Because the knee joint facilitates nearly every activity we do each day, including getting out of bed, walking up or down stairs, driving, walking, and playing sports, the knee is prone to injuries and inflammatory conditions. Here are five of the most diagnosed knee conditions patients experience.
1) ACL injury
Four ligaments hold the knee joint together: the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Of these, the ACL is the most injured knee ligament. In fact, nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. injure their ACL every year, and 10,000 of them undergo surgery to repair the ligament.
ACL injuries commonly happen during athletic activities like landing from a jump, pivoting, or suddenly running in a different direction. Females are anywhere from 2-4 times more likely to tear their ACL than their male counterparts because their ligaments are more flexible and are therefore more prone to stretching, twisting, and tearing.
2) Meniscus injury
The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber in the knee. One side of the C, called the medial meniscus, sits along the inside of the knee. The other side of the C, called the lateral meniscus, sits along the outside of the knee.
Meniscus injuries occur most commonly when someone’s knee suddenly twists when their full weight is on that leg. Meniscus injuries cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and a “locking” sensation.
In many cases, meniscus injuries heal with rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, and time. In more severe cases, surgery is required to repair the injury.
3) Degenerative joint disease
Degenerative joint disease (DJD), also called osteoarthritis (OA), happens when a joint is subject to prolonged wear and tear.
In DJD of the knee, the cartilage that cushions the joint gradually erodes, which means the bones have more contact with each other and the knee has less shock absorption. This knee condition causes knee pain, swelling, and stiffness that worsen over time. Joint pain can also be a common standing desk injury and occurs from standing for long periods of time.
Age is the most common risk factor for DJD, since everyone’s joints will undergo some level of degeneration if they live long enough.
Women are more prone to DJD than men since a postmenopausal drop in estrogen can cause osteoporosis, which makes bones more prone to arthritis and fractures.
Genetics, athletic injuries, and activities that require repetitive knee movement can play a role in DJD as well. And being overweight also contributes to DJD, since there’s increased pressure on the weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees, and ankles.
4) Patellar tendonitis
Patellar tendonitis is inflammation of the patellar tendon, which connects the patella (kneecap) to the tibia (shin bone).
Patellar tendonitis is also sometimes called “jumper’s knee,” since athletes who participate in sports that require frequent jumping, like volleyball and basketball, are more prone to this condition.
The most common symptom of patellar tendonitis is pain along the front of the knee, especially when bending or straightening the knee. This condition typically resolves on its own with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories.
Bursa is small fluid-filled sacs that lubricate joints and reduce friction between ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones. When these sacs become inflamed, it causes a condition called bursitis. Bursitis can happen with direct trauma to the knee, or when someone kneels for an extended period.
Prepatellar bursitis, where the bursa over the kneecap becomes inflamed, is sometimes called “housemaid’s knee,” since housekeepers who cleaned floors on their hands and knees frequently experienced this condition. Laying carpet, gardening, or doing plumbing or electrical work while kneeling also increases the risk of knee bursitis.
Bursitis causes swelling, tenderness, and, in some cases, redness, across the knee. Bursitis often resolves with compression, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication. Wearing knee pads while kneeling and taking frequent breaks from kneeling can prevent this knee condition.
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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant