Whether you’re a dedicated athlete or an active professional, knee injuries are a fact of life. Young and old, active and inactive; knee injuries are common for all ages and walks of life. Some of us experienced our first serious knee injuries falling off bikes or on the soccer field as children. Knee injuries can happen as a result of sports or simple physical activity. They can happen at work, or just walking up the steps to your front door.
No matter how your knee injury occurred, it’s important to know how to treat it both with your doctor and self-treating at home. Each knee injury requires special attention to ensure that you heal quickly and completely. Today, we’re here to talk about the ten most common types of knee injury and how to treat them.
Cuts and Scrapes
Knee injuries can happen with or without external damage. But when you get injured in a fall or a collision, a bloody wound is always your first priority. Immediately after an injury, you will need to focus on stopping the blood flow, sterilizing the wound, and protecting the open area from infection. If there is a deeper structural injury of the knee, treatment and recovery will need to happen parallel to your treatment of any cut, gash, or scrape that will be healing at the same time.
The first thing you should do is clean the wound. Alcohol is best but even a splash from a water bottle can help you clear out dirt, gravel, or other external material. This ensures that pressure and bandages don’t press foreign material inside the wound.
Next, focus on stopping the bleeding. Apply pressure to help the blood flow slow down. If it’s a clean cut, press the sides of the wound together. Apply pressure through a bandage and assess any deeper injury of the knee.
Knee sprains can happen any time the knee is pulled or twisted out of optimal alignment. Even moving too fast when your muscles are tight or stepping down stairs can cause a knee sprain in the wrong conditions. A sprain is essentially a tendon or muscle that is stretched so far that it tears. This can be because of a twist, an extension, jumping, or landing hard. The action doesn’t even need to be outside your capability or flexibility if the muscle is cold (stiff) or pulled suddenly.
Minor injuries of this type are all categorized generally as sprains and can be treated with the same methods. Sprains are when it hurts to flex or step down, but the knee is not grinding and feels properly aligned.
Treat your sprained knee by wearing a compression brace most of the time to control inflammation. Then use a supportive knee brace to walk safely as your knee heals and regains strength. Use the RICE method to promote and accelerate healing.
Dislocation is when your knee joint pulls out of alignment. Depending on your ligaments, this can be easy to pop back in or extremely painful with risk of further soft tissue damage. Double-jointed people, in particular, are known for having one or more joints that can be temporarily dislocated without great discomfort or damage.
Dislocation is most likely to happen with an impact, twisting or falling. The knee joint can twist partially or fully out of place, causing a misshapen appearance to the knee and great pain. The tendons pulled on by the dislocation may stretch or can tear causing a dislocation and sprain at the same time.
To treat a dislocation, you will need to get it back into place. If you haven’t been trained to relocate a kneecap, a splint is your best bet. Inflatable or portable splints can be packed into a first aid kit, or you can fashion them from nearby rigid objects and bindings. The splint can then get you to your nearest medical professional or to the ER to get it set.
Your medical professional can also tell you whether there is further damage to your tendons or if you will simply need to heal from the dislocation itself. From there, you will need to keep your knee supported and firmly aligned as it heals.
You don’t have to fully break your bone to suffer a fracture. Knee injury fractures can come in a surprisingly wide variety. A fall, landing, or impact injury can cause fractures of the knee cap, tibia, or femur bones. Fractures will heal, but they are more severe than dislocation and sprains by a degree.
In most cases, a fracture will result in the use of crutches and a cast or knee brace that fully immobilizes the knee until it has healed correctly and is safe to allow limited movement for the rest of the healing process. Consult with your doctor on what kind of brace is right for you and the best ways to work with your knee fracture.
Bedrest and the RICE method will accelerate healing.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)
Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries are known by the common acronym of ACL. They are so common among athletes that it is an entire category of knee treatment and recovery tips. Your ACL is the tendon that extends diagonally over the top of your kneecap and holds everything together. Because it is so important to knee elasticity and the most exposed tendon of your knee, ACLs are commonly injured in falls, impacts, and occasionally by landing to hard and stretching the ACL too tightly over the kneecap.
If you do not need surgery, this means your ACL is sprained or partially torn. You will likely still need to wear a brace while the ACL heals to ensure it does not endure additional strain. Hinge braces may allow you some mobility, and basic supportive braces can help as your ACL heals.
If you do need surgery, the most important thing is to follow your doctor’s instructions and attend to prescribed physical therapy along the way.
Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)
The Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) is the opposite ligament from your ACL. It is the ligament inside the back of your knee meant to keep your shin bone from swinging too far backward. It is the spring you feel at the back of your knee when crouching. And you can injure it by falling too hard with your knee bent or when something impacts your knee while your knee is fully bent.
Surprisingly, the PCL is one of the strongest ligaments in the leg and seldom needs surgery when injured. Wearing a brace that provides compression and support combined with classic RICE healing methods are the usual ways to manage your treatment and recover at home. Don’t be shy about using crutches for the first few weeks if your doctor recommends keeping weight off the leg.
Bursae are sacs of fluid around the knee that provide padding and flexibility. When they wear out or are overused, the bursae become inflamed and painful with a condition known as bursitis. This is particularly common for people who do a great deal of kneeling. However, it can happen for a number of reasons sometimes relating to age, habits, or predisposition.
Bursitis is essentially inflammation and can often be treated with rest and the methods that traditionally reduce inflammation. Ice, compression, and elevation will all help ease the inflammation and time will allow any damaged tissue to heal. Once the swelling is gone, try using heat to promote bloodflow and healing.
Patellar Tendonitis – Jumper’s Knee
Your patellar tendon is the one that connects your kneecap to the shinbone. It also runs up into your thigh and helps you with the force to push up into a jump or a step upward. Straining or tearing your patellar tendon is very common with athletes who jump as part of their sport or training which is why it is known as jumper’s knee.
As always with a tendon injury, start with the RICE method to promote recovery. As the pain recedes, focus on exercise (without bouncing) and strengthening the muscles surrounding the patellar tendon to increase its natural support. A patellar strap can also be used to provide targeted support for your patellar tendon.
Meniscal Cartilage Tears
The meniscal cartilage in your knees are two little wedges that protect your knee from your thigh and shin bones. When exposed to shearing or intense force, these wedges of cartilage. Sudden tears often create an audible pop. Meniscal tears also become more common with age. However, meniscal cartilage tears are often intensely painful and take some time to heal.
After seeking immediate treatment from a doctor, you will want to keep your knee in a brace and use crutches for a few weeks until it no longer hurts to put pressure on the knee. Throughout the recovery, you will want to maintain compression and regular icing to keep the swelling down, ease the pain, and promote healing.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
Your iliotibial band is a thick strand of connective tissue that runs along the outside of your thigh to your knee. The syndrome usually appears as pain along the outside of the knee as your heel strikes the pavement. It is exceedingly more common in runners who exercise this band constantly with a long running stride.
To recover from iliotibial band syndrome, you will need to stop running and rest the leg. As recovery begins, physical therapy should focus on flexibility to ensure your iliotibial band heals in an elongated and flexible position. This is your best bet for avoiding pain in the future. Use RICE recovery methods to reduce inflammation and pain during recovery.
Each type of knee injury needs its own special treatment. Even applying the same RICE method can involve different bandages, braces, and support methods. Here at Mueller Sports Medicine, we are dedicated to providing the braces and sports recovery treatments you need to recover. Along with following doctor’s orders, compression, support, and temperature control can significantly promote your recovery. For more on the right sports medicine for your injury, contact us today.