Popular culture has long relied on the stereotype of the person who predicts bad weather when his knee is “acting up”. This stereotype is far from entertaining to people who suffer knee injuries when they pursue more active lifestyles, and to an aging population that may be in the beginning stages of knee osteoarthritis. Rather than relegating knee pain to a method of predicting the weather, people who experience knee injuries are looking for effective treatments for knee injuries that not only reduce and eliminate knee pain, but that also help them regain mobility and get back to their chosen activities as quickly as is possible.
An active person who has overstressed or injured a knee joint may not even be aware of an injury until he wakes up a day or two after a strenuous workout with pain and stiffness in one or both knees, particularly if he has been inactive for several hours after the workout. That stiffness may dissipate after a short time, but aches and pains that continue or increase during an active day may require more attention, particularly if those aches and pains discourage a person from resuming more aggressive activity. An individual whose knee pain continues or gets worse after an initial injury should pay special attention to any cracking and grating sensations in the knee joints, as those sensations can be symptoms of unprotected bones rubbing against each other.
If a person has experienced an injury to one or both knee joint that is more than just stiffness from overuse, a physician or physical therapist might first assess the extent of the injury by taking his medical history and examining the affected joints both directly and with X-rays. Therapists will also assess a person’s range of motion and examine tissue around the joint for swelling. Different medical conditions can cause common symptoms, but a physician or therapist will try to determine if knee pain, swelling, and limited range of motion are caused by an injury to the joint or by osteoarthritis that increases with age.
At an extreme, severe injuries, degradation of the cartilage in a knee joint, and chronic knee problems might require a surgical option to replace the affected joints. Fortunately for most people, physicians and therapists can generally devise a 4-part plan to treat knee injuries that does not include surgery. Since pain is a limiting factor for other therapies, the first part of the 4-part plan will address and alleviate pain. Milder pain can be managed with over-the-counter pain medications, including ibuprofen or acetaminophen. More severe pain might require prescription-strength painkillers. Individuals who are allergic or sensitive to these medications or who have concerns about painkiller addiction should discuss these issues with their physicians before beginning any course of pharmaceutical pain management. Likewise, patients who are co-diagnosed with other medical problems may not be good candidates for some painkillers that can harm a person’s liver or other organs when they are taken for longer period of time. As an alternative, a physician may be able to alleviate knee pain with corticosteroid injections directly into an affected joint.
The second part of a typical 4-part plan will be a series of recommendations to incorporate control and management of knee pain and therapy for knee joints directly into a person’s regular daily activities. A weight loss plan, for example, can reduce regular pressure on painful knee joints. Certain foods that contain greater amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and other components can help lubricate affected joints and reduce pain associated with bones that rub against each other. Taking pressure off of affected joints with regular rest, and using hot compresses or water therapy on those joints can also reduce pain and improve mobility.
Unlike professional athletes who work with large staffs of physicians and therapists, a patient who suffers a knee injury will see his physician or therapist only during limited periods of time during regular appointments. The patient needs to take some responsibility for his own care and treatment to maximize the benefits of the medical treatments he receives from his caregivers. Modifying daily activities to include therapy for knee injuries is the best means to accomplish this.
The third and fourth parts of a typical 4-part plan involve stretching and exercise. Physical therapist adds a substantial amount of value in both of these parts of the treatment plan by devising stretching and exercise plans that are specific to specific types of knee injuries. Stretching will lengthen the muscles around the affected joints and increase a person’s range of motion around the joint. Individuals who have experienced knee injuries frequently compensate for pain and limited motion in the joint by putting added stress on other muscles and joints around the injured area. Stretching will reduce the knots and other bindings in muscle tissue that add to knee pain.
A physical therapist might recommend knee and hip stretches both from lying and standing positions. That therapist can also massage tight muscles to loosen them and to break painful knots. Proper rehabilitation of a knee injury will require an individual to continue to stretch and massage surrounding muscles after he leaves his therapist’s office. Foam rollers that allow a person to do his own deep tissue massage and simple yoga and other moves are good options for this purpose.
Exercise does not need to be nor should it be aggressive or overly strenuous in order to help alleviate pain and discomfort from knee injuries, especially in the early stages of rehabilitation. Riding a stationary bike and walking in a swimming pool will put gentle resistance against muscles around an affected joint and will strengthen those muscles to improve joint stability. Individuals whose symptoms are less severe might benefit from Pilates and other classes that emphasize moving joints through different ranges of motion. Again, a physical therapist will have the knowledge and skills to recommend the ideal exercise program for each individual knee injury patient.
Special care should be taken to stabilize the injured knee joint at all times after an injury. Knee braces, compression sleeves, and athletic tape are good stabilizing options. A person who is serious about rehabilitating an injured knee joint should speak with his therapist about how to use these knee stabilization tools most effectively. A brace or tape that is not used properly will offer some level of support, but greater and more effective support will improve rehabilitation of the injured joint. An injured party should continue to use the brace for a period of time even after he perceives that he has recovered from the injury, at least until a physician or therapist confirms that the he has fully recovered from the injury.
The goal of every knee injury treatment plan will be to help a person regain an active lifestyle with greater confidence in his strength and flexibility after he experiences a knee injury. No one therapeutic remedy will be perfect for every person or every type of knee injury, and a physician or therapist will likely need to try multiple options for the best recovery.