Picture this: You're squatting down to pick up your child when suddenly you hear a pop from your knee followed by a sharp pain. You've done this squat a million times before without any problems, but this time you fear the worst – a knee injury. So, why did it happen today and not yesterday or the day before that? And just how long are you going to be out of commission?
You're not alone
Over 10 million people were treated for some type of knee injury in 2010. That's a lot of blown out knees, from sprains and tears to fractures and dislocations. Part of the reason is that the knee is like a luxury SUV: It's sturdy and provides hours of fun, but having more bells and whistles (like the complex network of bones, cartilage, ligaments, muscles and tendons inside your knee) means there are more ways for things to go wrong.
The fundamental flaw
Doctors say that the knee is a hinge joint and doesn’t tolerate rotation well, which is the fundamental reason knee injuries are so common. Some of the most common ways knees are injured usually happen when twisting or squatting is involved. Working out or doing something too aggressively or suddenly are just a couple examples of when knee injuries can happen.
While the situation can seem harmless, like picking up your kid from the floor, the resulting injury can be serious. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, meniscus injuries and arthritis problems are the most common injuries doctors see. Every year, anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 people undergo reconstructive surgery of the knee, while another 700,000 people have some kind of arthroscopic knee operation due to injury.
Less obvious knee problems can develop from osteoarthritis of the knee, when your cartilage has gradually worn away, leaving your knee vulnerable.
When to get help
If you suffer a knee injury, the first thing you should do is treat it with the RICE method – rest, ice, gentle compression and elevation. If you hear a popping noise or feel like your knee has given out, see your doctor as soon as possible. You'll also want to call your doctor if you continue feeling severe pain, can't move your knee, begin limping or notice any swelling.
Depending on how badly your knee is hurt – plus your age, overall health and activity level – you may need a few days of rest to a few months off that knee before you're back in action. Treatment can range from simple home care with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Naproxen) to physical therapy or eventually having surgery. Only your doctor will know for sure. Make an appointment.