The hip and the knee joints are two important parts of the human body. The hip’s ball and socket structure allows the leg to have a large range of motion for activities including dancing and gymnastics, while the configuration of the joint and ligaments around the knee help support loads while walking, running, squatting, and with other dynamic activities.
Commonly, both the knee and the hip can be sites of injury and pain with younger athletes, “weekend warriors,” and as people age. There are a variety of different things that can happen to the joints, ligaments, and muscles, and careful evaluation to determine what is going on is key to receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment.
In the absence of a specific injury or trauma, the hip and knee can sometimes be areas of referred pain from the spine and pelvis, so proper examination is important to rule out these areas for potential involvement. However there are some steps you can take to help with your recovery.
If you have had an acute injury or trauma to your hips or knees, the first step towards recovery is getting adequate rest. Resting will ensure that no further irritation is done, and that the body can begin the process of healing any tissue damage that may have occurred. While resting, be sure to elevate your injured leg if possible; it will help to minimize swelling and likely will reduce some of the discomfort. However, this initial rest period should only be temporary. Gentle movement and gradual return to activity when determined to be appropriate is the best way to ensure proper tissue healing. Tissues respond to modified stress, not rest.
Ice or Heat?
To paraphrase Hamlet, that is the question. Traditionally, ice had been recommended for the first 24-48 hours, and then after it was okay to apply heat, but the research is no longer clear on this. At this point, we don’t really have enough information to say with confidence that one is necessarily better than the other. There are studies that show that early application of ice may actually increase swelling due to its effect on the lymphatic system. However, ice is also effective at reducing pain and perhaps further tissue irritation. Bottom line, it’s still inconclusive. But, what is actually more important than ice or heat is….
The best way to ensure proper tissue healing is with appropriate movement. While too much too soon isn’t helpful, the lack of movement can also be very detrimental to the healing and recovery process. Modified movement over time is how tissue heals. In the example of a knee ligament sprain or hip joint issue, elevating your leg on a large ball with gentle bending and straightening of the hip and knee is an easy way to start. Often times, initial movement may be uncomfortable, but you’ll find that it will gradually feel better to be moving the joints rather than keeping them stiff.
Even when not dealing with an acute injury or trauma, movement is often the best thing. Lack of movement leads to tissue stiffness, fluid stasis, and deconditioning. It then becomes a vicious cycle because further deconditioning can lead to even less movement and activity and more pain. It makes sense that people may be afraid to move or are unsure of what exactly they should do in fear of “harming” something or making the situation worse.
Let us put your mind at ease; first of all, you aren’t likely to “harm” something with normal movement and activity. Sometimes, that discomfort you feel is because you are using muscles and joints in ways they may not have been used in a while. Second, if you aren’t quite sure of where or how to begin, that’s what we’re here for!
Call to schedule an appointment today and get back on the road to recovery.
“At Virginia Center for Spine and Sport, it’s not just physical therapy, it’s personal therapy.”
-Andrew S. Rothschild, PT