Knee Injury : Athletic Injuries

The knee is a complex joint in the leg consisting of a combination of bones (femur, fibula, tibia, patella), four ligaments to stabilize the knee, tendons attaching muscles to the bones of the knee joint, muscles (quadriceps) allowing athletic movement, cartilages (menisci) padding the knee cap to cushion force, nerves, and blood vessels. Athletes exert the knee when competing and can stress the bones, overuse or overextend the muscles, pinch the nerves or affect circulation within the joint. Understanding the construction of the knee and how it functions as a pivot in sporting activities involving running, racing or jumping, can assist athletes to reduce knee injury.

Symptoms of Knee Injury

Knee pain can arise when an athlete fractures or dislocates a bone during a fall, or when ligaments or tendons are torn in twisting the knee. Symptoms of a torn ligament are a snapping sound and unstable knee making it hard to walk. Rupture of the tendon will prevent the athlete from using the knee because the muscle detaches from the bone causing tightness and increased swelling. With torn ligament and rupture of the tendon there is pain, bruising and stiffness from swelling.

If the knee grinds then locks when trying to bend it, the cartilage may be damaged. This damage can cause runners to feel pain behind the kneecap as the cartilage grinds against the kneecap in what’s  known as "runner’s knee". A fracture or break in one of the bones of the knee will cause spasms with intense pain, swelling and bruising, making normal standing or walking impossible. Similar sensations of pain spasms and swelling can occur with dislocation when the bone is jerked out of joint.

Causes of Knee Injury

Runners experience knee injuries for a number of reasons: twisting or overstretching the knee during exercise can tear a ligament (particularly the anterior cruciate ligament) or the cartilage; contracting or extending the muscle vigorously can cause a ruptured tendon (especially quadriceps and patellar tendon); and falling when running or jumping can cause one of the bones to fracture or break.

The most common causes of knee injury are from athletes not warming up properly before exercise, not consuming enough liquids causing dehydration and cramps that tear the muscles or cause falls; not wearing supportive shoes; and not running with the right athletic gait to reduce knee injury.

Medical Treatment of Knee Injury

The usual PRICE treatment is applied in all cases to prevent further injury by stopping the athletic activity, to rest the leg, to apply ice to the injured spot, to compress the knee region with a bandage for support, and to keep the leg raised to reduce pressure on the knee. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication or gel can be used to reduce swelling and pain.

A doctor should do a physical examination of the knee to identify the exact injury and talk with the athlete to understand how it occurred and the athlete’s medical history. If the muscle is pulled or a sprain is present, the doctor may refer to a physiotherapist to assist with a programme of healing through massage and exercise. An X-ray or MRI scan of the knee may be required to deduce appropriate treatment. In the case of torn ligaments, tendons, cartilages and bone fractures or breaks, surgery may be required.

Preventing Knee Injury

Knee injury can be prevented through tailored athletic programmes for diet and exercise. Trained sports professionals and physiotherapists can help athletes learn how to reduce knee injury. Other preventative measures include wearing supportive athletic shoes, limiting high impact activities, taking breaks during athletic activities and being conscious not to overstrain the knee.

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