For the millions of Americans born between 1945 and 1963, the weekends are no time to sit back and relax. “Baby Boomers” are making the most of their playtime, hiking, biking, swimming and participating in organized team sports.
According to Charles Hummer III, M.D., while this makes this generation of Americans among the most fit ever, it also puts them at risk for knee injuries.
Weekend warriors are people who are not professional athletes or were not competitive athletes in college and high school – they’re people who pursue athletic activities in their spare time,” Dr. Hummer told participants in his lecture, “The Knee and the Weekend Warrior,” at Springfield Hospital. “If you are a weekend warrior, you need to understand that the best way to prevent knee injuries is to make general conditioning and strengthening a year-round regular activity. Many people go through periods of time in which they’re interested in getting in shape and for several weeks will work out very diligently, then fall out of that routine. However, the key is that you need to have a conditioning regimen and exercise regimen that is a key part of your daily or weekly routine that you do year-round. This will keep your knee strong and healthy and reduce your risk of suffering an injury.”
Dr. Hummer suggested exercises such as straight leg raises, reverse straight leg raises and core conditioning as options for strengthening and conditioning the knee.
Common Injuries in the Weekend Warrior
Dr. Hummer also outlined some of the more common knee injuries suffered by weekend warriors, including:
- Meniscus tear: “The meniscus is a shock absorber between the femur and the tibia, in the middle of the knee,” Dr. Hummer says. “Usually a meniscus tear is associated with a twisting knee injury. These injuries generally respond well to an operation called an arthroscopy, in which we use a fiber optic instrument called an arthroscope to look in the knee through one or more small holes and make repairs.”
- Extensor mechanism disruption: “The extensor mechanism of the knee is the quadriceps, or thigh muscle, which leads into the kneecap, which leads into the patellar tendon,” Dr. Hummer says. “If you jump or squat suddenly, you can tear the extensor mechanism, either the patellar or quadriceps tendon, or you can break the kneecap. Then you are unable to straighten your knee, which is a major problem, and you need to see an orthopedic surgeon as soon as you can.”
- Ligament sprain or disruption: “The ones that we most commonly talk about are either the collateral ligaments, which are on the sides of the knee to prevent abnormal side-to-side motion, and the medial and lateral collateral ligaments,” Dr. Hummer says. “Those are different from ligamentous tears in the center of the knee, which are commonly referred to as ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) tears. Again, for an injury like these, you need to see an orthopedic surgeon right away.”
- Chronic knee problems: “These include degenerative arthritis, kneecap pain and more, and are usually the result of the aging process,” Dr. Hummer says. “You can help avoid these problems by maintaining a slender stature if you can, and by strengthening your thigh muscles through conditioning exercises.
New Treatment Options for Weekend Warriors
If you do suffer a knee injury, Dr. Hummer recommends visiting an orthopedic surgeon, who will most likely refer you for an x-ray to determine the type and severity of the injury. You may also be asked to undergo an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to visualize the soft tissue in the knee.
Among the treatment options for knee injuries are:
- Physical therapy: Often the first step for many people, strengthening and functional rehabilitation can help with many injuries.
- Bracing: Wearing a brace can shift the pressure from the area of your knee that hurts to another area.
- Medications: A class of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can be helpful in reducing inflammation and pain, but can have side effects and should be discussed with your physician.
- Viscosupplementation: This therapy involves using vitamins to improve the gliding characteristics of joint fluid and reduce inflammation. Dr. Hummer warns that despite claims made by many of the manufacturers, vitamins have not been proven to regrow cartilage.
- Joint injections: Again, joint injections can beef up the gliding characteristics of joint fluid, providing 6 to 12 months of relief from joint pain.
- Surgery: “I tell all of my patients that I do surgery as a last option, and it certainly shouldn’t be the first option,” Dr. Hummer says. “There are a lot of surgical options that need to be matched to the needs of each particular patient.” Surgical procedures that can alleviate knee pain include ligamentous reconstruction, arthroscopy, debridement, arthroplasty and knee replacement surgery.
For more information about the Human Motion Institute and to find an orthopedic surgeon who’s right for you, call 1-877-CK-MOTION.