According to a 2011 Annals of Internal Medicine article, 25% of American adults suffer from frequent knee pain. This can limit work, life, and mobility. In those adults over age 50, osteoarthritis of the knee is the most frequent cause of knee pain. Adolescent athletes injure the knee joint more commonly than other joints. For these young athletes, injuries to the MCL (medial collateral ligament), patellar tendon, ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), meniscus and LCL (lateral collateral ligament) are most common. Most sports injuries involve a planting and twisting motion of the leg, or a tackle when the foot is fixed. In this blog, you’ll learn about knee injury treatment, and knee pain management. Additionally, you’ll learn the best exercises for knee injury and knee pain.
Parts of the Knee
First, let’s look at the parts of the knee (see the side view of the knee). The knee is made of three bones – the thigh bone (femur), the shin bone (tibia) and the kneecap (patella). The knee can bend and go straight by flexing the muscles that support the knee. Inside the knee, there are two cartilage pads for shock absorption called meniscus. There are also four stabilizing ligaments of the knee – the ACL and PCL are deep inside the knee, the LCL and MCL are on the outer and inner surface of your knee, respectively. To clarify, these ligaments help promote stability of the knee.
Common knee injury management and treatment for ligament and meniscus injuries:
- For knee injury treatment from trauma (sports, fall, recreation), see a medical provider within 2-3 days of injury.
- If you are appropriate for physical therapy for your knee injury, see a PT within the first week post injury. (Read about how to find a good PT.)
- Acute knee injury treatment may include controlling of the swelling, maintaining full motion of the knee, and walking with the help of crutches or a brace when appropriate.
- Progressive physical therapy includes strengthening, activity-based exercises and readiness for sports drills and skills.
- Return-to-sport is possible after a knee injury, and your physical therapist can guide you through the steps.
- Surgery may or may not be recommended based upon injury type, your activity level, and your age. So, early evaluation is essential.
Knee pain treatment is similar to knee injury treatment with a few distinctions:
- If knee pain has persisted longer than one month, then see a physical therapist.
- Knee pain treatment focuses on normal motion, restoring strength, and improving movement patterns with walking, running, etc.
- With comprehensive knee pain treatment, most knee pain will resolve itself (even in the presence of osteoarthritis) without the need for surgery.
Exercises for knee pain and injuries
Exercises for knee pain and following a knee injury are essential to manage the pain and heal and to return to normal life and sports activities. So, here are some typical exercises we prescribe in physical therapy:
In the picture to the right, the athlete is working on hyper-extension of the left knee. Ten minutes, 3-5 times daily to reduce stiffness, is commonly prescribed. For use at home, drape a 3-5 pound weight across the knee. Restoration of normal hyper-extension reduces pain now and into the future.
While lying on your back, gently squeeze the muscle on the tops of your thigh and press the back of your knee into the floor. Hold 3 seconds and relax. In short, you should perform this 50-100 times daily to reduce swelling and activate your quadriceps.
Knee pain and injury exercises tend to start off easy and progress into harder exercises. Once knee swelling is well-controlled and quadriceps can be easily activated, your exercise can increase. Exercises such as squats and lunges are excellent exercises to help you manage your knee pain and heal long term.
Whether you have suffered a knee injury from sports or you have osteoarthritis causing your knee pain, there are many conservative solutions available.