Your knees are hinged joints that allow the leg to bend and extend, but with minimal side-to-side motion. Bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues make up the knee joints, which are where three bones meet – the bottom of the thigh bone, the top of the shin bone and the kneecap.
Unfortunately, knee injuries occur quite commonly in certain sports, particularly contact sports like rugby, martial arts or hockey or those that involve running, jumping and twisting. If you experience sudden knee pain during sport, it is important to stop and not to continue playing.
Try to avoid putting weight on the affected knee and don’t stand for extended periods of time. Take painkillers to relieve pain and use an ice pack (a bag of frozen peas wrapped inside a tea towel will suffice) to bring down swelling. If the pain does not subside or you are unable to put weight on your knee or move it, you should seek medical advice.
Common sports injuries of the knee
Common knee injuries that can occur during sport include:
This is characterised by a dull, aching pain around or behind the kneecap. You may also experience a grating sensation in your knee and/or swelling. The name ‘runner’s knee’ actually refers to a range of conditions that affect the kneecap, including iliotibial band syndrome, anterior knee pain syndrome and chondromalacia patella. As well as running, the condition is linked to walking, skiing, jumping and football.
It is caused by irritation of the lining of the knee, worn cartilage or strained tendons due to overuse, trauma, flat feet, or complete or partial dislocation of the kneecap. The best treatment is the RICE method (rest, ice to reduce swelling, compression and elevation to prevent further swelling).
To prevent runner’s knee, lose weight if you are overweight to reduce stress on your knees. Warm up properly before exercising, build up your training schedule gradually and be sure to wear the correct running shoes for good shock absorption. Good technique is important, as leaning too far backwards or forwards or keeping your knees rigid can all increase the risk of injury. You should also avoid running on concrete – a soft, smooth surface is best.
A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
The ACL is one of four ligaments in your knee. If you swerve, stop suddenly, land awkwardly or collide with another player your ACL can tear, causing severe pain and swelling and an inability to put weight on the joint. Your knee may swell and you may not be able to straighten your leg completely.
This type of injury is common, accounting for around 40% of all sporting injuries. It normally occurs in sports like squash, tennis, football, rugby and skiing.
Strength training targeting the ACL can help to prevent injuries and build greater resilience. Improving your balance and strengthening the small muscles in your feet, ankles and legs can also help to prevent the jarring twists that can lead to ACL tears. As with runner’s knee, good technique, correct footwear and a proper warm-up can all help you to avoid getting injured.
This is where a piece of cartilage from inside the joint breaks off affecting the way the knee works and causing it to lock, catch or give way. Cartilage is the tough, flexible tissue that covers the surface of all joints in the body, allowing bones to slide smoothly over one another and acting as a shock absorber.
It may become damaged during sport, resulting in pain, loss of movement, numbness, swelling or being unable to put weight on the joint. Minor damage may get better by itself if you rest the affected joint and protect it from further injury by using a support. More serious damage may require surgery to repair or replace the damaged cartilage.
The best way to avoid cartilage damage is to know your limits, maintain a healthy weight and develop good sporting technique.
A torn meniscus can occur as a result of forcefully twisting or rotating your knee while putting your full weight on it. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a cushion between your thighbone and your shinbone. You have two menisci in each knee. A torn meniscus causes pain, swelling and stiffness and may make it difficult to extend your knee fully.
Many meniscal injuries improve with rest and physiotherapy but if your knee is locking, catching or giving way you may need keyhole surgery. Repairing a torn meniscus may also help to reduce the risk of developing arthritis later in life.
If you injure your knee during sport or any other activity, it is important to get a proper diagnosis if the symptoms persist or are severe.
Following the lockdown, Castle Orthopaedics is now re-open for virtual and face to face appointments at both Spire Nottingham Hospital and BMI The Park Hospital. Surgery is now also being scheduled once again, which means that injuries requiring surgery can be treated.