Strictly a knees up!

Sandeep Chauhan

For many people, September means one thing – the announcement of the Strictly Come Dancing line-up! If the show inspires you to attempt a tango or fumble a foxtrot, then do watch out for your knees says Spring Orthopaedic Surgeon Sandeep Chauhan.

Although ballroom is not strictly a sport, it certainly gives the body a good workout – you’ve only got to look at professional dancers to realise that they are fit, highly trained athletes. But dancers of all levels need to understand that they are prone to injury, particularly if they leap into it without warming up or if they do not usually exercise.

The most vulnerable area of the body for ballroom dancers is probably the knees. Sudden changes of direction, spins, jumps and lifts, not to mention the high heels that ladies are required to wear, put lots of pressure on the knee joints.

A knee injury that often affects dancers is a meniscus tear. In the knee joint there are discs made of tough cartilage known as the meniscus. They lie in the join between the thigh bone and the shin bone, providing cushioning and helping to distribute the weight of the body during impact. Sometimes this cartilage can get torn, either as a result of a one-off incident, such as a sudden twisting movement, or from general wear and tear.

A meniscus tear usually means the knee is swollen and painful to move. Sometimes a piece of torn cartilage can get lodged in the joint, making it difficult to fully straighten or fully bend the leg. Often you can hear a “crunching” noise when flexing the joint.

You can treat these symptoms initially yourself by following the RICE rule – Rest; Ice; Compression; Elevation. The first two are the most important – it’s imperative that you stop moving so that you don’t do further damage to your knee, and applying ice will help reduce the swelling and therefore make it less painful. A bag of frozen peas is one of the best ways to apply ice as it moulds to the shape of your knee. Don’t keep the ice on for too long at a time though and always wrap it in a cloth or towel otherwise you might “burn” your skin.

If your knee doesn’t improve within a few days, then you should seek medical advice. Your GP should be the first port of call. He or she will examine your knee and decide whether you need referring to a specialist for further investigations and treatment.

Although surgery isn’t always necessary for meniscus tears, it does have very good results. The problem with knee cartilage is that it has very little blood supply, which means it doesn’t heal very well by itself. This is why some people have a chronic knee problem that may not be terribly painful or debilitating, but all the same stops them from being as active as they would like to be.

Surgery for a meniscus tear is usually very straight-forward and can usually be done via keyhole surgery as a day case. The operation will either repair the tear, or remove the torn piece of cartilage so that it doesn’t interfere with the action of the knee joint. After the operation, you will probably need crutches for a couple of weeks while healing takes place, but it shouldn’t be long before you can waltz back onto the dance floor!