Knee Pain and Inflammation
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This week, for your wellness neural-cultivating pleasure, we’re covering knee injuries and steps for you to Move Through It. Topics include:
The most vulnerable joint in the body
Advice to reduce knee inflammation, injury, and pain
The most vulnerable joint in the body
I’ve read recently about the magnitude of knee injuries that happen in the U.S. The knee is the largest joint in the body and joins the two largest bones in the body, the femur and tibia. It is also the most commonly injured joint. As hinge joints, the knee bends in only one plane of motion. And while a network of strong ligaments works to keep the knee stable, it is still the most vulnerable joint in the body. That vulnerability often shows up as pain that begins gradually and gets worse over time.
The knee has relatively little muscle covering the front and sides and the skin in front can be quite thin, thus it is not particularly well protected. As a consequence of these complex integrated movements, it is frequently injured during sporting activities or even with simple accidents. Don’t think if you hide inside and stay on your computer you can avoid knee injuries. There are other health issues lurking. Back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, or diabetes will come for you in this sedentary hiding mode.
Humans are made to move. Movement is necessary for both our physical and mental health. Some of us dread activity and exercise, while others live for every opportunity to move. And yes, many times we tackle our sports activities a bit too aggressively, and we get hurt. It’s part of the deal. It’s what we sign up for as athletes. Keep moving to minimize your knee pain and inflammation.
Did you know that one-third of all Americans report some type of knee pain at one time or another? That’s about 100 million people! Knee injuries make up about 41% of all sports injuries. While the greatest proportion of knee injuries occur in 25 – 44 year-olds, frequent knee pain affects approximately 25% of all adults. In raw numbers, it’s the kids and young adults (15 to 24) who have the highest overall injury rate. I believe it would be fair to assume that it’s because they are still steeped in sports and outdoor activities.
And, remember folks, these reflect knee injuries only. I’ll discuss more about other injuries in upcoming blogs. Behind the knee, next on the high-injury list are elbow and ankle injuries.
Knee injury/pain limits function and mobility and impairs quality of life. Even the healthiest, most fit among us can succumb to injury. Those who get regular workouts, eat healthy, and get adequate sleep are less susceptible; however, knee injury may still happen. It’s simply part of competing.
Let’s explore how to keep our injury probability as low as possible.
Advice to reduce knee inflammation, injury, and pain.
Sugar is on top of the list of foods that increase muscle and joint inflammation. Numerous studies suggest that processed sugars release pro-inflammatory substances in the body, causing further inflammation in the joints. Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation. Avoid simple carbs (like processed sugar in candy-water-sports-drinks) like the plague.
Coach’s side bar: In last week’s blog, we looked at simple vs complex carbs. Here’s the way I like to remember the concept. Simple Carbs = Simple Minds « Complex Carbs = Complex Minds. Don’t be a simpleton.
Drinking lots of water and staying properly hydrated is one easy way to reduce knee pain and inflammation. If your body is getting enough water, your joints will move more freely and easily — leading to less pain. The trap here is that so many unknowing athletes get tricked into drinking sugar-packed drinks. It’s an inflammation cocktail. Stay away!
A lack of sleep could mess with protein synthesis, muscle recovery, immune system function, and modulation of your body’s inflammatory response—which can all lead to injury. Sleep gives our body a chance to repair and regenerate from the day. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and growth plates need time to recover to help prevent overuse injuries. Sleep also helps with our reaction time, which is integral in most sports. During my most exhausting tournaments, it’s not unusual for me to extend my normal sleep of 8 hours up to 12-14 hours. This may seem excessive, but when I return to the court the next day, I’m refreshed, fully rested and ready to go.
Coach’s side bar: A doctor’s diagnosis is crucial in this process to understand exactly what you’re dealing with to establish the proper strategy to stop knee pain.
These are a few basic go-to routines I use with great success in keeping my knees healthy.
Warming up is crucial to injury prevent. The flip side of not warming up will provoke injury. Prior to your main work-out or activity, ride a stationary bike for 5 minutes, take a brisk 2-minute walk while pumping your arms, or do 15-20 wall push-ups followed by the same number of calf raises. These prep reps will help you get more out of your workout.
Stretching should be done after you do your warm-up routine. Stretching before the muscles are warm can lead to strain. Stretching can help improve flexibility, and, consequently, the range of motion of your joints. Make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere, proper technique is key. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good. And skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits.
Coach’s side bar: Stretching is an important post work-out routine as well.
One habit I’ve found very helpful is using a foam roller and working the IT Band. Your IT band is a thick bunch of fibers that runs from the outside of your hips to the outside of your thigh and knee down to the top of your shinbone. As you bend and extend your leg, the IT band glides over your upper thigh bone and top of the tibia (shin bone). Repeating the motion over and over again can slowly work to tighten your IT band. As the tissue grows more taught, friction can develop. That rubbing leads to irritation and inflammation that can reveal itself as intense and persistent knee pain and inflammation.
Using a foam roller is simple, and when performed daily even for a short time, can make a significant difference in reducing some types of knee pain. Rolling out your muscles decreases tissue tension and can improve your range of movement, increasing your speed and flexibility. Foam rolling can be done on a daily basis on any muscle group. It’s most effective when it’s utilized on a consistent basis.
IT band syndrome can be just one cause of “runner’s knee” given how often it slows those who pound out miles. It’s also common among cyclists, tennis players and weightlifters (think squatting exercises).
