Whether you’re an athlete or just an active person, the knees play a critical role in our everyday lives: most basic motions wouldn’t be possible without them, and they’re no less indispensable for more high-impact activities such as running and weightlifting.
Because the knees serve so many diverse functions, injuries to them can completely disrupt a patient’s life. Unfortunately, the very thing that makes them so versatile — the many moving parts that compose the joint — also makes them more susceptible to injury.
How Does the Knee Joint Work?
The largest joint in the body, the knee is formed by the junction of four separate bones: the femur, the tibia, the fibula, and the patella. The femur is attached to the load-bearing tibia and the patella, a small piece of bone below the femur that helps protect the joint. A pair of ligaments also attaches the femur to the fibula, a smaller bone adjacent to the tibia that strengthens and stabilizes the lower leg. These bones collectively form a pivotal hinge joint that can bend, extend, and rotate internally and externally.
In addition to these bones, the knee is also comprised of four large ligaments: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). Each ligament plays a unique role in protecting, strengthening, and stabilizing the joint. The knee is also surrounded by small fluid-filled sacs called bursae, which lubricate the joint and facilitate movement by reducing friction between bones.
What are the Main Risk Factors for Knee Injuries?
The knee’s complexity makes it especially vulnerable to injury. Indeed, a small problem with a single ligament can prevent the entire joint from functioning properly. While these issues are often caused by a sudden trauma such as a sports-related ACL tear, many knee injuries result from a gradual degeneration of the bone or cartilage.
Knee injuries can be separated into three distinct categories: acute injuries, overuse injuries, and condition-related knee problems. Acute injuries are the most common cause of knee problems. Often sustained during strenuous exercise, they can be caused by direct trauma, abnormal twisting, or hyperflexion. Acute injuries can include ligament sprains or muscle strains, tears in the ligaments, bone fractures, or dislocations of the patella.
As the name suggests, overuse injuries are caused by repetitive activities that place prolonged pressure on the knee. Any sport that requires frequent movements of the knees, such as jogging or cycling, can increase your risk of developing an overuse injury. Heavy lifting or simply climbing stairs can have the same effect. Many overuse injuries result in chronic pain and inflammation of the joint. As these symptoms progress, they may need to be treated with medication or physical therapy.
Some knee problems are the product of a separate condition that affects the joint and the area around it, rather than sudden trauma or overuse. Some common knee-related conditions include osteoarthritis, Osgood-Schlatter disease, Baker’s Cyst, Osteochondritis dissecans, or pinched nerves.
Luckily, there are many preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of knee injuries. Athletes, of course, can better prepare themselves by warming up, stretching, and cooling down, while non-athletes can take some other steps to minimize their risk. Wearing supportive footwear, for example, may reduce the risk of injury by easing the load on the knee, while maintaining a healthy weight lowers the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis.
Should you injure your knee, however, reliable treatment is readily available. With our years of experience in treating knee injuries, the surgeons at New York Bone and Joint will develop a specialized treatment plan that completely rehabilitates your knee and minimize the risk of a recurrence. Contact us today to schedule an initial appointment.