How Do I Know If My Knee Pain Is Serious?

Reviewed on 2/17/2021

What Is Knee Pain?

Many conditions or injuries may cause knee pain, but you should see a doctor if you have trouble bearing weight, the pain is intense and does not go away, you notice a deformity of the joint or other indications your knee pain is serious.
Many conditions or injuries may cause knee pain, but you should see a doctor if you have trouble bearing weight, the pain is intense and does not go away, you notice a deformity of the joint or other indications your knee pain is serious.

The knee is a joint that permits the leg to bend and straighten. Knee pain is common due to injury, age-related degeneration, inflammation, and infection.

What Are Symptoms of Knee Pain?

Symptoms of knee pain include:

  • Sudden, intense pain at the knee
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Bruising 
  • Redness
  • Warmth 
  • Popping sound at the time of injury
  • Difficulty walking
  • Instability
  • Weakness
  • Inability to bend or fully straighten the knee
  • Clicking, crunching, or catching sound in the knee joint when walking

Signs knee pain may be serious include: 

  • Extreme pain
  • Swelling
  • Large wounds
  • Knee deformity
  • Feeling or hearing a popping when injury occurs
  • Joint instability
  • Inability to bear weight on affected leg
  • Inability to straighten leg
  • Knee buckles under when you try to walk

What Causes Knee Pain?

Knee pain can have many different causes. Common causes of knee pain include: 

  • Overuse injury 
    • Squatting
    • Running
    • Prolonged sitting
    • Climbing or descending steps
  • Arthritis (inflammation of the joints), including osteoarthritis 
  • Bursitis (fluid-filled sacs around the knee called bursae become irritated or swollen)
    • Can become irritated as a result of injury, excessive pressure, or overuse
  • Patellar tendonitis ("jumper's knee")
  • Fluid collecting in the knee 
  • Meniscus tear
    • Traumatic tears occur when a sudden, twisting force tears an otherwise healthy meniscus – common in young athletes
    • Degenerative tears occur when routine forces (jogging, sports participation, yard work) tears menisci that have become soft and weak due to age, arthritis, or other factors – most common in patients over age 40
  • Ligament tear
    • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries
    • Often occur during movements such as cutting, pivoting, or landing from a jump
  • Muscle strains
    • Often occurs in sports requiring rapid acceleration and deceleration such as basketball, softball, American football, soccer, and less commonly in fitness activities such as jogging, swimming, rowing
  • Other knee injuries such as fractures or dislocations
  • Knee joint infection 
  • Gout, which causes crystals to form inside joints
  • Conditions that don't involve the knee
    • Hip problems may result in knee pain

QUESTION

Medically speaking, the term "myalgia" refers to what type of pain? See Answer

How Is Knee Pain Diagnosed?

The cause of knee pain is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination, and tests such as: 

What Is the Treatment for Knee Pain?

Treatment for knee pain depends on the cause and may include: 

  • Knee brace 
  • Shoe inserts
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises for the muscles that move the knee joint 
  • Physical therapy
  • Injections in the knee
  • Corticosteroids
  • Lubricants
  • Surgery

Home remedies to relieve knee pain include: 

  • Rest the knee 
  • Avoid movements that make the pain worse, such as
    • Squatting
    • Kneeling
    • Twisting and pivoting
    • Running/jogging
    • Aerobics, dancing
    • Playing sports
    • Swimming using the frog or whip kick
    • Exercise machines
      • Stair stepper
      • Rowing machine
    • Body weight exercises 
      • Squats
      • Leg extensions
  • Ice to reduce pain and swelling
    • Apply for 15 to 20 minutes every two to four hours
  • Elevation of the knee above the level of the heart
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve)

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Reviewed on 2/17/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/knee-pain-the-basics

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/knee-pain-beyond-the-basics

https://www.templehealth.org/services/conditions/knee-problems-pain