Did you know that your knees are the largest joints in your body?
And it’s no wonder! Your knees absorb an incredible amount of of impact and pressure from even daily activities like taking a walk–let alone running a marathon or playing a game of tag with the kids.
The importance role knees play in allowing us to move and functional normally means that knee injuries should always be taken seriously. Getting medical help quickly for severe knee injuries is crucial, and arming yourself with knowledge to treat minor injuries effectively is key to keeping your knees healthy and functioning!
Symptoms of knee injuries can surface in the form of swelling at the site of the injury, pain when you move the knee, and buckling or locking. Let’s take a look at the six most common types of knee injuries that can cause these symptoms–and most importantly, what you can do about them.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Knee Pain?
1. IT Band Syndrome (Iliotibial Band Syndrome):
Your iliotibial or IT band runs from your hip to the outside of your knee and is tough, flexible band of tissue. Through overuse or strain, it can become inflamed (much like the plantar fascia!). This pain will appear on the outside of the knee and is particularly prevalent in runners (especially after a run with a lot of hills!).
2. Patellar tendinitis:
Much like iliotibial band syndrome, patellar tendinitis results from inflammation in a band of tissue connected to the knee–this time running from the kneecap to the shinbone. Patellar tendinitis is also known as “jumper’s knee,” since it presents in many sports that involve repetitive leaping and jumping. Pain from patellar tendinitis and and IT band syndrome is often worse in the morning, at night, and after physical activity.
3. Ligament Sprains and Tears:
One of the most common types of knee injuries is actually a tear or sprain to the ligaments that connect your thighs to your leg bones (and stabilize your knees). Pain may feel shooting or dull, depending on severity. Mild injuries to these ligaments (including the ACL, PCL, and MCL) can typically be treated at home; however, severe tears may require surgery.
4. Arthritis of the Knee:
Arthritis, which is a degenerative condition, can have a significant impact on the knee. The most common types of arthritis that impact the knee include rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation, which leads to damaged cartilage), osteoarthritis (wear and tear that often doesn’t appear until age 50 or after), and post-traumatic arthritis (the result of trauma to the knee that has damaged the cartilage and lead to damage).
5. Cartilage Tears:
Cartilage is tough, flexible tissue located on both sides of the knee joint, as well as on the inside and outside of the knee joint. When it is damaged, through overuse or sudden injury, a painful tear may occur in the meniscus. This injury often requires surgery; however, depending on the severity of the tear, your doctor may recommend other types of therapy.
You may have heard this knee injury called “preacher’s knee”–since it results from repeated bending and kneeling, especially on hard surfaces. The bursa, or the sac that holds fluid between your knee joint and the skin, acts as a cushion when you kneel. When this sac becomes inflamed, it can cause pain and swelling.
How Can You Treat Knee Pain at Home?
While it’s very important to confirm all treatment methods with a doctor–especially when it comes to your knees–many effective treatments for mild knee injuries can be done right at home. RICE (rest, icing, compression, and elevation) is one of the best ways to address knee injuries at home:
This is one of the most critical parts of healing from a knee injury–since failing to take it easy from activity or pressure on the knee can lead to a worse injury or a more complex injury that requires surgery. Listen to your body, and give yourself plenty of time to heal.
Icing your knee and other inflamed areas surrounding the knee can help with pain, swelling, and inflammation. Ice for approximately 20 minutes every at 3 or 4 hour intervals throughout the day, and continue icing as long as you’re experiencing pain and swelling.
Whenever you notice your knee starting to hurt, slip on a light knee sleeve, which provides light compression and fights inflammation. If you don’t have a knee brace around, you can use bandages or KT tape to help support the injured knee and reduce swelling while you heal.
Using a pillow or another soft surface under your heel, elevate your your knee while sitting or lying down. Elevating the injured knee will reduce swelling and rest the area.
Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen can help with both pain and swelling. Make sure you consult your doctor before taking medication in combination with other drugs you may have been prescribed!
When your doctor gives you the all-clear, stretching can be a great way to strengthen and improve flexibility in the muscles and ligaments that support the knee. By improving strength and flexibility, you’ll reduce pain from tightness and improve the muscles’ and ligaments’ ability to keep your knee steady and in proper place during activity.
For more complex or severe injuries to the knee (like tears to the meniscus), you may need assistance from a doctor. Arthritis may require corticosteroid shots to reduce severe inflammation, and it may be necessary to diagnose tears to the meniscus with an MRI or x-rays.
As you heal, remember that rest is often the most important ingredient to recovery. Don’t rush the healing process, and stay active and healthy with activities like swimming, that don’t put pressure on your knees. Return to your old exercises or activity level gradually, and make sure that your injured knee feels strong and free of pain when you bend or put weight on it. Trying to hurry the healing process is a fast track to a secondary injury!