Knee Injuries in Sports and Running
Q: I am a 14 year old female. I have had this problem for years, but it is becoming more frequent. When I use a kicking motion while I swim, it begins to pop and causes extreme discomfort, but not pain. I play basketball a lot, which could contribute to some problem. It consistently cracks when I move it in a certain way. Sometimes I can’t even put a lot of pressure on it because it feels awkward standing up. Any advice or thoughts would help a lot. I would like to know if this is serious or not?
Looks like you have some mild injury in your knee. Discomfort in the front and center of the knee is common among active, healthy young people, especially girls. It usually stays for 2 to 3 years and then goes as you grow up.
It is usually not caused by any particular abnormality in the knee and does not mean that the knee will be damaged by continuing to do activities. Actually, the complex anatomy of the knee joint that allows it to bend and move is extremely sensitive to problems like alignment, activity, training and overuse.
Factors Contributing to Knee Injury
In teenagers, a number of factors come into play-
- This is an age for growth spurts. The body is rapidly growing physically. There may be an imbalance in the growth of thigh muscles (quadriceps- in front of the thigh and hamstrings- in the back of the thigh) that support the knee joint.
- Poor flexibility.
- Problems with alignment of the legs between the hips and the ankles.
- Using improper sports training techniques or equipment.
- Overdoing sports activities.
- Not wearing proper shoes that provide cushions to the knee joint.
Due to such factors, the following symptoms can be experienced-
1) Popping or crackling sounds in the knee when you climb stairs or stand up and walk after prolonged sitting.
2) Pain at night
3) Pain during activities that repeatedly bend the knee (i.e., jumping, squatting, running, and other exercise, especially involving weight-lifting).
4) Pain that causes your knees to give way (buckle),
5) Pain related to a change in activity level or intensity, playing surface, or equipment.
I would advise you to take some rest right now. Pain/discomfort anywhere in the body is a signal to take rest. Let your body stabilize and recover first, and then you can again play basketball.
You can try the following conservative steps to help ease the discomfort. We call it RICE.
I- To relieve swelling and inflammation, apply ice wrapped in a towel to your sore knee a few times each day.
C– Cool compress with ice packs.
E– Simple stretching exercises are often helpful. Resume running and other sports activities gradually.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, may also help particularly painful episodes.
If you are overweight, losing weight will help to reduce pressure on your knee.
However, if pain behind the kneecap is severe and persists, it is important to see your doctor so that a proper diagnosis can be made.
A standard knee examination will help your doctor determine the cause of pain and rule out other problems.
Standard Knee Examination
He may check:
- Alignment of the lower legs and the position of the kneecap.
- Knee stability, hip rotation, and range of motion of knees and hips.
- Signs of tenderness (pain) underneath your knee cap.
- Strength, flexibility, firmness, tone of front thigh muscles (quadriceps) and the back thigh muscles (hamstrings).
- Tightness of the heel cord and flexibility of the feet.
He may order an X-ray. That would provide images of dense structures, like bone with shape and position of the knee cap.
Prevention of Sports Injuries
For further prevention of sports injuries, I recommend:
- Wear shoes appropriate to your activities.
- Warm up with stretching exercises before physical activity.
- Stop or reduce any activity that used to hurt your knees.
- Limit the total number of miles you run in training and competition.