Knee pain can affect a large range of age groups, ranging from ‘growing’ pains experienced by young people to ‘arthritic’ pain in older persons, and everything in-between. In this Blog we will examine knee meniscus injuries, what causes them and how to treat these injuries.
What is the Meniscus of the Knee?
The meniscus are C-shaped structures in your knee joint which sit between your femur (or thigh bone) and your tibia (or shin bone). They are made of a type of cartilage called fibrocartilage, which is a little bit different to other form of cartilage in your knee called articular cartilage. Articular cartilage is often more affected with arthritis. Your knee has two menisci, the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus. The medial meniscus is located on the inside while the lateral meniscus is on the outside of your knee.
The menisci have a limited blood supply which rely on movement of the knee to keep it strong and healthy. The best thing you can do to prevent your meniscus from injury, is to keep active and keep the knee moving.
What does the Meniscus do?
The main role of the menisci is to help with absorbing and distributing forces through the knee joint. They work together with knee and hip muscles to act as a shock absorber when the knee is active. The menisci also increases the surface area of the knee joint, so it adds some extra stability to the knee.
How do you injure your meniscus?
The majority of meniscus injuries occur as people age (over 50 years). As you get older the limited blood supply to the meniscus becomes further reduced. As people age they develop wrinkles and grey hair. The aging process also occurs in the knee, the menisci begin to degenerate, lose some of their strength and become more prone to injury.
As the menisci become more susceptible to injury with age, the range and types of movements which can damage it become more prevalent. The majority of meniscus injuries occur when you twist your knee over a planted foot. – Sometimes it can be as simple, as turning to look over your shoulder or stepping off a ladder and putting weight on your foot and twisting your knee. You might notice the knee to slowly swell up.
Meniscus injuries in the younger ager group (under 30) are not as prevalent. Simple twisting movements to the knee are unlikely to cause menisci injury in younger persons. You are more likely to see menisci injuries occur with other knee injuries such as ligament damage caused through sport.
What should I do if I damage my meniscus?
So you have injured your knee and you are thinking, what to do next? Alternatively, you have had a scan on your knee and been diagnosed with a meniscus tear and wanting to know what is the best way to treat it?
A 2002 study involving people who had ‘degenerative’ menisci tears, compared the rehabilitation recovery rates of three groups. The first group had meniscus removal surgery (i.e. arthroscopic meniscectomy), the second experienced joint ‘wash-out’ (lavage) and third underwent ‘placebo’ surgery where the surgeon made skin incisions only. All groups undertook the same rehabilitation program. Amazingly they found no difference in between the 3 groups. All groups had the same levels of pain and function, and all improved at the same rate.
Since the initial 2002 study, further published studies have compared meniscus surgery with placebo surgery and physiotherapy treatment. These studies continue to confirm the same result, that is, there is no differences between all of the groups in terms of rehabilitation other than the surgery group having a higher cost of treatment!
The treatment for meniscus tears in the active, younger population (under 30) is more complex with some individuals needing surgery as soon as possible, while others can manage with physiotherapy and exercise.
What does this all mean?
Degenerative meniscus tears are more common as people age. In some cases people who not have any knee pain may have degenerative menisci and not be in any pain. In other words having a degenerative meniscus correlates poorly pain. The good news is, you might not need to have surgery at all if you are able to undertake a comprehensive physiotherapy rehabilitation program.
Will surgery provide you any benefits? Yes it will in the short term. However, arthroscopic meniscus surgery is associated with a ten-fold increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis.
Although most degenerative meniscus tears don’t need surgery, there are always some cases where surgery is going to be more effective than physiotherapy. Some menisci tears can either ‘stick-up’ into the joint or ‘break-off.’ In cases like these the tear can cause the knee to lock when trying to bend or straighten, and surgery is recommended to remove the tear.
What will my physiotherapist work on during my rehabilitation?
The first thing your physiotherapist will undertake is a full assessment of not only your knee, but your legs and even your back to see if you pain is coming from your meniscus or from somewhere else.
If you have hurt your meniscus recently your physiotherapist will start treatment aiming to reduce the swelling and begin to return it to its full range of movement.
If you have full range of movement and no swelling in your knee joint your physiotherapist will begin an exercise program focused on strengthening the muscles around your knee, and from around your hip. Weak quadriceps muscle has been found to place a greater load on your knee joint and your meniscus. Strengthening these muscle groups can reduce the pressure on the meniscus during movement. Weakness in your bottom (gluteal) muscles can also affect your knee function. Weakness in the gluteal muscles is known to place more load through the inside of the knee, which is where the majority of medial injuries occur. Strengthening the quadriceps and gluteal muscles will contribute to reducing the pressure on the knee.
