In contact sports, one of the most dreaded injuries on the field is the common and debilitating “unhappy triad.” The unhappy triad is a complete or partial tear to three of the knee’s integral structures: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and medial meniscus…
The knee joint is the largest and one of the most intricate joints in the body. A knee consists of two joints, three bones, and a network of ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscles. The knees bear the weight of up to one-and-a-half times your body mass, and provide the lower extremities with stability and flexibility through hinge-like and rotational movement. As such, the knee is a highly susceptible joint to a number of injuries and a target joint of underlying health conditions such as arthritis.
Knee pain is responsible for about 30 per cent of doctor’s visits due to musculoskeletal pain. The most common origins of knee pain can be divided into three main categories:
- overuse injuries,
- mechanical injuries,
- and underlying disease processes.
The most common causes of knee pain include arthritis, meniscal and ligament injuries, tendonitis, iliotibial band syndrome, gout, inflammatory etiologies such as bursitis, and congenital deformities. Prevention of knee problems is the single most important factor in avoiding knee pain.
How can knee pain be prevented?
- Weight matters. Losing weight can substantially reduce the amount of pressure placed on the knees. 10 pounds of extra weight increases force on the knee by up to 60 pounds per step, potentially accelerating the wear-and-tear of cartilage. With an average of 10,000 steps per day, moderate weight loss can result in a great reduction of knee pain!
- Strengthen leg muscles surrounding the knee. Strengthening the muscles around the knee, especially the quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and tibialis anterior, will provide stability to the joint and help decrease the likelihood of mechanical and overuse injuries. Helpful resistance training exercises include riding a stationary bike or walking up stairs. Make sure to add resistance slowly if this is your first time engaging in weight-bearing activities.
- Wear proper footwear. Shoes that provide proper arch support can correct abnormal movement patterns caused by the feet. For example, flat feet tend to roll inward (pronate), which can result in knee problems. Wearing orthotics may be the simple fix for eliminating your knee pain.
- Avoid high-heeled shoes. Heels throw off the structural alignment of your lower extremities, including your ankles, knees, and hips, and add unnecessary stress to your lumbar spine. The knees work overtime on absorbing shock in high-heeled wearers, resulting in pain and accelerated wear-and-tear of the joint.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. A diet high in anti-inflammatory Omega 3s can help reduce knee pain caused by arthritis, and can help keep the inflammation process involved with other types of knee pain at bay. A study in women with active Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) concluded that Mediterranean-diet foods including fish, olive oil, vegetables and fruit, and nuts can reduce inflammatory activity, increase physical function, and improve vitality. Other similar studies in patients with RA have shown that these foods can result in reduced pain levels, morning stiffness, and disease activity.
Unfortunately, knee pain is not always avoidable. There are, however, a few approaches that can help reduce pain and inflammation in the joint:
- Reduce stress until you receive medical advice. Resting is important especially when you don’t know the organic cause of your knee pain.
- If your knee pain is due to an external injury, ice can help reduce pain and swelling in the acute phase of the healing process. Apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes 3 times a day.
- Get symptomatic relief. Arnica Gel or Joint Pain Relief can help sooth inflammation in the knee joint and its surrounding muscles.
- Range-of-motion exercises. If your knee pain is due to an underlying disease process, such as in arthritis or gout, moving the knee through its natural range of motion several times a day can increase blood flow to the region and accelerate lymphatic drainage, which will expedite healing in the area.