As a runner, a physically fit and healthy body is the best investment for your career. However, as the popularity of this sport increases, the number of injury cases also increases.
You probably already know that the knee is the largest joint in the body. It consists of three compartments or joints. The first compartment is where the thigh bone or femur meets the shinbone or tibia, thereby forming the main knee joint. Within this joint are the inner (medial) and outer (lateral) menisci that make up the second compartment. The kneecap or patella connects to the femur, rounding up the third compartment known as the patellofemoral joint.
In addition, the knee is composed of a network of cartilage, ligaments, and tendons that help stabilize the knee joint and support your weight. Despite being the largest joint in the body, the knee is not invincible. In fact, it is one of the most commonly injured joints in runners. This function makes the knee susceptible to injuries.
The Numbers Say it All
The menisci, which are two wedge-shaped cartilage pads located between the thigh bone and shin bones, are very prone to injuries because they act as shock absorbers that help stabilize and cushion the knee joint. The menisci are likewise responsible for joint lubrication and nutrition. Obviously, the menisci play an important role in knee movements, as well as in protecting the knees against wear and tear.
Approximately 42% of running injuries affect the knee. Overuse injuries as a result of prolonged and intense training, inappropriate footwear, and hazardous terrain are more common than acute injuries like sprains and strains. The most common overuse injuries in runners include meniscus tears, runner’s knee, patellar tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, and tibial stress syndrome.
Meniscus Injury and its Symptoms
A meniscus tear or injury can occur on the inside (medial) or outside (lateral) part of the knee but in some cases, it occurs on both sides. Athletes sustain meniscus injury as a result of a forceful twisting, pivoting, and suddenly changing direction. Some athletes likewise sustain the injury by squatting or jogging. These activities or even a wrong movement of the knee can rupture the meniscus; thus, resulting in a tear or injury.
Most meniscus injuries involve the medial meniscus since that particular part is more affixed by the ligaments; thus, its maneuverability is significantly reduced. This reduced mobility causes the medial meniscus to be squeezed between the thigh bone and shin bone, and when the meniscus is pinched between the two, the risk of tearing is increased.
There are different ways a meniscus injury presents itself. You’ll either experience a popping sensation or you’ll feel significant pain along the joint where the tear is (either medial or lateral). Aside from these two, you also need to watch out for the following signs:
- The knee locks up, gets stuck, or catches when you move
- Some degree of swelling caused by inflammation and/or bleeding
- Difficulty in extending or flexing the knee
- Weakness in the affected leg particularly when walking up and down a flight of stairs
Can You Prevent Meniscus Injury?
Although meniscus tears can be considered as an occupational or recreational hazard, there are certain ways to reduce your risk of suffering from this injury:
- Wear appropriate and well-padded shoes. Ill-fitting shoes affect the stress and weight distribution of your body as your feet hit the ground when running.
- Cross-train. Aside from running on the tracks, you should also perform flexibility and resistance training through an adaptable training regimen with resistance bands in order to strengthen your muscles. Having well-developed and toned leg, thigh, gluteal, and abdominal muscles can help improve your form running form and boost your performance.
- Observe proper running techniques. Running on a poor technique can inflict damage on your body, most especially your weight-bearing joints.
- Observe proper interval between training. As much as possible, give your body 24 hours to rest and recover, most especially after increasing the intensity and the duration of your training.
- Mind your diet. Consume foods that are rich in protein and healthy calories to increase your muscle mass and facilitate tissue build-up and repair. Adequate hydration should never be taken for granted as well.
Treatment for Meniscus Injury
At the onset, the signs and symptoms of meniscus injury are bearable. In fact, most runners continue running through the pain. However, the pain in your knee will intensify once inflammation sets in.
It is important to rest the injured knee to prevent the tear from getting worse. Put an ice pack on the injured area to numb the pain and minimize the swelling. If available, wrap the injury with an elastic bandage or wear your knee support if you have one. Seek medical intervention immediately to precisely identify the degree and nature of the injury.