Preceded by their reputation for being knobbly or knocked, the knee’s role in mobility is under-appreciated when it really is doing important work. It’s the knee’s job to connect the thigh bone to the shin bone and allow movement to help you sit, stand, kneel, jump, walk or run. When the knee fails to be in good condition, or if you’re suffering from any sort of knee pain, these activities simply would not happen with ease, or comfort.
Common knee injuries
The knee is more than just the kneecap visible from the outside. It also consists of an interconnected web of tendons and ligaments which provide both flexibility and stability. When these small, specialised muscles are injured, we soon develop knee pain which can quickly impair our mobility.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that creeps up over time. After years of working hard to keep us moving, the cartilage wears away leaving the bones exposed. The result is bones that grind on each other, without protection, with each painful step. Someone with osteoarthritis will be familiar with with feeling inflammation, pain and stiffness in the knee.
There is no single cause of osteoarthritis. While some people inherit osteoarthritis, for others, it develops over their lifetime from physical labour, frequent squatting, kneeling or climbing up hills or stairs.
In severe cases, knee replacement surgery may be required. However, before it gets to that stage, GPs recommend pain management through prescription medication, exercises designed to increase your capacity for mobility such as yoga or swimming, and application of hot and cold packs.
ACL stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament. This ligament sits behind the knee cap to connect the thigh bone and shin bone, and enables rotation. It is generally hurt through sports activity and accidents.
In the past few years, hospitals in Australia and the USA have recorded an increase of ACL tears diagnosed in children and teens. Researchers hypothesise that children today are undertaking specialised sports training that is more intensive, frequent and continues throughout the year rather than just a season. The high level of sport results in too much stress on the ACL causing an injury.
Being active is good for children. Movement strengthens the muscles and ligaments throughout the whole body, knee included. Yet moderation is crucial for avoiding an ACL tear. ACL tears in childhood are precursors to osteoarthritis later in life, so parents should be aware that this injury has potential long term consequences.
At school we were taught that veins and capillaries deliver blood to every cell in the body. However, that is not entirely true. The cartilage in the knee does not have direct access to any blood supply. The only way for the cartilage to get a dose of oxygen and nutrients is released by the pumping action of the knee achieved through regular movement throughout waking hours.
While there are always going to be cartilage wear and tear from accidents and sporting injuries, most cartilage issues actually stem from people who live sedentary lifestyles. Without movement, the cartilage is denied nutrients and is unable to retain its strength thus becoming susceptible to wear and tear injuries.
Fluid in small sacs called bursae normally protect the knee joint. If they become inflamed the knee will become swollen and sore to touch, a condition named bursitis. The pain can be felt above the knee, below it or even on it. Someone with bursitis will have difficulty walking and will be able to feel heat in the swollen joint.
Bursitis tends to be diagnosed with people who are required to kneel a lot as part of their work, such as cleaners, labourers or gardeners. Dancers and those who participate in high impact sports increase their risk of bursitis as well.
Treatment of bursitis may focus on physiotherapy to work out the muscles in your legs, hips and feet. If they are able to work harder, some of the pressure on your knees can be relieved. In the worst-case scenario, bursa can be removed surgically.
Can knee-pain be avoided?
Like other parts of the body, by treating the knee with respect, it will likewise take care of you. Overusing and underusing your knee joint leads to injury and pain. Knowing when to exercise, how much your body can handle safely, and when to rest is the key to living a knee-pain free life.