Degenerative meniscus tears areas common as wrinkles and grey hair as you grow older. Although surgery is sometimes required for some knee injuries it often is not the only or best option in most cases. For most knee injuries involving the menisci the best anti-aging medicine is physical activity and exercise.
A very common running injury is a calf strain or a tear. We have two main calf muscles, Gastrocnemius and Soleus, which are under repetitive load when we run. There are two reasons for this, the first one is to absorb the shock of our body weight during landing, and the second is to help move us forward into our next stride.
When we run, we take on average 937 strides per km. Obviously any weakness in the calf complex, or elsewhere in your lower limb or pelvis, will affect your running technique. Any muscle imbalance in your kinetic chain (above and below the calf) will lead to an increased load on the calf and predispose you to injury, strain or tear.
Just as your calf is designed to absorb shock and propel us forwards, the muscles above and below the calf are stabilising muscles. These are responsible for keeping the ankle, knee and hip joints stable during movement, so that your calf can carry out its main function. However, if your muscles aren’t up to the job they were designed for, particularly at the foot and ankle complex, the calf will begin to try and take on a stabilizing role. It isn’t designed to do this so it gets overworked or injured. A common example is over pronation of your foot (rolling inwards) or weak gluteal muscles causing excessive inward rotation of the knee.
A lack of a warm-up session is often a reason why many of us sustain calf injuries. The warmer the muscle, the more elastic it becomes. As we get older, there becomes a decrease in elasticity towards our tendons and muscles, causing an increase risk in calf strains for those more senior to running. Warming down after a run with calf stretches helps maintain the elasticity in your calf muscles.
Don’t forget that dehydration affects your muscle function by reducing blood flow to your muscles and decreasing muscle elasticity, flexibility and endurance. So stay hydrated.
Properly fitted footwear that isn’t worn out and provides adequate cushioning is also an important factor to consider when avoiding calf strain. Calf compression socks or long skins can also assist with keeping muscles warm and increasing circulation.
What to do if you have calf strain or tear?
Initially, the Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (R.I.C.E) principal should be followed. Book an appointment with a Physiotherapist for assessment and treatment of your injury so we can start your individual rehabilitation programme. We may refer you to have a scan of your injured calf muscle if we suspect a grade 2 or 3 strain.
Approximate timescales for rest are;
3 weeks for a Grade 1 strain
4-6 weeks for a Grade 2 strain
Grade 3 tears will most likely require surgery followed by a 12-week rehabilitation programme.
As with any injury, it is very important to avoid secondary injuries that occur through compensatory movement patterns. These may have become a habit during the injured period. All the more reason to get self assessed early to avoid this from occurring.
The rehabilitation period is also a good opportunity to target those areas that often get ignored in our weekly training routines. Core stability and gluteal muscles are a great place to focus on when running activity is restricted. At Saanichton Physiotherapy and Sports clinic our Physiotherapists will design a programme to suit your individual needs.
Research conducted has found that the stronger these muscles are, the more likely you will gain a successful outcome in not only injury recovery, injury prevention, but also importantly your performance.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia and is the most common cause of heel pain. The plantar fascia is the thick band of connective tissue under the foot that runs from the heel bone at the back of your foot to the toes at the front. It essentially acts like a sling to support the arch of your foot.
What causes Plantar Fasciitis?
There are a number of causes including:
Age as it is more common in middle-aged people due to ‘sagging’ of the arch of the foot, but can occur in younger people who put a lot of load through their feet.Weaknesses can occur in the muscles that support the arch of the foot, which causes the plantar fascia to take an increased load which can irritate
Poor bio-mechanics can contribute to plantar fasciitis i.e. having flat feet or high archesWeight gain or excess weight can put extra load on the plantar fascia, irritating .
the tissues; this can also occur from the weight gain during pregnancy
Repetitive loading i.e. high level sports or working on your feet
Poor support from footwear i.e. worn or ill-fitting shoes
Arthritic foot joints can irritate the plantar fascia
Diabetic people have an increased chance of suffering from plantar fasciitis
Signs and Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis
Pain at the base of the foot near the heel with weight-bearing
More pain after getting out of bed, or after prolonged sitting
Heel pain will be worse with the first few steps and will gradually improve as you move more
Generally your physiotherapist will be able to diagnose plantar fasciitis from your history, symptoms and a clinical examination.
Calf stretches often give relief to sufferers – it is important to stretch both calf muscles, so stretch with a straight leg and also a bent leg. Hold each stretch for 30 secs and repeat twice. Try to do this at least morning and night every day.
Freeze some water in an old water bottle and roll the bottom of your foot up and down on this.
