with recommendations for treatment, can contribute to a higher recovery rate. And for athletes, this can serve as the key to a long and successful career.
Written by: Abeer Saqer
Abeer Saqer is a healthcare professional helping patients from around the world to receive the best in medical care and treatment in Houston, Texas. She spent her career establishing a bridge between Houston’s thriving medical community to the Middle East and beyond. Social Media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram