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Lower Body Orthopedics

Our bodies move a lot in any given day.  We probably don’t even think much about it – that is, until something goes wrong and common maneuvers we took for granted suddenly become painful or difficult. 

The field of orthopedic medicine involves the many facets of the human musculoskeletal system.  That includes bones, ligaments, joints, tendons, muscles and nerves – all of the body parts that enable us to have mobility and the ability to perform a physical task: from the simple, such as walking to the car; to the complex, such as playing a sport or dancing.   

Privia Medical Group North Texas includes physicians who specialize in many types of orthopedic conditions.  Whether it’s treating the athlete who sustained an injury on the football field or the person who got hurt doing a household chore, Privia’s orthopedic and sports medicine physicians have you covered. 

Orthopedic doctors will tell you that many injuries they see are preventable.  Sometimes an injury results when a group of “weekend warriors” get together and their pickup game gets a little out of hand.

Other injuries can be the result of a mishap on the job or at home.  Whatever the case, these types of injuries are often preventable through better conditioning or training, or by taking simple precautions.

There are dozens of orthopedic conditions that physicians deal with.  Below is a look at some of the most common lower-body and back orthopedic injuries.  See our March 2021 article for an overview of upper-body orthopedic conditions. 

Strained Thigh Muscles

Strained or pulled muscles, especially in the legs, are common sports injuries. The thigh includes three sets of muscles that can be susceptible to strain: the hamstring, quadriceps and abductor.   

Hamstring muscles are in the back of the thigh.  A pulled hamstring may happen when playing any number of sports, in addition to running and dancing.

The quadriceps muscles are located in the front of the thigh.  Like the hamstring, these muscles cross both the hips and knee joints.  Given the range of movement in both joints that directly affect these muscles, they are at greater risk of strain. 

A strained abductor, or groin —the muscle on the inside of the thigh – is another common injury.  This is an injury often associated with baseball, football, soccer and hockey, as it can result from pushing off in a sideways motion. 

When any of these muscles are strained, the injury is often characterized by a sudden pain in the thigh, followed by swelling and weakness in the muscle.  Bruising may also result. 

Thigh muscle strains are categorized depending on how serious they are.  A grade 1 strain heals quickly, while a grade 3 strain means the muscle is torn and may take several months to heal completely. 

Generally, injuries to the hamstring, quadriceps and groin can be treated through rest, ice packs and use of crutches in order to keep weight off of the injured leg. 

Knee Injuries

The knee is the largest joint in the body and one of the most commonly injured, as well.  Sometimes these injuries can be resolved by rest and restricted movement; others require surgery. 

The patella, more commonly known as the kneecap, is the knee bone most likely to fracture.  A patella fracture can make it impossible to bend or move the knee.  It requires a cast to immobilize the knee until the fracture is healed and in the event of a more complex fracture, surgery may be required. 

A broken kneecap may result if someone falls from a roof or off a ladder.  A motor vehicle collision can also result in a fractured kneecap.  Events such as these may also trigger a knee dislocation, which inhibits the knee’s stability.  

A sprain of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of the more common knee injuries and can occur when a person stops or changes direction suddenly, slows down when running or lands the wrong way after a jump.  That’s why we often hear about ACL injuries in sports such as football, basketball and soccer. 

The ACL is found on the inside of the knee and together with the Posterior Cruciate Ligament, controls the back-and-forth motion of the knee.  An ACL injury is a sprain, of which there are three categories:

  • Grade 1: the ligament is stretched but not torn
  • Grade 2: the ligament is partially torn
  • Grade 3: the ligament is completely torn in two.

ACL sprains can only be completely healed through surgery, although if the sprain is not too severe and the person is elderly and not very active, a non-surgical solution of restricting activity combined with physical therapy may be an option.  

In most cases, a torn ACL cannot simply be stitched back together.  The surgeon must replace the damaged ligament with a graft – usually part of a tendon from another part of the body – that serves as the infrastructure for the ligament to regrow on.  Because the ligament must be given time to completely regrow, recovery from ACL surgery generally takes six months. 

The knee also has ligaments that run on the outside of the knee joint, known as collateral ligaments.  These ligaments control the sideways motion of the knee and help to brace it.  The Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) can be torn when the knee is pushed sideways.  Unlike the ACL, however, an MCL sprain rarely requires surgery and can be healed through a brace that restricts movement, as well as physical therapy.  

Meniscus tears are another common knee injury.  The meniscus refers to the cartilage in the knee between the thighbone and shin bone.  Meniscus tears are a common sports injury and can sometimes occur at the same time as an ACL injury.  Absent an ACL injury, a meniscus tear is characterized by pain, stiffness and swelling that develops over a period of a few days.  Depending upon the severity and location of the tear, sometimes a meniscus injury does not require surgery and can be treated through a combination of rest, ice packs, a compression bandage and elevation of the leg. 

Ankle Injuries

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries affecting athletes and non-athletes alike. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 25,000 people a day suffer an ankle sprain.  A sprain occurs when the ligaments in the ankle are stretched beyond their capability.  As with the ligaments in the knee, some sprains are so severe they result in the ligament tearing.

Ankle sprains take place when the foot rolls or twists in an abnormal way.  To prevent ankle sprains, wear shoes that provide good support, pay attention when taking the stairs or stepping off a curb and always warm up before exercise.      

Another common ankle condition is Achilles tendinitis.  The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, extending from the calf muscles to the heel bone.  Our Achilles tendon gets put to work every time we walk, run or jump. 

Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon, often due to overuse.  The condition results in pain and swelling in the tendon.  Usually, Achilles tendonitis is the result of repeated overuse and repetitive stress on the tendon.  Pushing your body too hard and too fast can lead to Achilles tendonitis.  Tight calf muscles can add stress to the tendon.  Development of a bone spur can also aggravate the tendon. 

Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications are usually the first treatments for Achilles tendonitis. 

Preventing Injuries

Many common orthopedic injuries can be prevented by taking proper precautions.  Here are some of key injury-prevention strategies that doctors recommend:

Around the house:
  • If you’re trying to list something heavy or awkward, get help! Wait until you have a helper before trying to move it.
  • Bend your knees when picking up something heavy, lift with your legs, not your back.
  • If you must use a ladder, be very careful. Do not extend your body away from the ladder, or you could lose your balance.  Do not stand on the top two steps of the ladder. 
  • Watch your step: many sprains, strains and fractures are a result of tripping over a rug, a pet or other obstacle. Do not text or look at your phone while walking.  Watch where you are going and eliminate fall hazards. 
On the field & at the gym:
  • Take it slow. If you are just starting an exercise program or taking up a new sport, ease into it.  Trying to do too much, too fast, is one of the top reasons people get hurt.  You want to build your fitness level over time, gradually increasing the duration, intensity and frequency of your exercise. 
  • Warm up. Warm up your muscles by stretching and doing some moderate exercise, like a brisk walk or light jog.  Not warming up sufficiently is a major cause of muscle strains.  If a muscle is tight, it’s much more susceptible to being pulled and strained. 
  • Use the proper technique. If you are undertaking a strength-training program, make sure you know the proper way to lift a weight or perform an exercise.  Improper form can lead to injury. 
  • Wear the right shoes. Wearing proper footwear that provides support and stability is an important part of improving performance and preventing injury.  If you run, consider replacing your shoes after every 250-500 miles of use. 
  • Cross-train. Mix up your exercise routine so that your body uses different muscle groups at different times.  This helps strengthen your body overall and lessens the odds of overuse of certain muscles. 

This article contains material sourced from:

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Mayo Clinic

The National Institutes of Health

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