Morning Newsletter

Knee pain doesn't always mean surgery

Knee pain is the most common reason people see an orthopedic surgeon. The knee is a complex joint vulnerable to a variety of injuries. Many knee injuries can be successfully treated without surgery, but for some injuries, surgery offers the best outcome.

The knee is a hinge joint held together by four strong ligaments that provide stability.

The cruciate ligaments — anterior cruciate ligament and posterior cruciate ligament — cross each other inside your knee and control back-and-forth motion. The collateral ligaments — medial collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament — control sideways motion.

The meniscus is a wedge of soft cartilage between the femur and tibia bones that helps absorb shock.

Seventy percent of ACL tears occur from non-contact injuries. An ACL injury can occur from changing direction rapidly, decelerating or landing from a jump. People often feel or hear a pop and have knee swelling.

ACL injuries occur in cutting and pivoting sports, such as basketball, soccer and football.

Girls and women are at increased risk for ACL tears because of their anatomical makeup, and because of jumping and landing mechanics that differ from those of men. ACL reconstruction surgery can restore stability so the patient can return to athletic activities.

Injuries to the MCL are usually caused by a direct blow to the outside of the knee. MCL sprains often occur in contact sports and are usually treated without surgery.

Meniscus tears occur with a twisting injury. When people talk about torn knee cartilage, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus. Not all meniscus tears need surgery, but sometimes the torn meniscus is surgically repaired, or the torn section is removed.

Most knee injuries are mild and can be treated with conservative measures including rest, ice, compression and elevation. Certain symptoms indicate more severe injury and should lead you to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. These include feeling the knee give way, hearing a "pop" at the time of injury, swelling in the knee, and limited knee motion. If surgery is required for a knee injury, it is often performed arthroscopically, with a camera, through small incisions.

Many knee injuries are preventable. Always warm up, stretch and cool down when exercising or playing sports. Take lessons to learn proper technique and use appropriate equipment. ACL injury-prevention programs have been shown to decrease the risk of ACL injury in young female athletes. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to learn more.