SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Knees, hips a common source of pain

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Knees and hips are vital for keeping the body moving, working together to bear weight and maintain proper range of motion. They're the largest joints and are attached to the largest bone, the femur.

The knee is a hinge joint, which allows for primary movements of knee flexion and extension and medial and lateral rotation. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint that allows for flexion, extension, rotation, abduction and adduction movements. Muscles, tendons and ligaments wrap around the femur, connecting the knee and hip joint. Because of this, knee and hip pain can often be rooted in a problem with the other joint. The same is true of the knee and ankle.

Pain in these joints is disruptive, and can be experienced during any stage of life. According to Harvard Health Publications, Americans make about 15 million visits to doctors for knee pain and 6 million visits for hip pain. A fifth of Americans 60 and up have had significant knee pain on most days over the last six weeks, and 1 in 7 report significant hip pain.

As humans age, more wear and tear can cause damage or injury to the joints. Depending on the degree of pain, non-surgical treatments, surgery or replaced joints maybe recommended by a doctor.

Knee pain is categorized as acute (immediate) or chronic pain (long term). Acute pain is caused from a bone fracture, ligament sprain or tendon rupture. Fracture symptoms are recognized with swelling, bruising and tenderness to the point where a person may not be able to walk.

Ligaments sprains -- in which a ligament is overstretched -- may take eight to 10 weeks for recovery. Ruptures of the quadriceps and patellar tendons consist of a partial or complete split of the tendon. The quadricep tendon rupture is common among athletes and runners over 40 whereas the patellar tendon rupture is most frequent amongst young athletes with tendinitis or steroid injections.

Chronic knee pain can be caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, crystalline arthritis or bursitis of the knee.

Although each form of arthritis causes inflammation, some arthritic knees may experience crystal deposit growth or tissue damage. Knee pain symptoms include stiffness, sharp, throbbing or stabbing pain during movement.

Hips experience similar problems. Hip pain is an intricate topic because aches are experienced on the thighs, buttocks, groin, inside or outside the hip joint. Lower back pain or hernia discomfort can also trigger hip pain. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, bone fractures or infections maybe the root of hip pain. Numerous hip discomforts can affect anyone over age of 12, and increases when a person is moving.

A common ailment, illiotibial band syndrome, is a snapping pain that is felt on the outside of the hip. Children or teens with pain maybe experiencing slipped capital femoral epiphysis which includes spasms or pain during movement. The sciatic nerve is another common root of discomfort that shoots pain from the hip down through the legs.

If you suffer from hip or knee pain, contact your health-care provider for diagnosis, which may include an X-ray or MRI.

If a joint replacement is recommended, you will have a lot of company: Hundreds of thousands of knee and hip replacement surgeries are performed each year. Patients average 65-70 years old. Replaced joints are typically made of metal, plastic or ceramics.

When choosing a surgeon for a new hip or knee, it is essential to ask questions. Relevant questions include How many surgeries of this kind are you performing annually? Does this institution complete a high volume of joint replacement? What are the plans for pain management? What are the plans for rehabilitation?

Pain management and recovery from joint replacements takes patience and diligence, both in physical therapy and in maintaining an exercise routine afterward.

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience in India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is a programs coordinator at the YMCA where she trains, instructs fitness classes and assists in marketing projects. She welcomes questions and comments and can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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