When you have joint pain and stiffness, the last thing you are inclined to do is exercise. But restricting your activity level to avoid knee pain only makes matters worse. A compression product like the bodyhelix Knee Helix allows exercise with less pain. The Knee Helix compression gear can help you get out of the cycle of pain. A study published in Arthritis Research & Therapy found that this type of compression support is an effective and immediate way to reduce pain, improve knee stability, and improve confidence during activity.
Compression of the knee joint improves both dynamic and static balance. A quality compression sleeve can help stabilize the joint, decrease swelling of the joint, and allow you to painlessly engage in otherwise painful activities. With better blood flow, your synovial membrane is open to a steady supply of nourishing oxygen and nutrients and synovial fluid can lubricate the joint.
Bodyhelix offers a variety of the world’s finest compression products for knee (Full Knee Helix, Adjustable Knee Helix, Patella Helix). Selection of the correct Helix will maximize the benefits of compression. Choose a comfortable compression product that is the correct size. Wear your Knee Helix for stretching. And wear your Knee Helix during and after activity. I typically put on my Helix 30-minutes before training begins. I find it warms my muscles and I am ready to go when I start my training.
Coach’s side bar: Please remember severe or prolonged pain can signify significant injury for which medical evaluation is indicated. Although our knee compression wraps may reduce pain caused by injury or arthritis, we don’t want to mask symptoms that would indicate treatment other than support or compression.
“Know safety, no injury. No safety, know injury.” -Anonymous
Knee injuries have halted countless athletic careers. Many have rallied with successful comebacks. Be inspired and motivated.
Alonzo Mourning (Miami Heat) tore his patellar tendon in his right knee in December 2007, during the first quarter of the 117–111 overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks. During the 2007–08 season, he became the Heat’s all-time leader in points scored. He retired in 2009. Oh, and Mourning survived a kidney transplant in 2003.
“If we all make a concerted effort and try to improve the life of someone else, then this world would be a better place to live in.” – Alonzo Mourning
The Ravens were coming off a Super Bowl victory and a rookie season for Jamal Lewis that included 1,364 yards rushing when a training-camp knee injury struck before the 2001 season. Lewis rebounded to rush for more than 1,300 yards again the following season.
“I don’t watch that much football… I really like to play it.” – Jamal Lewis
During the season opener of the 1997 season, Jerry Rice tore his ACL and MCL (ligaments) in his left knee. The injury broke his streak of 189 consecutive games played. Fourteen weeks later he made his return, much earlier than doctors wanted him to. He scored a touchdown, but when he came down with the catch, he cracked the patella in his left kneecap. He was forced to miss the Pro Bowl for the first time in 11 years. However, he made a full recovery, coming back to record 82 catches for 1,157 yards and 9 touchdowns in 1998 and being named to his 12th Pro Bowl.
“I think my secret is that there’s no shortcuts for hard work, determination and having that don’t give up attitude.” – Jerry Rice
Skier Picabo Street suffered through 7 seasons with three separate knee injuries before retiring in 2002. Her honors included a 1998 Olympic gold medal for the Super-G in Nagano, Japan, and the 1994 downhill silver at Lillehammer, Norway. Street also won the World Cup downhill gold in 1995 and World Cup overall downhill and World Championships downhill titles in 1996. She squeezed all these victories in between the injuries that broke up her 14 seasons as a member of the U.S. ski team.
“I’ve made a promise to myself to be a 100% healthy person if nothing else.” -Picabo Street
In his first tournament after knee surgery, Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in sudden death following an 18-hole playoff to win the 2008 U.S. Open.
“I’m all or nothing.” – Tiger Woods
One of the WNBA’s most decorated players, Sue Bird, had four surgeries between 2007-2013. Sue’s knee injury kept her out of the Seattle Storm’s early 2017 season. However, Bird returned with a flourish. She was named to her 10th & 11th WNBA All-Star and broke the league record for assists. She then led the Storm to the 2018 title. Bird also has a perfect 4 for 4 in the Olympic games, with four gold medals hanging on her mantlepiece.
“You can control what you put in your body, how you take care of yourself, how much you work. You have to control what you can.” – Sue Bird
Steve Young, of the 49ers, in the ninth game of the 1991 season, after throwing a franchise-record 97-yard touchdown pass to Taylor, suffered a knee injury.
“The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.” -Steve Young
Early into his fifth season, Yao was injured again, this time breaking his right knee on December 23, 2006, while attempting to block a shot. Up to that point he had been averaging 26.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, and had been mentioned as an MVP candidate. Yao was unable to play in what would have been his fifth All-Star game; he was medically cleared to play on March 4, 2007, after missing 32 games.
Despite Yao’s absence, the Rockets made the playoffs, but were eliminated in Game 7 at home; Yao scored 29 points—15 in the fourth quarter. He averaged 25.1 points and 10.3 rebounds for the series. At the end of the season, Yao was selected to the All-NBA Second Team for the first time in his career, after being selected to the All-NBA Third Team twice.
“Sports teaches you how to be quick. Injuries teach you how to slow down.” -Yao Ming
Roger Federer teaches us that a great man can’t be kept down with a knee issue. He inspires all of us with how long he has stayed at the top and how many times he keeps coming back! I would say Roger knows how to “Move Through It.”
“What I think I’ve been able to do well over the years is play with pain, play with problems, play in all sorts of conditions.” -Roger Federer
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