Playing sports or engaging in athletic pursuits is a great way to stay active — but it also increases your risk of sustaining a sports-related injury.
Any part of your body can get hurt in the game, but it’s your high-use, weight-bearing joints — especially your knees — that are most vulnerable to acute trauma and chronic overuse injuries.
At Sports Medicine Oregon in Tigard and Wilsonville, Oregon, our team of board-certified orthopedists evaluate and treat sports injuries. Here, we explore the ins and outs of three sports-related knee injuries we see in our practice.
A complex hinge joint
Your knee is a hinge joint that connects your thigh bone and shin bones. Within the shallow cup of the tibia, the end of the femur is covered by a thick layer of cartilage. Your kneecap is at the front of the joint, below the femur.
Bands of connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) reinforce and stabilize your knee joints, which are further cushioned by additional cartilage (menisci).
Common sports-related knee injuries
As your largest and most complex joints, your knees absorb and support most of your weight when you move. For these reasons, the knee is also one of the most frequently injured joints — especially on the playing field.
Sudden (acute) or progressive (chronic) damage to any of the knee’s structures can result in a painful, side-lining injury, including:
1. ACL sprain or tear
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is situated at the center of the knee joint. It forms a X-shaped “strap” with the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). The ACL and PCL work together to stop your knee from bending or rotating too much.
ACL sprains and tears are a common sports-related knee injury. They frequently happen during sudden twisting motions, such as a plant-and-pivot move, that places excessive force on the knee joint. Repeated jumping or stopping short when running can also sprain or tear the ACL.
Every year in the United States, up to 200,000 people — many of whom are athletes — sustain an ACL tear. Sports that carry a higher risk of ACL injury include gymnastics, soccer, basketball, and football.
A sprained ACL is stretched beyond its limits. Common symptoms include knee pain (especially with weight), swelling, instability, and reduced range of motion.
A torn ACL can cause the same symptoms, but it can also bleed into your knee, causing painful swelling and joint laxity. You may also experience a popping sensation at the time of a ligament tear.
Immediate treatment for all sports-related knee injuries begins with the RICE protocol (rest, icing, compression, elevation). Over-the-counter pain relievers, bracing, and physical therapy can help heal mild ACL strains and tears; a severe tear requires reconstructive surgery.
2. Meniscus tears
Within your knee joint, there are two C-shaped cushions of shock-absorbing cartilage called menisci that act as stabilizers and help facilitate smooth joint motion.
A meniscus tear often occurs alongside a ligament sprain — typically the medial or lateral collateral ligaments (MCL or LCL). They tend to happen with sudden twisting movements, or during an intense contact hit.
Sports that involve sudden twisting or changes of direction, like tennis, soccer, and basketball, increase your risk of a torn meniscus, as do contact sports like football. This risk increases with age, especially if knee arthritis has deteriorated your menisci.
You may feel a “popping” sensation in your knee when a meniscus tears, followed by instant knee pain and instability. Joint swelling and stiffness emerge soon after, along with significantly reduced range of motion and stability.
After the RICE protocol, minor meniscus tears may heal without surgery; non-prescription pain relievers, bracing, and physical therapy are typically recommended. Severe tears require minimally invasive arthroscopic surgical repair.
3. Patellar tendonitis
Patellar tendonitis, also known as jumper’s knee, is an overuse injury that affects the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone. Caused by frequent jumping on hard surfaces, this injury repeatedly strains the patellar tendon, causing it to become painfully inflamed.
Runners, gymnasts, volleyball and basketball players whose chosen activity involves jumping or running on hard surfaces have a higher risk of developing jumper’s knee.
Patellar tendonitis symptoms tend to come on gradually and — without treatment — worsen over time. Painful swelling, tenderness behind the lower part of your kneecap, and sharp pain when running, jumping, or walking are common signs of this repetitive stress sports injury.
Healing jumper’s knee requires you to stop the activity that’s causing the problem, and implement the RICE protocol. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) pain relievers can be helpful, as can stretching and strengthening exercises with physical therapy.
Have you hurt your knee in the game?
If you’ve injured your knee in the game, call or click to schedule a visit at Sports Medicine Oregon in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today.