The knee is the largest joint in the body and consists of the femur (thigh bone), patella (knee cap) and tibia (shin bone). The surface of each bone is covered in cartilage, a smooth and slippery material that helps bones glide and move without pain. In addition, the knee is unique in that it has two pieces of ring-shaped cartilage that act as “shock absorbers” for the knee during activities, called the lateral and medial meniscus. These menisci (plural of meniscus) are tough but rubbery and protect the knee from injury, but can also become injured themselves as a result of wear and tear or athletic injuries. There are also four primary ligaments that stabilize the knee: anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL). These ligaments are frequently injured during activities, with the ACL being most common.
Acute injuries or pain in the knee can be related to the bones (fracture, bone bruise, dislocation), cartilage (osteochondral defect, loose body), muscles/tendons (tendonitis or strain), or ligaments (rupture or sprain). Only a physician can properly diagnose your injury and determine the most appropriate treatment.
Most cases consist of sprains and strains to various ligaments and muscles or tendons around the knee, which can be treated with the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help reduce pain and swelling. In addition, rehabilitation with strengthening can often improve symptoms and enhance recovery.
In some cases your physician may recommend a specific rehabilitation protocol to enhance your recovery to activities. This will consist of exercises for improving strength, maintaining motion, and re-training your muscles and balance. Exercises should be performed in a supervised setting, as well as at home on your own time. Your commitment to rehabilitation is key to a successful outcome.