As Roger Federer undergoes knee surgery, why tennis knee injuries are so common

roger-federer-tennis-knee-injuryDays after his defeat in the Australian Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus which will take him out of action for a month. The surgery was reportedly a success and Federer announced that, “with proper rehabilitation, I will be able to return to the Tour soon.”

The media is full of stories of professional football, tennis and rugby players undergoing surgery to repair knee injuries, but these are just as likely to affect those playing at amateur level. Acute knee injuries, those that occur during activity, are thought to make up over half of all sports injuries. Why are they so common and is there anything that can be done to prevent them?

Sport and knee injuries

The knee is a key part of the body, as it supports more ‘load’ than any other joint as well as having to withstand more pressure when in motion. Athletes put their knees under immense strain during their playing careers so as well as hastening deterioration of the knee joint, compared to those that lead a more sedentary lifestyle, it can also cause sudden damage to the ligaments and cartilage that support the knee joint, dramatically increasing the risk of injury.

In most sports, athletes are often called upon to quickly change direction and position or have to exert energy to pull back or tackle an opposing player and it is this sudden movement that causes problems.

The knee joint is where three bones converge – the upper leg bone known as the femur, the lower leg bone called the tibia and the kneecap itself. Cartilage discs, or menisci, allow these bones to move smoothly and also absorb shocks to the knee. A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries, particularly in athletes that play contact sports, and may require surgical repair.

The knee joint is stabilised by the attached muscles, tendons and ligaments. These ligaments are known as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), lateral collateral ligament (ICL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL). The anterior cruciate ligament runs through the middle of the knee and injury to the ACL tends to keeps people out of sport the longest as it provides rotational stability to the knee. Ligaments sprains are where the ligament stretches or tears, either partially or total.

Is it possible to prevent knee injury?

Although you may protect your knee from a sudden, acute injury by not playing sports, you will be missing out on the many physical, psychological and social benefits. Consultant knee surgeon and sports medicine specialist Mr Jonathan Webb explains how you can minimise the risk of incurring an acute knee injury:

  • Good support is essential; ensure that you wear supportive footwear that fits properly. If you’re unsure then specialist sports shops can give advice
  • Protect yourself; make sure you wear all the appropriate protective gear such as kneepads or shin guards
  • Prepare properly; always warm up and cool down before you start playing
  • Strengthen up; as well as your preferred sport, weight training and stretching exercises can improve your flexibility and strengthen the muscles supporting the knee
  • Flag up a potential problem; if you have knee pain or worries about knee stability, tell your coach or trainer as soon as possible so it can be assessed