In part three of our Knee Injury Series, we address the more serious knee injuries. These injuries almost inevitably result in acute pain and debilitation, but if diagnosed accurately early on, treatment can minimize discomfort and get the individual back on their feet. The primary serious knee injuries include tendinitis, fractures, ligament injuries and meniscus tears.
Chronic tendinitis in the knee
Tendons are durable, yet flexible fibrous bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones allowing the body to move. You can find tendons just about anywhere your body moves, from your fingers to your toes. There are literally 100’s of tendons throughout the human body, but there are a select few tendons that appear to be more prone to injury. One of the most common tendon injuries is tendonitis. Tendinitis is the chronic inflammation of the tendon typically as the result of overuse, though there are occasionally genetic root causes for tendonitis. Tendonitis leads to swelling, tenderness and pain during movement.
If you develop tendonitis of the knee (aka "jumper’s knee"), you experience inflammation of the patellar (below the kneecap) or popliteal tendons (located at the back of the knee). Most cases of knee-area tendonitis can be treated with reduced use, continuous cold therapy devices and anti-inflammatory medication. In some instances a medical knee brace or strap can mitigate pain and allow for increased activity.
The knee is a very solid and sturdy bone, but fractures occasionally occur. Typically the result of massive trauma such as a high impact injury or automobile accident, a knee fracture requires immediate medical attention. Treating a fracture may involve surgery, a cast or bracing.
Knee ligament injuries
Perhaps one of the most common-place sports-related injuries, a knee ligament injury can be quite mild like a sprain or very severe as is the case with a full blown ligament tear. There are three possible areas the ligament can tear: the inside of the knee (medial collateral ligament), the outside of the knee (lateral collateral ligament) or inside the knee (cruciate ligaments). You will know immediately if you tear a ligament as it can be quite painful, especially when bending the knee, and many report a loud popping noise upon occurrence. It is not unusual, however, to have difficulty pin-pointing exactly where the pain is coming from and the ligaments and their respective nerves are all located within close proximity. Other symptoms of a torn ligament include swelling and localized temperature increase. Depending on the severity of your injury, ligament injuries are treated with continuous cold therapy, immobilization and elevation to decrease swelling. The individual should avoid placing weight on the injured knee, and crutches or a hinged knee brace may be required. In very severe cases surgery and long-term rehabilitation may be required.
The meniscus is a flexible c-shaped disk that cushions the knee cap. If the knee is forcefully rotated suddenly, the meniscus can tear. We see this most often in contact sports and activities that required sudden pivoting. Likewise, the risk increases for older sports participants due to degenerated cartilage. In some instances, you can have more than a single tear. These tears are characterized by a locking sensation, instability and can lead to swelling and localized warmth. In most cases, however, it takes a doctor’s expertise and an MRI to accurately diagnose a torn meniscus.
None of these knee injuries are pleasant, but they can be successfully treated with minimal discomfort if diagnosed properly early on. You should always consult a physician when you experience a traumatic knee injury, but specifically when:
- The pain is acute, surpassing a mild throbbing sprain sensation
- Swelling occurs instantaneously and persists
- You cannot bear weight on your knee
- The knee appears deformed
- You cannot feel below the injury site
- The lower leg, foot or ankle turn cold post injury
- No pulse can be detected in ankle
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