Knee Injury and Meniscus Tears (cont.)

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What are knee injury symptoms and signs?

The symptoms and signs of knee injury are related to the type of injury and the part of the knee that was injured.

The main symptoms of knee injury are as follows:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Redness
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty bending the knee
  • Problems weight bearing
  • Clicking or popping sounds
  • Locking of the knee
  • Feeling of instability
  • Bruising

If the injury is acute, the main symptoms will most likely be pain and swelling. If the injury is chronic or from overuse, the symptoms of clicking, popping, and intermittent pain will be more prominent.

How is a knee injury diagnosed?

Knee injuries are diagnosed by the physician on the basis of history, physical examination, and sometimes the use of X-rays or MRIs.

Depending on the how the knee was injured and whether or not there are accompanying medical issues, the doctor will perform specific tests involving bending or twisting the knee to test the stability of the ligaments and check for damage to the cartilage. Knee-bending tests done by your doctor are designed to isolate specifically which ligament or part of the cartilage has been damaged.

Further testing with X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs may be necessary to evaluate the extent of the injury and help determine treatment and prognosis. X-rays and CT scans are used to asses for bony injuries (fractures), and MRIs are used to evaluate soft-tissue damage (ligaments and cartilage).

What is the treatment for a knee injury?

Treatment for a knee injury depends on the part of the knee that is damaged and the extent of the damage.

Some injuries such as simple strains or sprains are treated with RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Taking time off from sports and exercise may be enough for minor injuries to heal. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) may help treat the pain and inflammation from these minor injuries.

Knee immobilization or splinting keeps the knee from moving and decreases the chance of further injury. It can help stabilize an injured knee that may not be stable due to torn ligaments. It also keeps the knee from moving to assist in resting the knee.

Chronic knee injuries involving inflammation and bursitis may be treated with anti-inflammatories. Injections of cortisone (a steroid with powerful anti-inflammatory effects) may be helpful in these situations.

More extensive injuries involving torn ligaments, instability of the knee joint, swelling, decreased range of motion, or fractures will require an orthopedic surgeon consultation. In the initial stages of these more extensive injuries, RICE therapy can still be used. Staying off the leg by using crutches or a wheelchair may be advised.

Surgery may be indicated for tears of the ligaments or extensive damage to the menisci. Surgery may also be needed for fractures or dislocations of the knee. Some acute injuries such as those with high-force impact, or multiple parts of the knee damaged, may require emergency surgery.

Most knee surgery can be done arthroscopically, a procedure in which a camera is used and small punctures are made in the knee to insert instruments. Repairs can be done inside the knee without having the open the knee with a large incision. Most arthroscopic surgeries do not need to be done immediately after an acute injury. Some are delayed to allow for decreased inflammation.

After surgery, or if surgery is not an option, physical therapy can be used to strengthen and stretch the muscles surrounding the knee. Physical therapy can also allow for better movement mechanics of the leg and the knee to help prevent future injury.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/6/2013

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