Does your nagging knee pain remind you of your glory days as a star athlete perhaps being queen (or king) of your rec league? If you’re like many active adults, you’ve been competing in one form or another most of your life. But if an incoming weather front makes you think more about Advil than getting the gang together for a rematch, those old sports injuries might be catching up with you.
Believe it or not this is not all bad news – remaining active at any age helps us maintain mobility, flexibility and good mental health,as long as we take a smart approach to those activities. Addressing nagging knee pain is not the huge production it used to be. Gone are the days of four-inch scars and six weeks of immobilization. Today, relief can come in many forms,from physical therapy and other non-surgical solutions, to minimally invasive procedures that can offer immense relief and get you back in the game in a matter of weeks.
For many lifelong athletes, knee pain as an adult can be the result of a previous injury like a torn ACL, meniscus or MCL. According to the Cleveland Clinic, years after the original injury was repaired “post-traumatic arthritis” can and does occur in more than 5 million people in the US. Most non-traumatic arthritis occurs in adults 60 years or older so signs of arthritis in younger adults is often tied to a previous injury.
As we age, regular wear and tear from everyday life can compound the pain making it more difficult to stay active. Swelling due to accumulation of fluid in the knee can lead to pain and is one of the most common symptoms of knee arthritis or soft tissue injury in the knee.
If you have knee pain from an old injury, relief starts by ensuring you maintain a healthy body weight and emphasizing strength training – particularly in muscles around the knee – to protect the joint. It’s also more important than ever to incorporate low-impact exercise into your routine. Great options include biking, rowing, swimming, yoga and Pilates. By keeping multiple fitness goals in mind, such as strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness, you’ll be putting your whole body in a better position to stay healthy and be active.
But if you feel like you’ve been masking the symptoms of nagging knee pain with NSAIDs like Advil or meloxicam for far too long, it might be time for a visit to your orthopedic specialist. They can help you determine if an injection of cortisone or synthetic joint fluid can ease the pain, or if you need debris like damaged cartilage or bone removed from the joint. For some, knee reconstruction or replacement might be the best option as both procedures bring very effective and lasting relief without the massive recovery time you might recall from decades ago.
Preventing future injury
While there may not be many good ways to prevent the progression of arthritis and knee pain that comes years after an injury, you can still minimize future joint pain by working hard to prevent injuries today. Remember these tips:
- Always warm up to get your body loose and ready to work.
- Stretch before and especially after each workout or sports activity.
- Make smart decisions about participating in contact sports – always wear the proper gear and try to minimize hard hits.
- Listen to your body and don’t overdo it! Even if your competitive fire is at full strength, remember that your body may not heal as quickly or completely as it did years ago.
Knee pain and knee injuries such as an ACL tear are all too common occurrences, whether you compete in organized sports or play recreationally. Like many knee injuries, an ACL tear is often caused by movements that we see in sports like tennis, basketball and football, such as landing flat on your heels or planting your feet in sharp, weight-bearing motions, which can put your knees in vulnerable positions and make you more susceptible to injury. But ACL tears can also occur from everyday activities like walking, jumping, squatting or any twisting motion when your leg is bent.
Regardless of the cause, females are three times more likely than males to suffer injuries like an ACL tear, and older adults are more susceptible to knee injuries from wear and tear rather than traumatic movements.
Sprain vs. ACL Tear: Signs to look for
ACL injuries are classified as grade I, II or III sprains – so even a tear is called a “sprain” in medical terms. A sprain in the traditional sense occurs when the ligament fibers stretch, but do not a tear. The knee retains its stability and there is minimal swelling or tenderness. A grade II sprain is a partial ACL tear, which causes some tenderness, swelling and instability. The most severe, grade III ACL tear is when the ACL ruptures and the ligament has completely torn into two parts.
While an ACL tear frequently presents with a popping sound or sensation, loss of stability and decreased range of motion, rather than severe pain is another key sign.
Treatment options for ACL tears
While an ACL tear impacts only the anterior cruciate ligament, additional injuries can impact more than one of the three joint compartments in the knee. Your treatment options will vary depending on your activity level, age, the severity of the ACL tear, other joint damage and any resulting stability issues.
When evaluating treatment options for an ACL tear, consider both the short and long-term impacts of each option. Rehabilitation through physical therapy is a productive place to start. Therapy will reduce swelling, pain and restore range of motion, as well as help to strengthen surrounding muscles.
Reconstruction to address an ACL tear is often a good solution for active individuals who do not recapture enough stability from therapy and want to continue to participate in activities that involving cutting, pivoting, and turning motions like skiing, basketball or tennis.
An orthopedic surgeon will remove and replace the damaged ligament – a procedure called ACL reconstruction. The replacement tissue – called a graft – stabilizes the knee and allows new ligament tissue to grow. Post-operative rehabilitation therapy is key to ensure the return of normal range of motion and strength for the long term. ACL tear patients who opt for surgery typically return to their sports in six to 12 months.
For diagnosis and treatment of ACL tears, see us at our Denver or Parker location. Call for an appointment (303) 344-9090.
Dear Dr. Hunt, it has been 9 months since you performed surgery on my broken femur. I feel blessed that you were in the Emergency Room when I arrived. You did a skillful job of putting “Humpty Dumpty” together again. From being unable to put any weight on my leg, I am now able to walk again and participate in the activities I enjoy. The bones are not completely healed, but I have made a remarkable recovery with the help of a lot of therapy, hard work and patience. Thank you so much for the wonderful and skillful job you did on setting my leg.
Dr. Hunt, I am in Singapore and Thailand this month. Walking through jungles, on beaches and dodging Tuk-tuks in Bangkok. I could never have have don this without the hips. Thanks again.
Dr. Hunt, thank you so much for your wonderful care this year! My new hips worked perfectly yesterday during out first ski day of the season. While I’m sticking to blue runs, I was able to turn and maneuver better than I ever imagined. Best of all, I was able to ski the entire day with my family for the first time in years! Keep up the great work and know how much you’re helping to improve the life of so many people. May God continue to bless you and others through your efforts.
Being treated by Dr. Hunt has been an excellent experience. He has a kind and thorough bedside manner. He made sure I thoroughly understood my diagnosis and prognosis and made me feel comfortable to ask any and all questions. He took the time to answer my questions thoroughly and addressed all of my concerns compassionately. I would recommend him enthusiastically to anyone in need of his expertise.
11960 E. Lioness Way
Parker, CO 80134
Tel: (303) 344-9090
Fax: (720) 895-1121
8101 E. Lowry Blvd.
Denver, CO 80230
Tel: (303) 344-9090
Fax: (303) 344-1922
6235 S. Main Street
Aurora, CO 80016
Tel: (303) 344-9090
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