If you’re like most adults, you’ve experienced knee pain at some point in your life. It’s a very common issue, accounting for almost four million primary care visits to doctors each year, and it’s due to a lot of different factors.
“Our knees are the big movers of our legs. They help us get in and out of chairs, up and down stairs, and walk on anything that isn’t flat,” says Cody Anderson, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “They carry a lot of resistance and load throughout our lives.”
But just because knee pain is common doesn’t mean it’s inevitable or untreatable. Here’s a guide to understand some of the most common knee injuries and how to recover from and prevent knee pain from flaring in the future.
To understand the most common knee injuries and conditions, it helps to get a primer on the anatomy of your knee. Here’s a look at its key components:
Bones. Three bones make up the knee joint: the femur (thigh bone), the tibia (shin bone), and the patella (kneecap).
Articular cartilage. This is a slippery substance found at the ends of the thigh bone and shin bone, and at the back of the kneecap. It helps the knee bones glide across each other whenever you move your leg.
Meniscus. This tough, rubbery substance helps cushion and stabilize the knee joint. It also acts as a shock absorber between the thigh bone and shin bone.
Ligaments. Ligaments are like strong ropes that hold your knee bones together and help with stability. The major ones in the knee include:
Collateral ligaments are on the sides of the knee. The medial collateral ligament is on the inside, and the lateral collateral ligament is on the outside.(Video) The ultimate guide to knee pain | Types, causes, home remedies, when to see a doctor
Cruciate ligaments are inside the knee joint and control front and back movement of the knee.
Tendons. These connect muscles to bones. There are two main ones in the knee:See AlsoYou Probably Use Ibuprofen for These 5 Causes of Pain; Here Are the Best AlternativesIs Naproxen or Ibuprofen Better for Back Pain? - Pharmacy Health Tips
The quadriceps tendon connects the muscles in the front of the thigh to the kneecap.
The patellar tendon connects muscles from the kneecap to the shin bone.
“As you can see, the knee is a very complex joint,” explains Dr. Anderson. And although it’s an incredibly strong and resilient joint, it’s used in a lot of everyday activities, which means it can be prone to some pain and injury at times.
Common Knee Injuries
A knee injury can affect any of the ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage around your knee joint. Some injuries, like osteoarthritis, develop gradually and — for some people — contribute to symptoms over time. Other knee injuries make themselves apparent more quickly, such as:
Dislocated knee. Most of the time, this is not a true knee dislocation but is rather due to the kneecap slipping out of place, says Dr. Anderson. It’s usually caused by trauma — like a fall when skiing or a collision during a sports game.
ACL injury. ACL injuries usually involve a tear of your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which connects the shin bone to the thigh bone. They’re most common among athletes who play sports that require sudden changes in direction, like basketball or soccer. “Making sure you address an ACL injury can help ensure you regain and maintain knee stability in the future,” says Dr. Anderson.
PCL injury. This is damage to the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the ligament located inside the knee just behind the ACL. PCL injuries are much less common than ACL injuries, and they usually happen because of a major trauma, like a car crash.
Meniscus tear. These can be common, says Dr. Anderson, and often happen from a twisting or pivoting movement (usually when playing sports). But they can also occur for no apparent reason. Menisci change with age, just like articular cartilage and other structures in the body. While those changes are not necessarily harmful, they can contribute to injuries like meniscus tears as you get older.(Video) Knee injury ,Injuries - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim
Tendon tears. Certain sports or activities can cause the quadriceps or patellar tendons to be stretched and torn, resulting in pain.
Knee fractures. Fractures involving the knee can happen during something like a fall or an auto accident, says Dr. Anderson.
When to See a Doctor
Knee pain can be scary and troublesome, especially if you took a fall or had an accident recently. So how do you know if knee pain is considered serious?
There’s no hard and fast rule, but in general, if your knee pain comes on slowly or it appears to be related to doing a new activity (or increasing the frequency or intensity of an activity), you should be okay to try and manage your symptoms at home. It may help to scale back on your activity level for a short period of time and focus on gentle movement, stretching, and strengthening exercises and monitor your progress.
