Knee injury and chronic knee pain are among the most common complaints people of all ages bring to their doctor's office. The four bones and four thick ligaments that make up our legs' main hinges are vulnerable. As our body's biggest joint, they bend, twist, pivot, turn and withstand a lot of weight. Some wear and tear is inevitable but many knee injuries are preventable. 

The most common knee injuries are caused by arthritis and damage to the Anterior Cruciate Ligaments (ACL), Medial Collateral Ligaments (MCL) and the meniscus (cartilage between the bones). Tears and strains of these tissues are particularly common in athletes whose high-performance training schedules provide lots of opportunity for injury. 

For exercise beginners, people who don't exercise regularly and weekend warriors, knee injuries happen when they're stressed beyond what they can handle. Dennis Bley, DO internal medicine physician in Portland, OR says, "People remember how fast or strong they were in high school or college and plan on starting up where they left off. This leads to strains, pulls and tears that did not need to happen.

Prevent Knee Injury

How can you avoid knee injury? Follow these five tips:

1. Don't overdo it. Whether you're new to exercise or seriously training for an athletic event, sudden increases in exercise intensity or duration can put too much strain on knees. Bley says, "Start slow, and give your body time to adjust. Prepare for your sport in the off-season. The older you get, the more prep time you will need."

2. Don't ignore early signs. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons advises patients to seek treatment as soon as possible after experiencing knee pain, especially if you:

  • Hear a popping noise and feel your knee give out at the time of injury
  • Have severe pain
  • Cannot move the knee
  • Begin limping
  • Have swelling at the injury site

3. Take a load off. Every pound of body weight puts five pounds of force on your knees.  That means that carrying extra bodyweight adds a heavy burden that puts you at increased risk for knee injury. Maintain a healthy body weight to help knees last a lifetime.

4. Exercise your knees properly. Your bones and ligaments need the support of surrounding muscles.  If certain muscles are over-trained and others are undertrained, the result can be muscles and ligaments that yank knees out of alignment. Talk to your physician and a fitness trainer about strength and flexibility exercises that work all the muscles in your legs.

5Let injuries recover. If you've suffered a knee injury, follow through on your physician's advice.  Allow for adequate rest to let tissues heal.  See a physical therapist for rehabilitative treatments and exercises. 


American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

Common Knee Injuries

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Diseases. Knee Problems

Publication Date: May 2001
Revised: May 2006