#96: Knee Injuries in Athletes: What to Do

#96: Knee Injuries in Athletes: What to Do

It can strike at any moment. You stand up from a heavy squat and something goes awry. A box jump triggers a strange pinching sensation. You’re doing sprints on the track and a searing pain strikes. You might be looking at a knee injury — what now? Let’s talk briefly about why knee injuries happen and importantly, what you can do to find some pain relief.

Why are Knee Injuries So Common?

Everyone knows someone who hurt their knee. In fact, they’re one of the most common injuries that athletes sustain. Why?

There are a few reasons.

For starters, your entire body weight is transferred through your feet and into your knees. They carry a big load, quite literally.

Second, it’s the joint between the two longest bones in your body: the tibia (and fibula, technically) and your femur. Being the connecting joint means that it plays a huge role.

Third, the stability that your knees can offer decreases as they bend. So, even though we’re talking about the connecting point between your two longest bones, the knee is actually quite vulnerable when your legs are bent.

This would explain why people often tweak their knees or suffer full-blown sports injuries while doing things like standing up and squatting down. This includes lunges, leg presses, and anything explosive — like squat jumps and burpees.

Additionally, we want to point out that knee injuries are notoriously tricky to diagnose and treat because in truth, a knee injury can easily start elsewhere, like the ankle or hips. Looking for pain relief by treating the knee might not even be the answer.

So, what is the answer?

Finding Pain Relief With Knee Injuries

Hopefully it goes without saying, but if you’re experiencing ongoing knee pain after suffering a sports injury, then you should schedule a visit with your medical professional. 

However, we’d like to offer some additional advice for things you can try on your own to relieve the pain and discomfort. Bear in mind that pain relief is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What works for one athlete might not work for the next. Be willing to try different things and see what gives you the best results, and you’ll zero in on the right approach for you.

Work on Your Hip and Ankle Mobility

Athletes would be shocked if they knew how many injuries come down to a lack of mobility — and that includes knee injuries.

“How much more mobile can my knee get?” you’re asking. And we understand! But remember what we said a moment ago: It might be your ankle or hip that’s the real problem. Thus, you might want to work on mobility there.

For instance, do you notice that when you squat, your heels lift off the ground? Or maybe one of your knees caves in? You might very well be looking at a lack of mobility in your ankles and/or hips.

Improving mobility can mean a lot of different things. Working on hip mobility might include:

  • Using a foam roller or lacrosse ball to lengthen muscles and break up tissue.
  • Dynamic stretching to loosen the quads and hamstrings.
  • Exercises/stretches that target your internal and external rotation.

To improve ankle mobility, you can try:

  • Lacrosse ball myofascial work.
  • End-range isometric stretches.
  • Heel raises.
  • Half-speed air squats.
  • Banded dorsiflexion mobilization.

Not only will mobility work help encourage pain relief from knee injuries today, but it’ll safeguard you against future injuries. Plus, your performance will improve, and you’ll reap benefits like better technique and efficiency in your movements.

Also, we want to offer a gentle reminder that one of the best ways to improve mobility is to avoid living a sedentary lifestyle.

Play With Ice and Heat

For the first couple of days after sustaining a knee injury, apply an ice pack for 10-20 minutes a few times throughout the day. Your tissues are inflamed and in pain, and ice is in order. This is because ice can effectively reduce pain and swelling, since it constricts your blood vessels and decreases the circulation. 

After that, switch to heat. This can mean a hot towel or heating pad, or soaking in a hot bath. Heat increases blood flow and metabolic activity. The result? The tissues loosen up, the area relaxes, stiffness lessens, and pain subsides.

Additionally, you can apply heat before movement or exercise to prep your body for physical activity. This helps keep you safe (and it’s also why you should never dive straight into a workout when you’ve just walked in from the freezing cold).

Note: Do not apply heat immediately after an injury!

Use a TENS Unit to Boost Pain Relief

Mobility? Check. Ice and heat? Check. Next up: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, for short.

A TENS unit delivers mild electrical impulses to the area where you apply the device’s pads. The effect is twofold. For starters, it encourages the release of endorphins — your body’s natural painkillers. Secondly, it blocks pain signals from reaching your brain/central nervous system, meaning that you won’t experience the discomfort. This is also known as the Gate Theory, because TENS “closes” your gates.

When you use PowerDot, you also have the option to utilize electric muscle stimulation. The goal here isn’t so much direct pain relief. Rather, it increases circulation, reduces your recovery time, and supports mobility. All of these things, as an added bonus, can contribute to your pain relief.

TENS is an excellent way to fight injury-related pain and keep your knees (and other parts) healthy and ready for training.

While knee injuries might slow you down, they don’t have to stop you completely. Take the necessary time to rest and recover. Talk to your medical professional. Use ice and heat strategically, prioritize mobility, and use PowerDot to reduce pain and keep your tissues healthy.

In no time at all, you’ll be back at the gym.

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