[TYPE OF JOINT: HINGE]
Four main ligaments bind the thighbone (femur) with the shinbone (tibia) and kneecap (patella). Knees are versatile and strong but vulnerable to a variety of breakdowns.
TOP THREAT: ANTERIOR CRUCIATE LIGAMENT TEAR WHAT IT IS:
A sprain of the frontmost of two ligaments that cross each other (hence cruciate) inside the knee. A mild sprain may stretch the ligament without affecting stability, but more severe sprains can partially or completely tear it, leaving the joint loose and likely to further damage the knee’s cartilage.
Excessive force from pivoting in a pickup basketball game, jumping to spike a volleyball, or colliding with something much larger than you. That’s why ACL tears are common among athletic younger men.
Surgery is usually needed, especially if you want to play sports again. Most ACLs can’t be stitched together, so the surgeon usually takes a graft of your patella or hamstring tendon (or a cadaver tendon) and uses it as scaffolding to reconstruct the ligament.
Stronger leg muscles make knee joints more stable. To strengthen yours, do these three exercises in a series: walking lunges (3 sets of 10 reps), Russian hamstrings (kneel on the floor with a partner holding your ankles, then lean forward with a straight back for 3 sets of 10 reps), and single toe raises (30 reps each leg). For a complete kneeprotection plan, visit health.usf. edu and search for the PEP program from the Santa Monica Sports Medicine Research Foundation. It provides a 15- to 20-minute regimen that includes the leg exercises outlined here, plus warm-ups, stretches, strengthening exercises and plyometrics that significantly reduce ACL injuries in athletes.
FUTURE-PROOF YOUR KNEES:The
forceful movements that cause ACL tears can also damage the meniscus, a rubbery cartilage wedge that provides cushioning inside the knee. Normal aging also weakens the cartilage, so just getting up from a crouch (or couch!) can tear an older knee. “We see it a lot in baseball catchers, plumbers, and carpet layers— anybody who torques their knees for a living,” says Dr. DiNubile. The aforementioned leg-strengthening PEP program for protecting the ACL is a good defence here, too.
Unless their meniscus tears are due to trauma such as a sports injury or fall, people who undergo a partial meniscectomy do no better than those receiving sham surgery or physical therapy, according to recent studies. “If you’re over 50, when a torn meniscus is probably degenerative, you’re likely better off with physical therapy and maybe cortisone injections,” Dr. Sennett says.