Pounding the pavement proved more of a health hazard than benefit? At the risk of sounding like a negative Nanna, looking after your injuries shouldn’t be an afterthought – it should be a priority.
Mr Andrew Chia, specialist orthopaedic surgeon with St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne, says knee injuries are the most common injuries faced by runners. “Running is a very popular fitness activity for many reasons,” explains Mr Chia. “It has many health benefits, both physical and psychological, and it’s affordable and convenient. However, running can also cause many injuries.”
In fact, up to 70% of recreational and competitive runners sustain overuse injuries during any 12-month period, according to Sports Medicine Australia. And a knee-jerking 42% of all running injuries are to the knee. Now, when you consider an estimated 1,224,100 Australians aged 15 years and older participate in running in a 12 month period*, that’s a lot of individuals sporting knee pain. Now, no one wants that.
Here, your essential guide to the most common knee injuries, how to treat them and more importantly, how to prevent recurring or new knee injuries in the future.
The most common knee injuries runners’ experience
Mr Chia has seen it all – from the minor to the serious injuries and everything in between. “There are many different types of knee injuries, but some of the more common complaints we see include runner’s knee, meniscus (cartilage) damage and Iliotibial band syndrome.”
Runner’s knee is one of the most common injuries, and occurs when the knee cap rubs against the thighbone as it moves. “Runners knee typically presents as dull pain at the front of the knee, with swelling or knee stiffness, and worsens with repeated stress to the knee joint,” explains Mr Chia.
Meniscus (cartilage) damage
“The meniscus is the rubbery cartilage in your knee which acts like a shock absorber when you walk or run, cushioning and protecting other cartilage in your knee joints,” explains Mr Chia. “The meniscus degenerates over time, but it can also be torn (meniscal tear) if you suddenly twist your knee. If this occurs, you’ll typically experience immediate pain and swelling at the site. If left untreated, this can lead to knee stiffness, limited knee motion, chronic pain and further tearing.”
Iliotibial band syndrome
“Iliotibial band syndrome is a common overuse injury which causes pain on the outside part of the knee, which worsens with physical activity, especially during running when the heel strikes the ground.”
Is it serious?
Deciding whether your knee pain or injury is serious enough to warrant a doctor’s visit is an easy decision to make if you can’t walk or are experiencing excruciating pain, but what if your pain is dull, or niggling, or only painful after physical activity?
Mr Chia advises that if you are experiencing any uncomfortable pain, swelling, prolonged or chronic dull pain, have any limited knee motion or experience pain after physical activity, you should see a medical professional pronto.
“Many minor knee injuries will heal naturally with rest and recovery time, or simple physical therapy and/or other non-invasive treatments,” explains Mr Chia. “But it’s always better to have the injury assessed by an expert who can determine the best treatment plan – if you are injured and continue running or doing other physical activity, there is a much higher chance of causing further, sometimes irreparable damage.”
Now, the good news. As Mr Chia mentioned, with the right treatment and recovery plan, you could be back on your feet in no time. And the statistics don’t lie. According to a study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 76% of injured runners who sought professional medical care had good or excellent recovery from their injuries.
We’d never use one of those clichés like ‘a stitch in time’, but, as avid runners ourselves who have had our fair share of track injuries, we totally agree with Mr Chia.
“Meniscus tears and cartilage damage injuries are unlikely to heal on their own,” explains Mr Chia. “In fact, without treatment, they often get worse.” Mr Chia says treatment is determined according to the injury as well as your age, your overall health, how much pain you are in, how long the condition is expected to last, your medical preferences and other factors. “Non-invasive treatment could be physical therapy, splinting, rehabilitation or other non-invasive treatment – it just depends on the injury. For example, cartilage damage may be treated with knee brace or taping as a first line of defence, but if this fails, surgery may be required.”
Mr Chia says if non-invasive treatments don’t work, a knee specialist can help you choose the best surgical options.
The future: exercise and recovery
Determining a healthy running or exercise plan after sustaining an injury is essential for your future overall health and the recovery of your injury. In fact, research shows the most frequently identified risk factor for running injuries are ‘a previous injury’ – therefore, prevention of this first injury is very important.
Speak with your knee specialist who can help develop a tailored exercise recovery plan for you. And get other experts on your team, too. Knee injury prevention is a multi-faceted approach that includes wearing the right footwear, assessing your running technique, distance, speed, frequency, running surfaces, as well as your warm ups, cool downs, recovery times, nutrition and overall fitness, health and injury risk factors. For example, varying your runs to include recovery runs or easy runs can be hugely beneficial to not only your running performance, but also injury prevention. As can core strengthening and other exercises that can help improve your ‘weak spots’. Speak with the experts for a tailored training program specific to your ability, injury and needs. Likewise, get your footwear recommended by a trained podiatrist – who can assess your running style, foot rotation and other issues or requirements to avoid potential injuries.
Nail these factors, and you’ll be leading the race in no time.
Related: If you’re experiencing knee pain, click here to read the St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne guide on how to manage your knee pain.
ABOUT: Mr Andrew Chia is a highly-trained and qualified Orthopaedic Surgeon with particular expertise in hip and knee surgery. Dedicated to patient care, Andrew utilises the latest arthroscopic and minimally invasive techniques for the management of all hip and knee conditions. Andrew is involved in the selection process, training and examination of future Australian orthopaedic surgeons. He is also actively involved in the teaching and training of medical students and overseas surgeons undertaking fellowships. His private consulting suite is located near St Vincent’s Private Hospital East Melbourne, 171 Grey Street. For more information visit www.arthrohealth.com.au. To make an appointment, call (03) 9928 6288.
ABOUT: St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne – a centre of excellence for orthopaedics, offering a wide range of orthopaedic procedures like joint replacement surgeries including hip, knee, ankle, wrist, shoulder and elbow, and other orthopaedic interventions including sport medicine and injuries, and tumour and reconstructive surgery. Our facilities in East Melbourne, Fitzroy, Kew and Werribee include on-site consulting rooms, pathology, radiology, sports medicine specialists, state-of-the-art surgical theatres, physiotherapy and other post-operative services. Visit St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne for more information.
^The INSPIRE trial (INtervention Study on Prevention of Injuries in Runners at Erasmus MC),
* Australian Sports Commission’s 2006 survey