Taping can offer you some relief while you are doing your exercises to off-load the plantar fascia.
Strengthening is an important component of treatment for plantar fasciitis as it improves the ability of the foot and ankle muscles to support the arch of your foot hence off-loading the plantar fascia.
Book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists who can help you with ideas for strengthening exercises to help ease the pain caused by plantar fasciitis.
Foot Pain OUCH!
You leap out of bed in the morning and you get stabbing pains in your heels or the arches of your feet. You hobble a few steps, and then hobble a few more until the pain reduces. Most of the day your feet feel OK …except when you tackle stairs or when you have been sitting for a while when the pain makes a reappearance.
Pain in your heel or the bottom of your foot is most commonly caused by Plantar Fasciitis. Your Plantar Fascia is the ligament that goes from the underneath of your heel to your toes. If you strain it, micro tears can form, which leads to swelling and sharp pain.
While most people experience the pain in their heel, some also get pain through to the arch of their foot. In about 70% of cases, the pain is in both feet, making walking a very painful experience.
You most commonly notice the pain first thing in the morning when you get out of bed and it reduces as your feet warm up with movement. It can reappear during the day after periods of rest or sitting, if you have been standing for a while, or when climbing stairs or ladders.
Plantar Fasciitis is more common in middle-aged people, although it can also affect younger people who use their feet a lot like joggers, dancers, or soldiers. That’s why it is also often called Joggers Heel.
Causes of Plantar Fasciitis
While the actual causes of plantar fasciitis are not known, there are risk factors that will increase the likelihood of you getting plantar fasciitis.
Overuse – excessive running, walking or dancing, or changing your training pattern so you dramatically increase hill running (for example).
Standing on hard surfaces
Flat feet or high foot arches (this is one time when average is better!)
Tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles
Your feet roll in when you walk or run
Ill-fitting shoes, worn out or unsupportive footwear such as thongs/slides
Walking barefoot on hard surfaces
First aid for Plantar Fasciitis
Generally, plantar fasciitis is gradual onset, which means it gradually increases in severity over time. If you ignore it and try to run through the pain, then the symptoms can get worse, ultimately leading to you changing your gait, limiting your activity or triggering the growth of heel spurs.
For initial symptoms, you need to rest, apply ice packs (15 minutes at a time every 2-3 hours), and take anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen.
You don’t need a referral from a doctor to see a physiotherapist. If the pain is moderate then you can seek treatment with your Physiotherapist immediately as the sooner you begin treatment, the sooner you will experience relief.
Occasionally your plantar fascia can snap and you could hear a clicking or snapping sound, accompanied by swelling, intense pain and significant swelling. You need to see a doctor urgently if this occurs.
Physiotherapy & Treatment Options
Your physiotherapist will assess the extent of your injury, and will explore the causes of your injury.
Depending on your symptoms, you may have the soles of your feet taped or strapped to support your feet and reduce pain. You may also need to wear a plantar fasciitis brace or heel cups in the initial stages of healing.
Your physiotherapist will take you through a number of gentle stretching exercises for your feet, as well as exercises to address any tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles.
We will combine these with pain reduction techniques that you can do at home such as rolling your foot on a frozen water bottle or frozen golf ball to help ice your injury site.
Massage, joint mobilisation techniques, dry needling and ultrasound therapy will also be used to reduce swelling and restore movement.
For your footwear, we recommend you replace your joggers every 650km of use, and only wear shoes that support your feet while healing. Definitely no thongs or slides!
It also helps to put your shoes on first thing in the morning, before you take your first steps. Avoid barefoot walking on tiles or hard surfaces while you heal.
If the cause of your injury is your feet shape or foot pronation, you may need special orthotics. If this is indicated, we would conduct a walk/run assessment on you and have your technique analysed.
To maintain your fitness during your treatment, we recommend swimming and cycling. Don’t return to running until you have been pain free for at least one week, and then only run on soft surfaces until you rebuild your strength and stamina. If pain is felt at any time, then go back to swimming and cycling rather than running.
Unfortunately, Plantar Fasciitis is a long-term injury, and may take a number of months to fully heal even with the most aggressive treatments.
Things to Remember
Plantar Fasciitis is the most common cause of heel and arch pain, and is caused by micro tears to the plantar fascia.
It is a gradual onset injury and causes sharp pain when taking the first few steps in the morning or after rest.
Physiotherapy can treat plantar fasciitis, while reducing pain and increasing movement during healing.
Your physiotherapist may advise you of techniques for the improvement of your walk/running style, or provide you with solutions for arch support, to help prevent further reoccurrence.
Healing may take many months for full recovery.