Cutting season has commenced, and I don’t mean mowing the lawn. Our most favorite summer sports activities such as soccer, beach volleyball and tennis are in full swing. As you may realize, these activities require cutting-type movements, which put the knee joint under quite a bit of stress. Jumping, twisting, cutting and reaccelerating all make the knee susceptible to injuries such as strains, sprains and more severe cases – meniscus tears.
The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in your knee (you have one on both the inner half and outer half of your knee—see picture) that protects the upper and lower leg by adding cushioning and stability. However, trying to return a tricky backhand from Roger Federer can test such stability and if the muscles of the knee and hip aren’t strong enough to provide extra stability…oops, there goes your meniscus.
There are varying degrees of tears but, if the tear is large enough, it can break loose and get caught in the joint. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, difficulty bending and straightening the knee or the feeling that your knee gets “stuck” or locks up. Visiting your doctor for an x-ray or MRI may be necessary to diagnose such tears or other problems that may have occurred during the injury, though a diagnosis can be made without imaging. If the latter symptoms resolve and your knee is feeling relatively stable, you may benefit from nonsurgical treatment such as physical therapy to decrease pain/swelling, improve range of motion and increase strength and stability.
To prevent such debilitating injuries, performing single leg strengthening exercises such as lunges or lateral step downs (depicted in picture) can be helpful as well as achieving good hamstring/quadriceps flexibility. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions of the lateral step down concentrating on slowly lowering and then returning to the top by pushing through the middle of the foot and squeezing the quadriceps (front of thigh) and glute (rear end) muscles. This exercise helps to improve eccentric control (strength while the muscle lengthens) of those muscles, which is very important to stabilizing the knee during high impact/dynamic movements.
James Goodwin, PTA, CSCS