We run. We jump. We climb stairs. Sometimes we (well, some of us) compete in marathons or climb mountains. Throughout our lives, our knees take a beating. So it’s no wonder that a good bit of pain is associated with this important joint. But just how important is it?
The knee is a hinge joint that essentially allows us to move. Without it, we would be immobile. Understanding the construction of the knee can be tricky. Most of us are only aware of the kneecap, but there’s much more to this joint.
Here’s how it’s laid out: The knee joins the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia). The smaller bone (fibula) that runs alongside the tibia and the kneecap (patella) round out the bone structure of the knee. Tendons connect the knee bones to the leg muscles that move the joint, and ligaments join the knee bones and provide stability to the knee. All these elements work together to help you twist, turn, run and jump.
|Your mobility hinges on this joint.|
Even the best feats of engineering are susceptible to a few structural weaknesses, and the knee is no exception. The three main structural weaknesses that eventually may call for repair:
Overuse and inflammatory injuries:
Runners, gardeners, and others who use their knees a lot experience these types of problems. Overuse can result in tendinitis or swollen ligaments, which are painful, but not too serious. This type of knee pain can usually be treated with the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation, or with over-the-counter painkillers.
“Inflammation of the joint causes the symptoms of arthritis, so I suggest patients start out trying over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers,” says Dr. Edward Blocker, an orthopaedic surgeon at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. “If that doesn’t help, I would prescribe stronger prescription anti-inflammatory drugs.”
Most common in older people, arthritis of the knee is a result of damaged cartilage. “Most people start noticing joint pain in their 40s, but it’s not enough to slow them down,” Blocker says. “By the time they reach their 50s and 60s, the pain is bad enough to seek medical attention.”
Cartilage is there to protect the knee—like a layer of insulation. When it’s healthy, the bone can slide across the cushion like ice on ice, but when it becomes damaged, problems like arthritis arise. In the early stages, arthritis is treated with nonsurgical methods, such as lifestyle changes, medication and knee braces. Usually when patients find no pain relief from one treatment, they move on to another. Your doctor may recommend orthopaedic surgery or a partial or total knee replacement.
If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably heard the term “torn ACL.” It’s a common injury in athletes. ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament, and actions like twisting your knee with the foot planted, getting hit on the knee and stopping suddenly when running can tear it. But the ACL isn’t alone in being at risk. Your knee is made up of four ligaments, all of which can tear. Depending on the severity of the tear, knee surgery may be needed.
Fortunately, there are several treatment options available to you if you suffer from knee pain. Click here for more information about knee pain and the different treatment options available to you from Beaufort Memorial Hospital.