Painful knees, a stiff shoulder, sore heels or a “locked” finger… If you’re experiencing any of these, or have in the past, you’ll want to know how to treat them, and how to prevent them from happening again in the future. We dive into five of the most common joint conditions.
#1 Knee Pain
Whether you’re an athlete or not, knee pain may very well affect you in your daily life, thanks to a previous sports injury like a meniscus or ACL tear, or an underlying degenerative condition such as osteoarthritis.
Common knee pain symptoms include stiffness, swelling, skin redness, the inability to fully flex or extend the knee, locking or “jamming” of the knee, popping noises when squatting of flexing the knee, and instability or the feeling that the knee is going to give way, says DR EDWIN ONG of DTAP Clinic (Dr Tan and Partners) here in Singapore.
The good news is, there are many different treatment options available depending on the diagnosis – from physiotherapy to intra-articular injections and medications to relieve pain, and supplements to reduce inflammation, or surgery in some cases.
Dr Ong’s prevention tips: “Maintain a healthy weight or shed a few extra kilograms to reduce excess strain on the knees. Also, be in shape to play your sport. Different sports engage different muscle groups, and certain sports are more demanding on the knees. It’s important to take time to condition your body to reduce the risk of injury.”
He continues: “Adjust the intensity of the activity to your level. Every individual is different, and not everyone functions at the same level. Listen to your own body – if you experience any knee pain or discomfort while engaging in an activity, slow down or stop to take a rest.”
#2 Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow
Tennis elbow is a painful condition that affects the tendons attached to the outside of the elbow. Pain can even spread down to the forearm or wrist in some cases.
Less common than tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow is a similar condition, but affects the inside of the elbow instead. The pain tends to develop slowly over time and is typically increased with forearm activity such as gripping an object or shaking hands, explains Dr Ong. “Repeated contraction of the forearm muscles, and forceful use of the wrist and hand put excess stress on the tendons. This can lead to a series of micro-tears, resulting in inflammation and intense pain.”
So, no, you don’t have to be a tennis of golfer player to develop one of these injuries; anyone who overuses their wrists or arms through repeated motions can experience them. Even repeated use of a computer mouse can lead to tennis elbow! Other symptoms may include elbow stiffness or weakness in the wrists or hands.
There are different treatment options for both ailments, depending on the severity. Wearing a brace can help reduce stress on tendons and muscles, gentle exercises can be done to stretch and strengthen the forearm muscles, and avoidance of the causative activity for several weeks may be advised. Some patients may require corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation, or extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) may be necessary in other cases. Of course, a doctor can advise on the best treatment route.
Dr Ong’s prevention tips: To help avoid these types of injuries in the first place, Dr Ong suggests using lightweight sports equipment to avoid extra strain on the tendons, and taking your time to properly warm up before sports or strenuous activities. He also suggests engaging the upper arm muscles more instead of relying on the wrist or elbow entirely.
#3 Shoulder pain
The shoulder is the most manoeuvrable joint in the body, allowing us to do most of our everyday tasks – from reaching for something on a shelf to scratching an itch on our back. However, because of its wide range of motion, the shoulder is also an unstable joint, making it more prone to dislocation than other joints. “Damage to the shoulder joint can happen acutely from sport, strenuous lifting or a bad fall or accident,” says Dr Ong. “Pain may also develop slowly over time as a result of wear and tear or ageing.”
The severity and location of the shoulder pain may depend on underlying causes, such as osteoarthritis, for instance, or a rotator cuff injury caused by repetitive overhead arm movements, heavy lifting, and other forms of trauma that can strain the tendons and lead to tendonitis. What’s more, rotator cuff tendonitis can result in impingement syndrome, a painful condition in which tendons are thickened and inflamed, and get squeezed by the edge of the shoulder blade when moving the arm.
Another common ailment is frozen shoulder, where movement becomes severely restricted due to the growth of abnormal bands of tissue between joint surfaces, explains Dr Ong. It most commonly occurs between the ages of 40 and 60, and can happen after a rotator cuff impingement, tendon tear or even a minor injury.
Other symptoms that can accompany shoulder pain include swelling, stiffness, decreased range of motion and the inability to raise an arm above one’s head, instability and a feeling that the shoulder may “pop” out, and numbness or weakness in the arm. CT scans, x-rays, MRI’s, ultrasounds and other tests can be done to make a diagnosis, and there are various treatment options including physiotherapy, medication, intra-articular injections or surgery, depending on the case.
Dr Ong’s prevention tips: Practise good posture when sitting or standing to help prevent shoulder pain, and make sure to properly warm up before sports. Using proper technique is key, especially when doing upper body exercises. He adds, “Be in shape to play your sport and take time to condition your body. It’s awfully important to listen to you own body!”
#4 Plantar Fasciitis
If you’ve ever experienced intense pain throughout the bottom of your heel when taking your first steps in the morning, chances are you have plantar fasciitis. It’s the most common cause of heel pain and affects approximately one in 10 people at some point during their lifetime, says Dr Ong, most often between the ages of 40 and 60. “The pain is typically sharp and sudden, and usually happens only in one foot, although both feet can be affected at the same time.”
And, the pain doesn’t have to happen in the morning. It can occur after a period of rest any time of day, and can increase after exercise. In fact, long distance runners often experience the condition because of the repetitive impact placed on their heels.
According to Dr Ong, other risk factors may include obesity, abnormal foot mechanics such as flat feet or a high foot arch, occupations that require long hours of standing or walking, and new or increased physical activity that the body is not conditioned for.
Treatment options include wearing a splint at night to stretch the calf muscle and arch of the foot, wearing arch supports to help distribute weight more evenly, gentle exercises to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon, avoidance of any strenuous activities for several months, corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and ESWT. If all else fails, surgery may be required to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone.
Dr Ong’s prevention tips: “Being overweight puts more pressure on the bottom of your feet, which can lead to plantar fasciitis,” he says – that’s why it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. He also recommends choosing shoes with good support, and avoiding heels as much as possible for women.
Additionally, low-impact exercises like swimming and cycling as opposed to high-impact exercises like running, can help. And, be sure to stretch your calves and feet before exercise!
#5 Trigger finger
Trigger finger is a painful condition that causes a locking sensation with finger movement. Usually the ring finger or thumb is affected, and the condition can affect more than one finger at once, even on both hands. Normally the finger locks when straightening it from a bent position, then suddenly snaps straight – often painfully. However, in severe cases, the finger may remain locked in a bent position.
The condition, which most commonly affects people between 40 and 60 years old, occurs when bands of fibrous tissue (called pulleys) in the finger become inflamed or thickened, which can interfere with the normal gliding motion of the tendon, explains Dr Ong. “Prolonged irritation over time leads to inflammation of the flexor tendon itself, and the formation of a nodule. When the finger flexes and the nodule passes through the pulley, there is a sensation of catching or popping.”
Women are more inclined to develop the problem than men, and it tends to affect those whose jobs or hobbies entail repetitive hand movements or gripping – technicians, industrial workers, musicians or athletes, for instance.
A doctor can advise on the most appropriate treatment option for the individual patient. Treatments may include wearing a splint at night for six weeks to keep the finger in an extended position, gentle exercises to reduce stiffness and increase mobility, and avoiding activities that involve repetitive hand movements for several weeks. In some cases, corticosteroid injections are necessary to reduce inflammation; in others, surgery may be required.
Dr Ong’s prevention tip: “Reduce the frequency and intensity of the repetitive hand gripping motion involved.”
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