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“Look after your knees!”
I wish we’d all been taught this from a very young age.
After all, the knee joint is the joint that gets used the most action out of any other joint in the human body.
Being a hinge joint, the knee is super complex.
It’s a network of muscles, bones, cartilage, and tendons that form the knee as we understand it – and any of it can go wrong at any time, causing pain and restricted mobility.
You’ll discover more on knee anatomy in this post, giving you the information you need to look after your knees as best you can to avoid injury and maintain optimal knee health.
Let’s dive straight in.
The role of the knee joint is to provide stability and structure to the lower limbs and the entire body.
The soft tissue components of the knee joint include:
- Ligaments: There are four major knee ligaments in total, comprising the anterior cruciate ligament, the posterior cruciate ligament, the lateral collateral ligament, and the medial collateral ligament.
- Muscles: Including the hamstring muscles, calf muscles, and quadriceps muscles. At the back of the knee, one of the lesser-known muscles is the Popliteus muscle which we’ll discuss further in this post.
- Tendons: Includes the quadriceps tendon, the Achilles tendon, the biceps femoris tendon, and the patellar tendon.
- Cartilage: Includes articular cartilage to help bones move fluidly without friction.
We’ll avoid going into too much detail on the anatomy of the knee joint, but simply seeing the array of anatomy that makes up a knee can be pretty overwhelming.
Now the thing to remember is that the knee is designed for movement – but not to be overused.
So let’s look into common knee injuries and the appropriate recovery pathways.
Almost all knee injuries occur due to over-exhausting or over-using the knees.
Common injuries include a sports injury from a sudden twisting motion, an ACL injury or another ligament injury, hamstring strains, calf strain, and over a more extended period – osteoarthritis of the knee.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the only knee condition not linked to physical activity.
Instead, this is an auto-immune condition whereby the cartilage of the body’s joints gets attacked and breaks down.
In truth, there is not so much anatomy at the back of your knee compared to the other parts.
As mentioned before, the popliteal muscle is located behind the knee.
It’s a triangular-shaped muscle located inferior to the back of the thigh, and it pivots the tibia bone during knee flexion.
Other causes of posterior knee pain include a potential deep vein thrombosis – a blood clot in the veins of the lower leg that can be dangerous.
This is because the clots tend to ‘break off’ and travel toward the lungs, potentially causing a pulmonary embolism.
A deep vein thrombosis needs urgent medical attention (if there is a suspected clot) – so don’t delay getting seen by a medical doctor.
Lastly, a hamstring injury would cause severe pain.
Hamstring injuries are common in sports injuries or when the knee is used as a shock absorber.
Hamstring tendonitis is down to inflammation of the hamstring tendons.
It occurs for many reasons, including repetitive strain injuries, trauma to the back of the thigh, and aging, to name a few.
As with anything medical, it’s essential to get an accurate diagnosis to create a treatment plan.
Conservative treatment – which essentially means resting and recuperating at home and/or using ice packs on the injured knee may be all that’s needed, depending on the cause of the problem.
Physical therapy can also help. Rehabilitation is essential in the cases of knee injuries with a meniscal tear, let’s say. A physical therapist can support this.
You can also get knee supports and braces to help with recovery and help support the knee while it’s in a weaker state.
I recommend reading these other posts to learn more about common knee complaints and how to heal them.
Be sure also to check out my bestselling book titled Torn: Overcoming the psychological challenges post ACL Injury
And to finish, I hope you found this post informative and valuable. Thanks for reading.
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.