Knee injuries are one of the most frequent types of sports injuries — which shouldn’t come as a surprise, since your knees are involved in almost every type of sport, from tennis and golf to cycling, running and just walking. Twisting, falling or simple overuse all can injure the knee joint.
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks about common knee injuries in young, active patients with Tianyi "Tim" Wang, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports injuries at Scripps Clinic.
Ligaments are the attachments between bones; ligament injuries include sprains and partial or complete tears. Damage to ligaments located deep inside the knee, such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), tends to be more severe than outer ligaments. Because of where they are located, these ligaments may not heal on their own and require surgery to repair or rebuild.
ACL reconstruction is the most common type of knee surgery. In most cases, it is an outpatient procedure that takes about an hour; patients usually go home the same day and begin walking and bending their knee right away with support from a brace.
For the past few decades, surgeons have used tissue from the patient’s body or a donor to rebuild a damaged ACL. However, a new device called the Bear ACL implant helps the patient’s own ACL tissue heal. Dr. Wang was the first surgeon in San Diego County to use this technology.
“The Bear implant is a little collagen sponge about the size of a marshmallow that serves as somewhat of a scaffold. It supports the clot and the scar tissue to allow somebody’s own ACL to heal naturally without the need for tissue from somewhere else,” says Dr. Wang. “Our research is still ongoing, but thus far we’re really excited about the potential for healing and recovery.”
The medial meniscus and the lateral meniscus sit between the bones of the knee and help absorb impact. These “shock absorbers” suffer damage by trauma to the knee, particularly with twisting or turning, or through wear and tear over time.
Like the ACL, an injured meniscus doesn’t heal on its own. Patients who have pain or must limit their activities because of a damaged meniscus may need surgery to repair it. Typically, meniscus surgery is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure; recovery time depends on the severity of the injury.
A dislocated kneecap, called patella femoral instability, is another common knee injury, especially among teenage athletes.
“The kneecap can pop out of place and dislocate and sometimes pop back. This can lead to pain, instability and not trusting the knee, and athletes can be very limited in their sport and function,” says Dr. Wang. “We now have better tools to provide greater stability to the kneecap and allow patients to get back to sports and exercise.
This same-day outpatient procedure allows patients to bear weight and walk right away, and begin strengthening exercises within a few weeks.
Dr. Wang says the best way to help prevent sports-related knee injuries and remain active is by strengthening the muscles around the knee, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles and core.
Most minor knee injuries, such as mild sprains, may be treated at home. Follow the RICE protocol: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Over the counter anti-inflammatory medications can help with pain and swelling. If your knee does not feel better within a few days, call your doctor.
More significant injuries require immediate care. If you have an injury and feel a pop in your knee, have a lot of swelling or pain, or you can’t put any weight on your leg, go to an urgent care center.
“We have a lot of treatment options now that we didn’t have just a few decades ago,” says Dr. Wang. “We’re really excited about the opportunity to take care of our patients and athletes and keep them going for now and the years to come.”