Knee pain is a common complaint among skiers, and often knee pain in skiers is the result of an injury. The location and severity of the pain depends on the cause of the problem. Signs and symptoms that often accompany knee pain include redness, warmth, weakness, instability, swelling, stiffness, œlocking, and œpopping.
Be sure to notify your orthopedic specialist if you have knee pain accompanied with swelling, cannot fully extend of flex your knee, notice a deformity, have a fever, or if the knee œgives out.
Knee Injuries from Skiing
Because of the mechanics of the sport, knee injuries are quite common for skiers. These injuries can range from simple to complex, with 25% of all ski injuries affecting the knee.
MCL Injury – The most commonly injured knee structure is the medial collateral ligament (MCL). This is because of the type of stance and turn skiers use that places serious stress on the inside of the knee.
ACL Injury – The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is injured in more advanced skiers or from those who have a specific type of fall. ACL injuries are associated with sudden direction change with a twisting injury accentuated by the long lever arm of the ski.
Torn Meniscus – Another common skiing injury is a torn meniscus. The meniscus is a rubbery tough cartilage that acts a shock absorber for the joint. It is torn when you suddenly twist your knee with weight on it or from a direct contact blow during a fall.
Knee Bursitis – Certain knee injuries lead to inflammation of the bursae, the small sacs of fluid that cushion the knee joint. This condition is painful, especially with bending of the knee, and swelling is common.
Patellar Tendinitis – When one or more tendons are irritated and inflamed, patellar tendinitis develops. The tendons are the thick fibrous cords that attach bone to muscle. Skiers are prone to inflammation of this tendon that connects the quadriceps muscle on the front of the thigh to the tibia (shinbone).
Knee Dislocation – Pain from dislocation of the knee joint is rare and is a true emergency. The displacement of the leg stretches and tears the knee ligaments and may involove injuries to the arteries and/or nerves. This painful condition often produces an obvious knee deformity and requires immediate medical attention.
Kneecap (Patella) Dislocation – Dislocation of the patella is caused from direct trauma or forceful twisting of the knee. Obvious patella deformity occurs with this condition, and you should seek medical care immediately.
Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain)
Skiers put heavy stress on their knees that causes a condition called runner’s knee. This knee pain syndrome causes pain around the front aspect of the knee. The pain occurs with walking up or going down stairs, squatting, kneeling, or sitting.
Patellofemoral pain is caused by malalignment of the knee, partial dislocation, injury, flat feet, or tightness and weakness of the thigh muscles. Runner’s knee can be the result of soft tissue irritation in the front of the knee.
Treatment for Knee Pain
Treatment of your knee pain will depend on the particular problem that is causing the pain.
Basic First Aid for Knee Pain
Stop skiing and use the RICE formula:
Rest – Avoid putting weight on the painful knee.
Ice – Apply cold packs or ice wrapped in a towel for short intervals of time frequently.
Compression – Use an elastic bandage, like a simple knee sleeve with the kneecap cut out that fits snugly.
Elevation – Keep the knee raised up higher than your heart.
If you have knee pain, you should see an orthopedic specialist. The doctor may recommend physical therapy for you to learn reconditioning to regain full range of motion, power, strength, speed, and endurance. These exercises help the front thigh muscles (quads) and the back thigh muscles (hamstrings).
Another thing the doctor may recommend is a special brace to help protect and support the knee. Certain knee pain syndromes respond to injections of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. The doctor may recommend a hyaluronic acid injection for joints that need extra lubrication.
There are several surgical knee procedures for knee pain.
Arthroscopy – This is done when there is significant damage to the cartilage or meniscus. The orthopedic specialist uses a pencil-sized instrument (called an arthroscope) to look inside the knee joint to diagnose and repair your condition.
Realignment – This is done to reduce the pressure on the cartilage and supporting structures of the front aspect of the knee.
Partial Knee Replacement Surgery – This procedure is done when there is serious damage to the knee. The orthopedic specialist replaces the damaged portion with parts made of metal and plastic.
Total Knee Replacement – This surgery is done when the doctor must remove significant damaged bone and cartilage and replace it with an artificial joint.
Knee Pain Prevention
Keep weight normal – Maintaining a healthy weight is the best thing you can do to prevent knee pain and injury.
Get strong and stay limber – Weak muscles lead to knee injuries, so keep your quads and hamstrings strong. Balance and stability training allows the muscles of the knees to function properly. Also, avoid injury by stretching to increase flexibility.
Stay in shape – Prevent knee pain and injury by keeping yourself well-conditioned.
Use proper gear – Make sure your skiing shoes are good shock absorbers and of quality construction. Also, be sure your shoes fit properly.