Four main bones make up your knee: the femur (the large bone in your thigh), the tibia, the fibula and the patella (or kneecap, as it's commonly referred to). When your knee moves, it doesn't simply bend and straighten, it also rotates. This rotation was discovered relatively recently (within the last 50 years) and speaks to how complex this seemingly simple joint really is. It also helps explain why you're more likely to injure your knee than any other joint in your body.
The quadriceps and hamstring muscles go across your knee joint, with the quadriceps on the front of the knee and the hamstrings on the back. Ligaments hold the joint together, and a C-shaped piece of tissue called meniscal cartilage helps to protect the joint and allows the bones to slide freely on each other. For your knee to function properly, your ligaments and cartilage must be smooth and strong. In fact, damage (strain/tear) or irritation to these knee components are responsible for the vast majority of knee problems.
It's estimated that nearly one in three Americans older than age 45 will experience some degree of knee pain. Typically, this pain is the result of an injury; however, arthritis and gout may also be to blame - especially as people get older.
If you're experiencing pain, feeling unstable, feeling the need to fully extend knee after sitting for prolonged periods, buckling, locking, shin pain, swelling, it's a good idea to speak with a board-certified physician—before the condition gets worse. If the pain and/or limited motion persists for more than three months, it's considered chronic and you should consult with a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) specialist right away.
Before discussing your symptoms with a doctor, it may be helpful to review some common conditions.
Physiatrists are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal pain and injury because it's the focus of their education and training. Physiatrists complete four years of medical school, plus an additional four years of residency training, and many go on to complete fellowships in various specialties. In order to become a board-certified physiatrist, physicians must then pass comprehensive tests (oral and written) administered by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPM&R) or the American Osteopathic Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AOBPM&R). Physiatrists will assess your condition, needs and expectations thoroughly and develop a tailor-made treatment regimen.
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