IT band syndrome (ITBS)

  • Overview: The illiotibial band is a ligament that runs along the outside of the thigh, from hip to shin. The IT band helps stabilize and move the knee. When this ligament becomes too tight or inflamed, the athlete may experience pain. Symptoms also include swelling.
  • Cause: Athletes who repeatedly turn their leg inward are at risk for ITBS. This is why the condition most often affects runners. Wearing worn-out shoes or ill-fitted shoes, poor running form and running too many miles are some ways that can cause ITBS can flare up.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: Doctors can easily diagnose ITBS by reviewing patient history and symptoms and performing a physical exam. An MRI may be used to check if inflammation has spread beyond the IT band. Because ITBS is an overuse injury, initial treatment includes the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Physical therapy may be needed to help decrease inflammation, restoring strength, balance and flexibility to the athlete. Arthroscopy may be used if nonsurgical treatments fail to help.

ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury

  • Overview: The three bones that meet to form the knee (femur, tibia, and patella) are connected by four primary ligaments (two collateral and two cruciate ligaments). Half of ACL injuries also include other damage to surrounding structures, such as cartilage, meniscus and other ligaments. Symptoms of an ACL injury include pain and swelling, inability to fully move the knee, tenderness and difficulty walking. Athletes may hear a “popping” sound when the ACL is injured.
  • Cause: Rapidly changing direction, sudden stops or starts, landing from a jump incorrectly and direct collisions can cause ACL injuries. The athletes most at risk for these injuries are soccer, football, and basketball players.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: A doctor’s exam will include discussing symptoms and patient history and checking the structure of the injured knee. X-rays and MRI scans will help confirm the diagnosis. Nonsurgical treatment may come in the form of bracing and physical therapy. Athletes who require arthroscopic surgery will have their ligament reconstructed with a tissue graft. It may take six months for an athlete to return to activity.

Medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints)

  • Overview: Shin splints are one of the most common exercise-related conditions. The injury is an inflammation of the surrounding muscles/tendons/tissue near the tibia. Pain is experienced along the inner part of the tibia where muscles attach to the bone. The pain may be sharp or dull and throbbing, occurring before exercise as well as after.
  • Cause: Changes in frequency, duration and intensity of exercise can cause shin splints. Runners are at a high risk of suffering shin splints.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: Your doctor will examine the lower leg and use additional imaging tests to rule out other shin conditions. Most athletes only require nonsurgical treatment, including rest, medicines, ice, compression, flexibility exercises and supportive shoes/orthotics.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome

  • Overview: Sometimes referred to as “runner’s knee” or “jumper’s knee,” patellofemoral pain syndrome causes pain in the front of the knee as well as around the kneecap. Pain may be experienced by activities that bend the knee, after sitting for an extended period of time, or during a change in activity.
  • Cause: This condition is usually caused by overuse or, in some cases, a misalignment of the knee. Patellofemoral pain syndrome is frequently found in athletes (particularly females and young adults) who engage in vigorous physical activity or training. Those who frequently run, squat, or climb stairs, or even athletes who suddenly change their activities, are at the highest risk of developing this condition.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: Your physician will perform a physical exam and also ask more about the type of pain you are having. The doctor may ask you to perform activities such as squatting, jumping or lunging to test the knee strength. Examining the lower leg alignment, position of the patella, knee stability, and strength of hips may also help diagnose the root of the knee pain. X-rays are often used to rule out any additional damage to the structure of the knee. Nonsurgical treatments—including physical therapy and orthotics—are enough to keep most athletes’ condition under control.

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