The knee is the largest joint in the body and one of the most complicated. It not only allows the leg to bend and straighten, but supports much of the body.
Made up of the tibia, femur and kneecap along with ligaments, muscles and tendons, it is not surprising that it is prone to injury. Here are five of the most common knee injuries of the last ten years:
1. Fractured Kneecap
The kneecap, or the patella, is basically protected only by skin and ligaments, which do not provide much of a cushion when it suffers an injury. The result can range from a simple crack to the kneecap being shattered.
The fracture not only comes from blows to the knee that come with such sports as football or soccer. In some cases, the quadriceps muscle in the thigh can contract so violently that it strains the kneecap and causes it to break.
The symptoms of a kneecap fracture include severe pain at once followed by swelling. The patient can’t bear weight on the leg or straighten their knee.
The patient must stop their activity, call the doctor and place an ice pack on the knee while they wait for medical attention. The doctor can conform the diagnosis of a fractured knee cap through a physical exam and imaging tests such as an X-ray.
If the fracture is simple, the doctor may put the knee in a cast for about six weeks and prescribe pain killers to deal with any discomfort. If the patient’s recovery is uncomplicated, the cast may be removed early and replaced with a knee brace.
If the fracture is severe, the patient may need to have surgery. During surgery, the kneecap is repaired with surgical wire and pins. If the kneecap is fractured beyond repair, the doctor removes it and installs a full or partial prosthetic.
2. Dislocated Knee
The kneecap is supposed to glide up and down the femoral torchlear groove, which is found in the thighbone.
If the ligaments and tendons are no longer able to secure the kneecap, it can dislocate either fully or partially. The dislocation is most often outward or to the sides.
Like a knee fracture, a dislocated kneecap is a risk with sports such as soccer or football. People who don’t wear supportive footgear when they run or play other sports are also at risk of a dislocation.
The symptoms are pain, swelling and stiffness in the knee. Some people hear a “pop” when the knee dislocates, and other people hear a creaking sound when the knee is moved. The knee may also catch, or buckle under the person’s weight.
The immediate treatment for a dislocated knee is the RICE procedure. This means that the knee is raised, an icepack is applied, the knee is compressed and elevated.
The doctor may relocate the knee, prescribe pain killers and put the knee in a splint for about three weeks. During that time, the patient will need to use crutches.
As the healing continues, the doctor may place the knee in a splint to keep the kneecap from slipping sideways while supporting what movement it has.
If the knee does not respond well to treatment, the patient may need surgery to repair a tendon or ligament in the knee. Patients with knee dislocations are often referred to physical therapists.
3. ACL Injury
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament is one of the four main ligaments found in the knee. It helps stabilize the joint, and can be damaged by sudden, violent twisting motions or blows.
Again, collision sports put the player at risk for this injury, and the risk is compounded when the player is tackled. People also get this injury when they run or jump improperly or suffer a fall.
An ACL injury causes severe, immediate pain and swelling. The patient may hear a “pop” and the knee will become unstable and unable to bear the person’s weight.
The leg might not be able to straighten out. If a person believes they’ve suffered this kind of injury, they need to follow the RICE procedure and keep their knee immobile.
If the injury is mild, the patient needs to use crutches until the pain and swelling are gone, but if the ACL is ruptured, the patient may need to have surgery to repair the ligament. This might require using tissue from another part of the patient’s body.
4. Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury
Like the ACL, the posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL stabilizes the knee. It is also subject to injury during collision sports.
The symptoms of a PCL injury are similar to those of an ACL injury, but the person may feel the knee become unstable as they try to walk down an incline.
A mild PCL ligament can heal if the patient uses crutches until the symptoms are gone. The doctor can also have the patient wear a knee brace and recommend a physical therapist.
5. Collateral Ligament Injury
There are two collateral ligaments. One is the medial collateral ligament, and the other is the lateral collateral ligament. T
he former keeps the knee from collapsing inward while the latter keeps the knee from collapsing outward. Again, the risk of this injury is high during collision sports.
Symptoms and Treatment
The symptoms and treatment are similar to those of other damaged knee ligaments.
Fortunately, most of these injuries heal well after treatment. Unless the injury is severe, the treatment need not involve surgery.