But if you experience sudden knee pain accompanied by any of the following, you may need to see your doctor:
Significant swelling, redness, and/or tenderness around your knee joint
Pain so intense you can’t put weight on your knee
Pain accompanied by fever
A popping noise at the time your knee was injured
Your knee locking up on you that prevents you from moving the joint(Video) How to Tell if Knee Pain is Meniscus or Ligament Injury
Bruising around your knee that extends into your upper calf or shin
Knee Pain: Best Treatments
There are a lot of different ways you can manage and treat knee pain. Some of the most common ones include:
Physical therapy. A PT can work with you to strengthen your knee muscles to help reduce your pain and improve function. Physical therapy can be especially effective in helping you avoid surgery for certain injuries, like an ACL tear, but it can also be highly effective in preventing future knee pain flares and injuries. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for knee pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.
Ice and heat. Icing reduces swelling and inflammation and can help acute and chronic knee pain. Heating increases blood flow and can reduce stiffness. You can apply either heat or ice as needed for 20 minutes at a time, but avoid using heat to treat a new injury as this may delay healing.
Compression and elevation. To manage swelling, you can use a brace or wrap around your knee and elevate your leg so your foot is above your heart.
Physical Therapy Tips for Knee Injuries
Even if you haven’t had an injury but have been dealing with persistent knee pain, physical therapy can help strengthen surrounding knee muscles and prevent future injuries from happening. During PT, you’ll likely work on:
Stretching. This can help with any muscular imbalances that may have contributed to your knee injury, says Dr. Anderson. Note that you may be advised to avoid bouncing stretches — where you use a bouncing movement to push your body past a comfortable range of motion — at first. Some good stretches include a quad stretch, a hamstring stretch, and the runner’s (calf) stretch.
Strengthening. Your exercises will gradually become more challenging. Some people might start by performing exercises with a straight knee, like straight leg raises, and progressing to exercises that require some degree of knee bending, like squats. If you’re an athlete or work out regularly, this work is even more important. Research suggests that the best way to prevent injuries is to include a combination of dynamic stretches, agility work, strength training (including the core), and even plyometrics (jumping activities) into your exercise routine.(Video) Why Your Knee Hurts. Knee Pain Types By Location & Description.
A Note on Movement
Moving through knee pain can be scary, and it's understandable to want to avoid any activities that may cause discomfort. Know this: Movement is medicine when it comes to knee pain. Inactivity can actually make the pain worse over time as muscles weaken and the joint stiffens. By taking an active approach to managing your knee pain, you can improve your overall health, prevent future pain flares, and get back to doing what you love.
Learn More About Hinge Health for Knee Pain Relief
We’ve got a full team of clinical experts to help you move past your pain. Click here to see if you’re eligible to join our free digital clinic for knee pain.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Bunt, C. W., Jonas, C. E., & Chang, J. G. (2018). Knee Pain in Adults and Adolescents: The Initial Evaluation. American Family Physician, 98(9), 576-585.
Beutler, A. (2022, July 27). Patient Education: Knee Pain (Beyond the Basics). UptoDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/knee-pain-beyond-the-basics/print
Mulcahey, M. K. (2022, February). Common Knee Injuries. OrthoInfo — American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/common-knee-injuries/#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20knee%20injuries%20include%20sprains%20and%20tears%20of,)%2C%20fractures%2C%20and%20dislocation.
Ibeachu, C., Selfe, J., Sutton, C. J., & Dey, P. (2019). Knee problems are common in young adults and associated with physical activity and not obesity: the findings of a cross-sectional survey in a university cohort. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 20(1). doi:10.1186/s12891-019-2487-2
Arundale, A. J. H., Bizzini, M., Giordano, A., Hewett, T. E., Logerstedt, D. S., Mandelbaum, B., Scalzitti, D. A., Silvers-Granelli, H., & Snyder-Mackler, L. (2018). Exercise-Based Knee and Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 48(9), A1–A42. doi:10.2519/jospt.2018.0303
Common Knee Injuries: Treatments and Solutions? ›
Some of the most common knee injuries include fractures, dislocations, sprains, and ligament tears. Many knee injuries can be successfully treated with simple measures, such as bracing and rehabilitation exercises. Other injuries may require surgery to correct.What are common knee injuries and treatments? ›
Some of the most common knee injuries include fractures, dislocations, sprains, and ligament tears. Many knee injuries can be successfully treated with simple measures, such as bracing and rehabilitation exercises. Other injuries may require surgery to correct.What is the best treatment for a knee injury? ›
Try these things at first: put as little weight as possible on your knee – for example, avoid standing for a long time. use an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) on your knee for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. use painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen gel (or ibuprofen tablets if needed ...What are the solutions knee problems? ›
Over-the-counter medications — such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) — may help ease knee pain. Some people find relief by rubbing the affected knee with creams containing a numbing agent, such as lidocaine, or capsaicin, the substance that makes chili peppers hot.How do you treat a knee injury without surgery? ›
- Bracing. We may suggest a knee brace to provide external stability to the knee joint. ...
