The knee is an incredibly important joint that is critical to motion and movement. Inside, the upper bones of the leg are connected to the lower bones of the leg through a series of tendons, ligaments and cartilage. The complex structure of the knees combined with their frequent use make them a regular target for injury, damage and degeneration. The cartilage specifically is often impacted, and can become damaged over time due to age or disease or damaged as a result of sports injuries or other physical trauma. But, unlike ligament and tendon damage, treating a knee cartilage injury can be a simple task. In many cases, with proper home care and an adequate amount of rest, minor types of knee injuries related to the cartilage are able to properly heal on their own over a period of a few weeks.
Most of the time, a knee cartilage injury is mild to moderate and caused from activities like jumping or twisting at the knee. Athletes encounter them from time to time, and are often familiar with the symptoms of these minor types of injuries which can include swelling, pain and a limit in function of the knee where it is difficult to straighten or may “lock” intermittently. Minor tears in the cartilage may also present the same set of symptoms and are often diagnosed via X-Ray or other imaging device. Regardless, the most common methods of treatment for mild to moderate injuries to the knee cartilage are the same and include resting the affected leg, icing the area, compressing and elevating the knee and preventing further damage and injury. When a knee cartilage injury is serious and conventional home care has proven inadequate and joint pain relief is not achievable with medicines and other measures, surgery may be required. There are various ways in which torn cartilage can be repaired including trimming the offending cartilage, using collagen implants or other transparent material to regrow the cartilage or, removing it entirely.
The simple truth is that many people fall in between the two extremes for treatment where home care provides some relief but does not fully relieve the muscle and joint pain that can accompany a cartilage injury, and surgery may be too extreme of a treatment. For these individuals suffering from a knee cartilage injury, there are other options for helping heal the damage, restore movement and in some cases, prevent the need for surgery entirely. Choosing between treatment methods depends on many factors such as extent of injury, cost, availability and results.
One of these options is physiotherapy, and even for people where surgery may be being considered, a period of physiotherapy is likely to be recommended before hand in order to give the knee cartilage injury an opportunity to heal on its own if that is possible. Physiotherapy in some cases might be able to prevent the need for surgery altogether, and this makes it particularly appealing to people who are not interested in having arthroscopic procedures due to risk and cost. Even when surgery is imminent, a period of physiotherapy prior is imperative because it will greatly improve rehabilitative success following a surgery. Lastly, physiotherapy is also important because it might help to prevent the formation of excess scar tissue surrounding the knee cartilage injury. Scar tissue can contribute to further discomfort and problems with the knee down the road. Physiotherapy is a proven method of strengthening and conditioning injuries and their related parts and is not only effective but can prevent further injury and the need for surgery.
Another treatment option that some people consider when home care for a knee cartilage injury has proven inadequate and symptoms remain but surgery is either not an option or not an appealing option is whole body cryotherapy. It may sound like a space age technology, but it’s actually a decades’ old method of taking the same power found in an ice pack and amplifying it to encourage the body to heal itself from the inside out. Because the blood supply to the cartilage in the knee is very limited, this type of treatment may be even more useful in this application. The process involves the use of a cryosauna or cryo chamber where the exterior of an individual is exposed to supercooled gases that rapidly chill the surface of the skin prompting multiple physiological responses. Cryotherapy results are thought to be associated with prompting activity from the immune system, which may speed repair to damage and injury as well as pain relief from the activation of endocrine processes and chemical responses throughout the body. Multiple sessions may be required for results to be experienced in persons with a knee cartilage injury, but since the cost of cryotherapy has declined in recent years, this alternative treatment has become much more affordable and widely available. Whole body cryotherapy was originally developed for the purpose of treating rheumatoid arthritis, and successes in the field of arthritis pain management have made the practice more popular in treating a wide range of injuries, illnesses and diseases as a result. Unfortunately, studies are still limited in terms of the effectiveness of whole body cryotherapy. However, it’s surging popularity with athletes as a means to speed recovery from exertion and injury suggest that it’s effectiveness may exceed that which is currently documented.
Having multiple choices in treatment for a knee ligament injury is not a bad thing. Decades ago, options were limited and choices in care even more so. Today, technology has made it even easier to diagnose and treat cartilage related injuries, and the best part about this is that is that fewer people may need surgical repairs to their movement related joints and can get back to normal activity levels more quickly. Instead of comparing the tried and true method of physiotherapy versus cryotherapy in terms of effectiveness as a treatment tool, understand instead that physiotherapy is a requirement for proper healing while cryotherapy serves as a means to speed healing and reduce pain and discomfort. Using both may therefore be the best idea for encouraging rapid, healthy recovery and repair with the least amount of discomfort possible.