As chiropractors and physical therapists, we see dozens, if not hundreds, of knee injuries come through our offices every year, often seeking out car accident treatment. Whether you’ve been in a car accident or not, knee injuries are some of the most common injuries that Americans face. More than 10 million people seek treatment annually for some type of common knee injury. Because the knee is a complicated part of the body, connecting many bones, ligaments, and tendons, there are many different knee injuries that people can suffer from on any given day.
Being knee experts at AICA Jonesboro, we’re here to give you a quick biology lesson to help you understand why the knee is so susceptible to injury. Then, we’ll walk you through the 12 most common knee injuries or causes of knee injuries, treatment options, and a few ways you can help prevent knee injuries from occurring in the first place.
Basic Knee Biology
The knee is a complicated joint that is made up of four key components: bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. These four components work together to move your knee on a hinge, giving you the ability to bend and straighten your leg.
Your thigh bone, or femur, sits atop your knee joint, and your tibia, or shinbone, sits below your knee joint. The bone we refer to as our kneecap is actually called the patella, and this bone covers the connection point between the bones in your upper leg and lower leg.
Surrounding the femur, tibia, and patella is tissue called cartilage that helps provide cushioning for the bones within the knee joint. The cartilage acts as a support system for ligaments, so when ligaments move, they move smoothly across the bones and help protect the bones from impact.
Ligaments work together to hold the bones of the knee in place, while tendons connect the bones of the upper and lower leg.
Top 12 Common Knee Injuries
One common knee injury is a fracture. When we say that the knee has been fractured, this could actually be referring to any one of the bones that make up the knee. When it comes to knee fractures, the most common causes are high-impact traumas. This includes but is not limited to car accidents or falls. The most commonly fractured bone within the knee is the patella, or kneecap.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL, is a ligament that provides stability to the knee. Injuries to the ACL can be extremely serious and require surgery, as the ACL runs down the front of the knee, and the support it provides the rest of the knee is critical. You’ve probably heard of ACL injuries from various professional sports. Athletes that suffer from ACL injuries are often considered out for a season, if not longer, while they address the injury and recovery. ACL injuries are gauged on a scale of 1 to 3, where 1 is a mild sprain, and 3 is a complete tear.
When someone dislocates their knee, it means the bones of the knee have popped out of place or alignment. Some of the things that can cause bones to dislocate are trauma such as falls, car accidents, or sports. Contact sports especially, like football, can lead to knee dislocation.
In between your tibia and femur lie two pieces of cartilage called menisci. These rubbery bits can tear, and this can be a sudden tear as a result of activity (usually a sport) or can be a slow tear due to aging and wear and tear. When the meniscus tears due to a sudden movement or activity, there is usually a loud popping noise or feeling accompanying the tear.
Within the knee joint sit small cushiony sacs filled with fluid. These are called bursae, and they help the tendons and ligaments glide smoothly over the knee joint. When overused or submitted to excessive use or pressure, these bursae can become inflamed and cause bursitis. While most cases of bursitis are not serious and can be resolved through home remedies, some cases may require medication or removal of the excess fluid through aspiration.
Tendonitis refers to inflammation due to injury within the knee joint, typically involving the tendons that connect the patella to the tibia. While any physically active person can be at risk for tendonitis, it is particularly common in runners and jumpers who are frequently overworking that tendon that helps extend the knee.
As we mentioned previously, tendons connect the muscles around the knee with the bones in the knee joint. When tendons are inflamed, tendonitis can occur, but these tendons can also tear. Common tears of the knee tendons typically occur in the patellar. Physical activities can put anyone at risk for a tendon tear, but tendon tears are particularly common among athletes.
Collateral Ligament Injurie
You’ll notice a pattern that athletes, particularly those that play contact sports, are more prone to knee injuries than others. This is particularly true for collateral ligament injuries, which occur due to direct collision or direct trauma with another person or object. Collateral ligaments connect the tibia to the femur.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
Your iliotibial band (or IT band, as you may have heard it called) runs down the outside of your leg from your hip to your tibia. Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) occurs when the IT band creates friction against the outside of the knee joint. This injury is common amongst runners, especially long-distance runners. It is usually not serious and typically builds gradually over time.
Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
Like your ACL that goes over your knee in the front, your posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is in the back of your knee and prevents the tibia from moving back too far. Injuries to the PCL would have to come from something powerful hitting the knee while it is bent. These injuries typically come from falls or car accidents.
You may have heard of “runner’s knee,” which refers to several types of damage due to overuse. The knee can become weak from repetitive damage, which is commonly found in runners, hence the nickname “runner’s knee.” Improper motions and mechanics of running can add to or cause overuse, as can congenital issues.
Conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis that affect bones and joints can also account for many common knee injuries and afflictions.
Treatment Options for Knee Injuries
Many of these common knee injuries will exhibit similar symptoms: pain, swelling, and tenderness around the knee. It can be difficult to determine what type of knee injury you have, especially if you were not involved in a car accident or injured in a direct-contact sport. If you experience a decreased range in motion, and if the pain is chronic or becomes worse after a week, you should seek out a doctor. If you’ve been involved in an accident or sports injury, seek medical assistance immediately.
Treatment for knee injuries varies greatly depending on the type of injury and the pain you’re feeling as a result. In most cases, rest will be the first thing prescribed. Depending on the circumstances of your knee injury, your doctor may order several tests to understand the extent of your injury. Your injury may require a brace, cast, relocating the knee back into place, or in some cases, surgery. If you must have surgery, you will likely have to use crutches or a wheelchair, as you won’t be able to put weight on your injured knee for some time.
In most cases, physical therapy can help injured patients regain functionality and strength in their knees once again.
Prevention of Knee Injuries
You can’t predict getting in a car accident or experiencing some sort of physical trauma, and these things account for many knee injuries. But, you can take some basic care to reduce your risk of some common knee injuries. For injuries such as overuse or IT band injuries, you can take care to stretch properly before and after exercise and reduce the amount of exercise you typically do. Resting is crucial to any physical activity, so make sure that if you’re exercising regularly, you’re also building in rest days for your knees.
If you play sports, it’s imperative that you wear proper protective gear and appropriate shoes for the sport you play. It’s also important to remember to do strength-building exercises, which strengthen the major and minor muscles in your legs, which will also support healthy knee function.
Seeing a chiropractor or physical therapist at AICA Jonesboro can also be a great way to stay ahead of any injury by maintaining proper physical fitness and mobility. Physical therapists can work on any problem areas and tailor exercises and routines to address specific concerns you may have regarding knee health. Chiropractic care can be a great way to maintain spinal alignment, which also helps your body function properly while making sure your central nervous system is communicating effectively with the rest of your body.