- Injections and Infusions. Some medications can be injected directly into the knee to treat your pain. ...
- Lifestyle Modifications. ...
- Nutraceuticals. ...
- Pain Medications. ...
- Physical and Occupational Therapy.
Swelling or stiffness. Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee. Difficulty straightening your knee fully. Feeling as though your knee is locked in place when you try to move it.How do you rehab a knee injury at home? ›
- Lie down on the floor on the side of your injured leg with both legs straight.
- Cross the uninjured leg in front of the injured leg.
- Raise the injured leg 6 to 8 inches off the floor.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Lower your leg and rest for 2 seconds. Repeat.
- Can't bear weight on your knee or feel as if your knee is unstable or gives out.
- Have marked knee swelling.
- Are unable to fully extend or flex your knee.
- See an obvious deformity in your leg or knee.
- Have a fever, in addition to redness, pain and swelling in your knee.
- Physical activity. ...
- Strengthening exercises. ...
- Posture and support. ...
- Weight loss and diet. ...
- Medications. ...
- Massage. ...
- Aromatherapy preparations. ...
- Protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation (PRICE)
Exercise can help to eliminate problems that lead to this irritation. Stretches can loosen tight muscles on the side of the knee that may be pulling the kneecap out of its groove as it moves. Strengthening weak hip muscles or stretching tight muscles in the front or back of the legs can also reduce discomfort.
Does compression help knee pain? ›
Why do people use compression knee sleeves? These sleeves compress the area around your knee, which can decrease pain, reduce inflammation and improve proprioception, or your awareness of where your body is and how it is moving. They can help keep fluid from building up around the knee, so they can reduce swelling.Is walking good for knee pain? ›
Walking as a form of exercise has enormous benefits, particularly for older adults. It's easy on the joints and helps boost heart health and improve circulation and balance. And new research now suggests that taking a walk can reduce and prevent knee pain related to osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis.How long do knee injuries take to heal? ›
How Long Does a Knee Injury Take to Heal? For knee sprains or strains, the healing time is typically 2 to 4 weeks. For major injuries as a result of trauma, it can take from 4 up to 12 months. Of course, this healing time would be dependent on the treatment being administered and the lifestyle of the patient.Can a torn meniscus heal itself? ›
In the case of meniscus tears, some people think the injury will heal over time on its own. But the truth is that there are different types of meniscus tears — and some tears won't heal without treatment. If your tear is on the outer one-third of the meniscus, it may heal on its own or be repaired surgically.Does a knee brace help a torn meniscus? ›
Will a knee brace help a torn meniscus? Yes. Although knee braces do not heal or treat your meniscus tear directly, they can provide extra support and stability for your knee while your meniscus injury heals. A good brace will protect your knee and take the pressure off your meniscus, allowing it to rest.Is it OK to wear a knee brace all day? ›
If your orthopedist recommends it, you can wear your brace all day. However, improper use of a knee brace can worsen your pain or cause further damage to the knee. If you are using a brace that immobilizes your knee, the joint can weaken.How do I know if I've torn a ligament in my knee? ›
Often you will have pain at the sides of the knee and swelling over the injury site. If it is an MCL injury, the pain is on the inside of the knee. An LCL injury may cause pain on the outside of the knee. The knee will also feel unstable, like it is going to give way.Can you walk with a meniscus tear? ›
Unless the torn meniscus has locked the knee, many people with a torn meniscus can walk, stand, sit, and sleep without pain.What are 2 signs and symptoms of a meniscus tear? ›
- A popping sensation when the injury occurs.
- Swelling or stiffness.
- Pain, especially when twisting or rotating the knee.
- Difficulty fully straightening the knee.
- "Locked" feeling when trying to move the knee.
