Why Knee Injury Is So Common

Why Knee Injury Is So Common

Learn why knee injuries happen to people of all ages—all the time.

Picture this: You're squatting down to pick up your kid, 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) can mean more ways for things to go wrong.

The fundamental flaw
"The knee is a hinge joint and doesn't tolerate rotation well—that's the fundamental reason knee injuries are so common," says, Robert Marx, MD, author of the book The ACL Solution. "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 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," Dr. Marx says. "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. Other joint diseases—like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus—can cause so much inflammation that they can permanently ruin your knees.

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 heard a popping noise or felt like your knee gave out, see your doctor as soon as possible. You'll also want to call your doc if you continue feeling severe pain, can't move your knee, begin limping or notice any swelling.

Depending on how badly your knee was hurt—plus your age, overall health and activity level—you could need a few days of rest to a few months off that knee before you're back in action. Treatment could range from simple home care with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Naproxen) to physical therapy or eventually going under the knife. Only your doctor will know for sure. And it's up to you and your doctor to decide which route is best to get you on the road to recovery.

Medically reviewed in October 2018.

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