The sun is shining, the snow is melting and everyone is eager to get out!
But be careful: your body has probably been taking it a bit easy these months and might not be ready for the fast movements, fast runs and fast turns required in a game of ultimate Frisbee or soccer. If your body isn’t ready, it can’t respond quickly enough and you could end up injured.
Knee injuries are one of the most common injuries in athletes, especially in the Spring as everyone is eagerly getting outside again.
Gaining a better understanding of what causes these common knee injuries can help prevent you from being a side-line cheerleader.
Common Knee Injuries and Prevention Strategies
The patella (knee cap) is supposed to glide along a straight track along the thigh bone as you straighten and bend your knee. The knee is powered by the four quadriceps muscles and when one of these muscles is weak or if there is an imbalance between the muscles, the patella gets pulled off its straight line and in different directions, irritating the joint. This improper movement causes inflammation, pain and can cause dislocation.
What can you do? Strengthen and stretch the quadriceps muscles regularly. Lunges are a perfect exercise to do and can be done anywhere. Mix up the direction (forward, backward, sideways) of the lunge to target the different muscles in the quadriceps. Squats are another perfect exercise for the quads and also can be done in different ways (close-legs, wide-legs, deep). Don’t forget to stretch after you’re warmed up; a good stretch for the quads is bring the foot to the tailbone and standing straight (you will look like a flamingo when you do this pose).
A ligament is the non-elastic tissues connecting bone to bone. In the knee there are four ligaments (ACL, PCL, LCL, and MCL). Typically ligament injuries occur when there is a sudden twist, sudden stop or a direct blow to the knee. Sprains, also known as a tear, are graded 1-3, which indicates the severity of the tear and most of the time with proper rest and care, a tear will heal. But, if you stretch the ligament, it will never shrink back to its original size causing you long-term problems.
What can you do? Although ligament injuries are a little harder to prevent since they’re usually a result of an accident, you can take precautions to lower your risk and lower the severity of an injury. Integrate exercises using resistance bands around the ankles during workouts, or using balance equipment such as the BOSU into your workouts to strengthen the knee ligaments.
Iliotibial Band (ITB) Syndrome
There is a long band of connective tissue that runs from your hip bone to the outside of your knee. If the IT band is tight, it will cause the tissue to rub against the femur, causing inflammation and pain. It’s a common complaint among runners, especially distance runners.
What can you do? Strengthen and stretch the external hip rotators and flexors. There are several stretches and treatments possible, and a physical therapist can help figure out what works best for you!
Although, less common, experiencing a meniscus tear can be painful and put you out of commission for at least six weeks. The knee has two cartilages – a medial and a lateral and both are made of collagen, which is a tough shock-absorbing material.
Meniscus tears are typically due to a traumatic injury, when the joint suddenly twists or bends. You’ll hear a popping or clicking noise in the knee and instantly the knee will swell.
What can you do? Keep your knee as strong as possible. Include plyometrics, running drills, balance training and strength training into your training sessions. Some good examples of exercises include forward jumps, lateral bounding, single leg squats, BOSU exercises, running heel kicks, sideways running or bounding strides.
Keep those knees safe, so you can enjoy this Spring and many more to come!