Knee injuries can be sudden or develop over time and can affect any of the ligaments, bursae, or tendons surrounding the knee joint. Injury can also affect the ligaments, cartilage, menisci (plural for meniscus), and bones forming the joint.The complexity of the design of the knee joint and the fact that it is an active weight-bearing joint–helping us to sit, stand, lift, walk, run, and jump–are factors in making the knee one of the most commonly injured joints.
What Makes Up the Knee Joint?
The knee is the biggest joint in the body and has lots of parts that can get injured,
Bones There are four bones that meet to form your knee: 1) the thighbone (femur); 2) the large shinbone (tibia); 3) the small bone that runs alongside it (fibula), and 4) the kneecap (patella). The thighbone meets the large shinbone forming the main knee joint, and the kneecap joins the femur to form a third joint, called the patellofemoral joint. The main knee joint has an inner (medial) and an outer (lateral) compartment.
Ligaments. The ligaments of the knee joint provide stability and strength. Surrounding the knee joint is a capsule with ligaments strapping the inside and outside of the joint (collateral ligaments), as well as crossing within the joint (cruciate ligaments).
Tendons. The tendons, are thick fibrous cords that connect muscle to the bone so you can move your limbs. Your quadriceps tendon links your kneecap to the muscles on top of your thigh. Your patellar tendon continues down the leg and ties your knee to your shin.
Cartilage. The cartilage in your knee, the meniscus, works as shock absorbers between your thighbone and your shinbone. The articular cartilage is the slippery stuff that covers the end of your thigh and shin bones and the back of your kneecap. It ensures that all parts slide smoothly across each other as you bend, lift, and straighten your legs.
What Are The Most Common Types of Knee Injuries?
Knee injuries account for more than 6 million visits to the ER each year including:
- Knee Sprain
- Knee Strain
- Torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament)
- Torn MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament)
- Torn Meniscus
- Torn Tendon
- Pinched Nerve
What Are The Most Common Symptoms Associated with Knee Injuries?
Symptoms for knee injuries vary, depending on the severity of the injury, and may include:
- Swelling, stiffness, and warmth in the injured area
- Weakness or instability
- Popping or crunching noises
- Inability to straighten your limb fully
More severe symptoms include:
- Hearing a popping noise and feeling the joint give out when the injury occurs
- Can’t walk more than four steps without significant pain
- Can’t move the affected joint or limb
- Have pain directly over the bones of an injured joint
- Have numbness in any part of the injured area
When Should You Call A Doctor About Knee Pain?
Call a doctor about your knee pain if you don’t feel better after a week of:
- Resting your knee
- Icing it 3 times a day for 20 minutes
- Compressing it with an elastic bandage
- Elevating it on pillows while lying down
- Using over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
When Is Knee Pain Considered an Emergency?
You should consider going to the ER if you can’t put weight on your knee, feel sick, or have a fever, or if your knee is red and hot. You may have a fracture or infection. Other symptoms that demand emergency evaluation:
- Unbearable pain
- Pain that does not improve with rest
- Pain that wakes you
- Large Wounds
- Puncture Wounds
- Swelling, if you are on a blood thinner or have a bleeding disorder
What are the DOs and DON'Ts of Knee Pain?
- Rest a sore knee for 1 or 2 days to give your knee time to heal.
- Try the RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) formula to treat a knee injury.
- Do use a cane if you need one.
- Do watch your weight.
- Do consider acupuncture. It can ease arthritis pain.
- Do use heat and cold.
- Do try braces or sleeves.
- Do support your arches. Choose shoes that support your arches or get slip-in inserts at your local drugstore.
- Do talk to your doctor.
- Don’t risk slips, trips, or falls. Wear shoes with good tread on them.
- Don’t forget to stretch to help you limber up before you walk or do any other activity.
- Don’t sleep in the wrong position. Put a pillow between your knees if you sleep
on your side.
- Don’t wear out your knees.
- Don’t keep wearing the same old shoes. Shoes can stretch and wear out after a while.
What Treatment Options Are Available for Knee Injuries?
Treatment for knee injuries may include:
- Wearing a brace. Knee injuries may require a brace to stabilize the joint, and crutches to avoid putting weight on your injured leg while it heals.
- Medication. Medication may be needed to treat pain and inflammation. The physician may recommend injecting corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid or platelet-rich plasma directly into your knee joint.
Physical therapy. Physical therapy is an effective treatment option for many knee injuries, including ACL and MCL injuries and torn meniscus. A physical therapist will teach you how to perform specific exercises and movements.
- Strength training. Strength training helps to make the muscles around your joint more stable. You may need to change your exercise routine from high-impact or pivoting exercises like running or basketball to low-impact exercise like swimming. Losing weight can also help reduce strain on your knees.
- Surgery. Mild knee injuries will heal with treatment, while more severe injuries may require surgery. If your injury requires surgery, we can schedule your procedure with one of our surgeons or an affiliated surgeon at any one of a number of area hospitals convenient for you. Learn more about the partnership between Go To Ortho and the Oregon Surgical Institute.
- Arthroscopic surgery. Repairing the joint damage using a fiber-optic camera and long, narrow tool inserted into small incisions.
- Meniscectomy. Trimming meniscus through tiny incisions using an arthroscope. In a total meniscectomy, the entire meniscus is removed. In a partial meniscectomy, the surgeon removes as little of the meniscus as possible. The remaining meniscus edges are smoothed so that there are no frayed ends.
- ACL reconstruction. Removing damaged ligaments and grafting segments of tendon taken from other parts of your knee or a deceased donor.
- Partial knee replacement. The damaged portions of the knee are replaced with metal and plastic through small incisions. This is a less invasive option. Learn more about whether partial knee replacement surgery may be right for you.
- Total knee replacement. Damaged bone and cartilage is cut away from the thighbone, shinbone, and kneecaps and is replaced with an artificial joint made from high-grade metal, plastic, and polymers.
How Long Does it Take To Recover From a Knee Injury?
The recovery time for knee injuries depends on the injury. While you are recovering, ask your doctor if you can do an activity that won’t aggravate your knee pain.
Come see us for any knee pain or injuries. Walk-in appointments are welcome. View our hours.