How to Keep Knees Happy and Healthy

megan-summers-author-banner 101613 A couple of weeks ago I wrote about anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injuries: the causes and symptoms. Knee injuries are not fun and can take young athletes off the field or court for a significant amount of time. For example, my recovery time after I tore my ACL in my left knee was almost eight months. I’m glad I recovered! It took a lot of focus and rehabilitation, affectionately known as rehab. I hope what I learned from my personal experience and my role as a nurse in the Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles can help your child’s knees stay healthy and happy. Moreover, I partnered with Tracy Zaslow, MD, Medical Director, Children’s Orthopaedic Center (COC) Sports Medicine and Concussion Programs to bring you expert knee injury prevention tips.

What Treatment, Recovery and Rehabilitation is like for an ACL Knee Injury

If you believe your child has injured their knee, it’s important to visit their primary care physician or pediatrician who will then likely refer you to see an orthopaedic doctor or surgeon. At the doctor’s office, you can expect them to do several exams to test the movement within the knee. Additionally, an MRI may be ordered to evaluate any injury within the knee and confirm the diagnosis.

Your child may be active and strive to continue to play sports. Surgery to fix the knee injury is recommended. A knee brace and physical therapy will not completely fix the instability of the injured knee.

Individuals with an ACL injury usually will not experience instability or pain with work and other normal daily activities. By strengthening the muscles around the knee with rehab exercises and perhaps wearing a knee brace for certain activities, most people can return to activities such as jogging, swimming, cycling and other aerobic exercises without difficulty.

If your child does have knee surgery, they will experience rehab involving physical therapy at least three times a week. During physical therapy your child will work on exercises that build strength, range of motion and flexibility within the knee. With hard work and dedication in rehab, the expected length of recovery time is anywhere from six to 12 months. Always remember, no matter how skilled your child’s surgeon is, the outcome of your child’s recovery is completely dependent upon their commitment to their rehab activities and exercises.

Rehab Exercises that Help Knee Injuries (Tweet this)

These three exercises we use frequently to help heal knee injuries and can be done at home. Always check with your physician to determine the appropriate course of treatment before proceeding with any exercise plan.

Contraction of the Quadriceps

  • Sit on the floor with your injured leg straight and your other leg bent. Contract the quadricep (thigh) of the injured knee without moving the leg (You want to press down against the floor). Hold for 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat 10 times. Perform this exercise two to three times a day as tolerated. This exercise helps to regain strength in the muscles around your knee providing stability.

Heel slide

  • Sit or lay down on the floor with legs stretched outwards. Slowly bend the knee of your injured leg while sliding your heel/foot across the floor toward you. Slide back into the starting position and repeat 10 times. Perform this exercise two to three times a day as tolerated. This exercise helps regain flexibility and range of motion within the knee.

Leg Raises

  • Lay down on the floor with your injured leg straight and your other leg bent. Raise the injured leg off the ground, up to one foot, while trying to keep the leg as straight as you can. Hold for five seconds. Slowly lower your leg to the floor. Relax. Repeat 10 times. Perform this exercise two to three times a day. For a further challenge, this exercise can be performed by lying on your side on the non-injured leg and performing side raises, as described. This exercise helps to regain strength and range of motion in the knee.

Dr. Zaslow’s Healthy Knee Tips (Tweet this)

As the Medial Director of the Children’s Orthopaedic Center Sports Medicine Concussion Programs, Dr. Zaslow is the expert who partnered with me on this post. Kids are programmed to play and knee injuries should not get in the way of that. Here are easy tips to prevent knee injuries for your entire family:

  • Don’t get injured by the “Rule of Too’s:” When training for any sport it’s easy to jump in too quickly and try to do too much too soon; for example:
    • running too much
    • increasing distance/time too quickly
    • trying skills that are too complex before building the foundation of skills

It’s best to gradually increase the intensity, time and complexity of activities to make sure your knees and the rest of your body are ready to perform at their best! For long distance runners, mileage on runs should not increase more than 10 percent per week.

  • Listen to your body: If something starts to hurt during activity, especially knees, ankles and other joints, it’s important to get it checked out by an expert. Never push through the pain because you may be making a minor injury worse.
  • Mix it up: Cross-training is a great way to strengthen multiple muscle groups and avoid overusing any one part of your body. If you’re training for soccer, try jumping in a pool for some cardio instead of always running.
  • Don’t forget your “core:” The core muscles that include your abdominal, back, buttock and hip muscles help to stabilize your body so that you are putting less stress on your knees and ankles. Multiple training programs that target the core as well as incorporating plyometrics and movement training exercises have been shown to decrease the risk of an ACL tear.
  • Rest and relax: Rest is an important key to any training program. Allowing your body some time off gives it a chance to heal itself and recover from intense training programs. Many injuries, like ACL tears, happen when you are tired. So it’s important to be well-rested on any given day and to maintain an active lifestyle to keep your underlying physical fitness at its best.