The Doctor Is In

Q: I have knee pain from what I assume is years of playing baseball (specifically catcher)—I wouldn’t say it’s chronic, but every few months it flares up and I self-medicate with over-the-counter meds and take it easy until it feels better. At what point should I see a doctor?

Johnny Bench, one of America’s best-known catchers once said, “A catcher and his body are like the outlaw and his horse: He’s got to ride that nag till it drops.” Yes indeed, baseball catching can definitely be hard on the knees.

Your question about knee pain is something that I deal with almost every day in my office.

Did you know that the knee is the largest joint in the human body? It is a very complex joint, which contains ligaments, tendons and pieces of cartilage called menisci that act as shock absorbers. There are also numerous fluid-filled sacs called bursae, which help the knee move smoothly.

If any one of these parts gets damaged through an injury or just wear and tear, then pain can occur.

Knee pain can be caused by a sudden injury, an overuse injury (such as repetitive activities, like catching a baseball over and over on your knees) or from an underlying medical condition like arthritis or other inflammatory diseases like gout. Knees can also develop pain from an infection.

But with mild intermittent pain that doesn’t last long and improves with rest, it is OK to hold off on rushing to the doctor. Self-treating this type of mild intermittent pain can be done with resting, applying ice several times per day, keeping the injured area elevated, and wrapping it with an elastic bandage or brace to help limit the range of motion temporarily, allowing it to heal faster.

Indeed, there are definite red flags that you should know about, which make it more important to get to the doctor right away. Go see a doctor if you have redness, swelling, warmth or significant pain.

If the pain is constant and unrelenting, or if the pain continues to worsen, these are both signs to seek more immediate medical attention. Also if you have a sudden fever with your knee pain, this could be a warning sign of an infection requiring antibiotics.

You should also see a doctor right away if you heard a popping sound when your knee was injured, or if your knee looks deformed or you have severe sudden swelling. Furthermore, if the knee feels unstable or if you are unable to use your knee, seek immediate medical attention. These could be signs of an acute tear in a meniscus or ligament.

I always tell my patients that it is better to see me and get joint pain checked out earlier rather than later. I would much prefer reassuring a patient that this is going to be self-limited and go away with ice and rest than have to rush them off to a hospital because they waited too long to see me.

Ways to help prevent knee injuries in general are to keep your weight under control (the knee is supporting the entire body after all) and keeping active with moderate activity and stretching.

So go out there and catch those fastballs … but be mindful of your knees and see your doctor for further concerns!

Visit Dr. Damon Raskin in his new office, located at 17383 West Sunset Blvd., Suite B280.