You will have a physical examination to find out if you have a torn meniscus and to rule out other knee injuries. Your doctor will check both knees for tenderness, range of motion, and knee stability. X-rays are usually done. Based on your symptoms and the physical examination, your doctor may diagnose a meniscus tear.
What is the fastest home remedy for knee pain? ›
Heat and ice can both be used to manage different parts of knee pain. Ice helps reduce swelling and inflammation and is best with injuries. Heat can help with pain management, especially on stiff joints. It can also help mobility.How should I sleep with knee pain? ›
Back or Side Sleeping for Less Knee Pain
If on your back, put a pillow under your knees for support. On your side, keep your knee in a flexed position to minimize pain. Try to never sleep with your legs crossed. If you have knee pain due to injury, you should see an orthopaedic specialist.
Red flags in physical examination
For those who are symptomatic can present with discoloration, pain, warmth, swelling, and tenderness of the affected extremity (11).
Diagnosing a knee injury or problem includes a medical examination and usually the use of a diagnostic procedure(s) such as an x-ray, MRI, CT scan or arthroscopy. Both non-operative and surgical treatment options are available to treat knee pain and problems depending on the type and severity of the condition.What is bursitis of the knee? ›
Prepatellar bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa in the front of the kneecap (patella). It occurs when the bursa becomes irritated and produces too much fluid, which causes it to swell and put pressure on the adjacent parts of the knee.What is better for knee pain heat or cold? ›
If there is swelling in your knee, you should ice for at least 72 hours until the swelling goes down. After that, heat can be used to help regain mobility. If you are suffering from joint tightness and stiffness, heat can help relax these away.What is the best painkiller for knee pain? ›
Aspirin. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin) Naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn)Is Vicks VapoRub good for knee pain? ›
There's also evidence that the camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol in the ointment make it a good choice for relieving muscle and joint pain.Why does my knee hurt when I bend it? ›
Knee pain when bending is a common problem for many people and can have numerous underlying causes. Osteoarthritis, meniscus tears, bursitis, ligament strain, and tendonitis are some of the most common causes. Bone fractures or infections in the joint may also cause knee pain.Does Epsom salt help knee pain? ›
Epsom Salt Bath: This is another fairly common remedy used for knee pain and other kinds of joint pain. Draw yourself a warm bath and add one-half cup of Epsom salt. Soak the affected area in the hot bath for at least 15 minutes. You can repeat this as many times as you need to throughout the week.
What is the fastest way to reduce inflammation in the joints? ›
If you think your joint inflammation is due to a sudden injury, the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method is the first line of treatment to reduce pain and swelling. See an orthopedist if the pain and swelling don't diminish after RICE treatment.
Although some companies will try to market copper knee braces as providing superior pain relief due to the copper improving ion flow and reducing inflammation, there is little to no evidence to support any pain-relieving benefits of copper in knee braces.Should you wear a knee brace to bed? ›
A knee brace provides support to the knee joint by stabilizing it and reducing the stress on it. This can help relieve pain and discomfort caused by the injury. Moreover, sleeping with a knee brace on helps maintain proper alignment of the knee joint, which can promote healing and prevent further damage.Should you wear a knee brace while sitting? ›
It is best to try and remain sitting or lying down whilst wearing the brace. Avoid the brace getting wet by removing it before showering or swimming. Speak to your doctor about the appropriate times for your knee to be unsupported and for how long.Is it better to rest or walk with knee pain? ›
If your knee hurts, you might want to stay off of it. But resting too much makes your muscles weaken and often makes knee pain worse. Find a way to get moving without hurting your knee. Some good exercises for people with knee pain include walking, swimming, and water aerobics.Why does my knee hurt so bad it hurts to walk? ›
Overall knee pain can be due to bursitis, arthritis, tears in the ligaments, osteoarthritis of the joint, or infection. Instability, or giving way, is also another common knee problem. Instability is usually associated with damage or problems with the meniscuses, collateral ligaments, or patella tracking.What knee injury takes the longest to heal? ›
Torn patellar tendon
It attaches the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone, and a complete tear separates the tendon from the kneecap. The leg should be able to handle full body weight once again four to six weeks following surgery, but it could take up to six months for a player to return to game action.
