Now that I’m a mom I am more reflective about life. I look at the most simple events and seem to view them differently. I was at my 8-year-old daughter’s soccer game the other day, and she fell pretty hard on her knees and sat for a few moments to get her breath. My first concern was immediate. Is she OK? Once she stood up, my next thought was, what kind of damage is this game having on her body? Could it be that I am promoting knee problems for her future? Should I even let her play soccer? We are going home!
I know, sounds a little crazy, but I see these types of knee injuries in our clinic every day. Rarely a day goes by without a friend asking me to help them set up an appointment.
Many of the injuries we sustain in our youth contribute to the problems we face as adults, and our knees are no exception. Of course, we know that we cannot sufficiently warn our kids — they won’t believe us. What kind of information do we need to know to protect our children from serious injuries and help us maintain our function?
Our knees are one of the most overworked parts of our bodies. They are also very complex. Patrick Wupperman, MD, an orthopedic surgeon for Azalea Orthopedics, specializes in sports medicine, and says that every step we take puts about three times the pressure of our body weight on our knees. For example, if I weigh 130 pounds, that is 390 pounds worth of pressure for each step taken. Luckily that pressure gets distributed and absorbed — until injury or aging has occurred. Then the injuries we sustain are much more serious and life-changing.
To understand the knee, it’s important to understand some basic anatomy. The knee is made up of three bones: the femur (thigh), tibia (shinbone), and the patella (kneecap), which is attached to the other bones by ligaments and tendons.
“The knee is unique in that it does not just bend and straighten; it also has a slight rotation,” Dr.Wupperman says. “This rotation is one of the factors that make it more susceptible to injury.” Because the knee is kept stable and aligned by ligaments and tendons, this is where damage usually occurs. A few other important players in the knee are the muscles in the front and back of your legs and the meniscus, the soft cartilage between the bones that serves as a shock absorber when you move.
So basically the bones support the knee and joints, and the muscles move the joints. The ligaments provide stabilization and, as we bear weight, the meniscus cushions everything. Got it?
This is where it gets painful. As we enter our 40s and 50s our knees start to hurt. “As our knees begin to age we begin seeing the damage from previous injuries and just the normal aging process,” Dr. Wupperman maintains. For example the cushion begins to wear and the ligaments and tendons begin to stiffen. When that is coupled with the usual loss of stress absorbing musculature, the knee hurts.
Is there anything we can do to give our knees a break? First, we cannot let our kids live in an injury-free bubble, but we can educate our family about how to take care of the knees to keep them healthy as we age. “We need to take better care of our knees by learning how to move properly, stretching, weight–training exercises, and wearing the correct protective gear during sports and other activities,” Dr. Wupperman concludes. “Hopefully that equals less pain.”
Common Knee Ailments
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the most common knee injuries include:
- Arthritis — This most common cause has many treatments available.
- Ligament Injuries — 1) Anterior cruciate ligament injury: Changing direction rapidly, slowing down when running, and landing from a jump may cause tears. 2) Medial collateral ligament injury: Usually caused by a blow to outside of the knee. 3) Posterior curciate ligament injury: Often injured by a blow to front of the knee or making a misstep.
- Cartilage Injuries /Meniscal Tear — The meniscus is a tough, rubbery cartilage that is attached to the knee’s ligaments. The meniscus acts like a shock absorber. Cartilage tears are seen in young and older patients alike and are also a common cause of knee pain.
- Patellar Tendonitis — Tendonitis around the joint is most commonly of the patellar tendon, the large tendon over the front of the knee.