Performing the exercises two to three days a week will maintain strength and range of motion in your knees.Can a meniscus tear be seen on xray? ›
Because a torn meniscus is made of cartilage, it won't show up on X-rays. But X-rays can help rule out other problems with the knee that cause similar symptoms. MRI .What does a mild meniscus tear feel like? ›
Individuals with a meniscus tear often complain of pain along the joint line. They often have pain or weakness with bending the knee and sometimes they have a catching or locking sensation. With an acute tear, individuals may notice a lot of swelling in the knee and often report that they heard or felt a pop.
Where is meniscus pain felt? ›
Symptoms of a meniscus tear may be different for each person, but some of the most common symptoms are: Pain in the knee joint: usually on the inside (medial), outside (lateral) or back of the knee.How do I know if I tore my MCL or meniscus? ›
Palpation of the joint line can also help determine the difference between an MCL tear and a meniscus tear. The MCL will usually hurt directly over the ligament itself, whereas pain in the front or behind the MCL it often can be a meniscus tear. In addition, if one gaps open, one commonly has an MCL tear.What are the two treatments for a meniscus tear? ›
Nonsurgical treatments, such as anti-inflammatory medications and rehabilitation with a physical therapist may help some people with a torn meniscus. Other patients will need surgery, usually either a trimming or repair of the meniscus.Will a compression sleeve help a torn meniscus? ›
Compression sleeves are often the best knee brace for a torn meniscus if you also suffer from arthritic knees or from a degenerative condition. They are also a good choice for an athlete at the end of the rehabilitation process and requiring compression therapy to reduce pain and promote more rapid healing.What is the most commonly injured knee? ›
ACL injuries are one of the most common types of knee injuries and account for about 40 percent of all sports-related injuries. An ACL injury can range from a small tear in the ligament to a severe injury –when the ligament completely tears or becomes separated from the bone itself.How can I identify my knee injury? ›
Two tell-tale signs of a knee injury are pain and swelling of the knee. You may also have difficulty with the joint moving. It may feel stiff, lock up, or feel like it's catching as you bend and straighten your leg. If you hear your knee pop and then give out at the time of impact, it's definitely a cause for concern.How do you tell if you tore your ACL? ›
- A loud pop or a "popping" sensation in the knee.
- Severe pain and inability to continue activity.
- Rapid swelling.
- Loss of range of motion.
- A feeling of instability or "giving way" with weight bearing.
A minor knee sprain may take up to 6 weeks to heal, while a severe sprain may take months. Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems.Do knee injuries heal on their own? ›
Mild knee injuries may heal by themselves, but all injuries should be checked and diagnosed by a doctor or physiotherapist. Persistent knee pain needs professional help. Prompt medical attention for any knee injury increases the chances of a full recovery.What is a Grade 1 knee injury? ›
Grade 1: A grade 1 MCL tear is a mild tear in which less than 10% of fibers in your ligament are torn and your knee is still stable. You'll likely have some tenderness and mild pain if you have a grade 1 tear.
What does a torn ligament in the knee feel like? ›
Pain with movement or activity in the knee. Swelling in the knee. Walking with a limp or a feeling that the knee is going to “give out” with standing and walking. The feeling of a “pop” or “snap” felt in the knee when the injury occurred.How do you diagnose a knee injury without an MRI? ›
Louis. "X-rays are an appropriate screening test for knee pain in older patients, and often the results of an x-ray can tell whether an MRI would be even helpful," she says. In addition, an MRI costs about 12 times that of an x-ray (based on Medicare rates) and can take an hour to perform.Can xray show torn ligament in knee? ›
Can an X-ray show torn ligaments in the knee? X-rays don't clearly and accurately show your soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons and meniscus. To diagnose a tear in your ligaments, tendons or meniscus, your healthcare provider will order a computed tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.Can you still bend your knee with a torn ligament? ›
Grade 3: A grade 3 injury is a complete tear or rupture of the knee ligament. Grade 3 injuries often involve more than one knee ligament. With this level of injury, you will experience severe bruising, swelling and pain. You won't be able to put weight on the leg or bend the knee.What happens if a torn ligament in knee goes untreated? ›
Long-term knee instability
If you wait too long to treat a torn ACL, you're at risk of developing chronic knee pain and knee instability. Waiting to get treatment may mean that surgery is your only option. Or you may need to cope with ongoing instability by modifying your activities and giving up intensive sports.