What you need to know about sudden knee pain

What you need to know about sudden knee pain

Article Featured on Medical News Today

The complexity of the knee joint allows it to support a wide range of movements — but it also makes the area vulnerable to a variety of injuries and chronic conditions.

Each year in the United States, about 12 million people see doctors for knee pain. Researchers found that among all people seeking medical treatment in the country between 2007 and 2011, 1.5–7.3% sought care for pain in the front of the knee alone.

Below, we describe common causes of sudden knee pain and the symptoms that tend to accompany it. We also look into the options for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Causes of sudden knee pain

Some of the more common causes of sudden knee pain are:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, injuries. These often occur during sports that involve jumping or other sudden changes in direction. They can cause instability or prevent the knee from bearing weight.
  • Posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL, injuries. These can develop after a blow to the front of the knee.
  • Collateral ligament injuries. These contact injuries often happen during sports.
  • Meniscus tears. Tackles, twisting, aging, and arthritis can each damage the knee’s meniscus, its shock-absorbing cartilage. A person may feel the knee “locking” or experience discomfort going down the stairs.
  • Fractures. The three bones of the knee joint can fracture or break. The patella, or kneecap, does so most frequently.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome. Sometimes called runner’s or jumper’s knee, this mainly causes pain at the front of the knee that gets worse with climbing the stairs, squatting, or bending. It sometimes causes popping sounds or swelling.
  • Dislocation. This can occur when the thighbone, shinbone, and patella are out of alignment, due to structural problems or injuries.
  • Tendinitis. This issue, inflammation of the tendons around the joint, stems from overuse and is more common among middle-aged athletes.
  • Bursitis. Repetitive motions, like running, can cause sacs of fluid around the knee to become irritated, painful, and swollen.
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease. This overuse injury is most common in teenage boys, particularly in athletes. The symptoms include soreness around the knee and pain when extending the leg.
  • Arthritis. This develops when the cartilage protecting the joints breaks down and leaves the bones rubbing against each other. It can cause swelling, stiffness, and a reduced range of movement.

Sometimes, physicians cannot identify what is causing knee pain. For about 30% of teenagers who seek treatment for pain at the front of the knee, a doctor cannot diagnose the cause.

Accompanying symptoms of sudden knee pain

In the list above, we describe specific symptoms of issues that commonly cause sudden knee pain. But in general, one or more of the following tend to accompany this pain:

  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • a clicking sound with the pain
  • pain when rising after sitting
  • pain climbing the stairs
  • pain descending the stairs
  • the knee “locking” or not bending
  • the knee giving way

The exact location of the pain can help identify the cause and the best way to treat it. For example, pain between the kneecap and the shin can be a sign of a repetitive use injury, such as from running.

Risk factors for sudden knee pain

Above, we list some risk factors for specific causes of sudden knee pain. Overall, the following tend to increase the chances of developing this pain:

  • increasing activity levels suddenly, which can put too much stress on the body too quickly
  • having poor alignment and a weak core, which can place stress on the knees
  • having weakness in one or both hips, which can lead to an uneven gait and eventual knee problems
  • having tight hamstrings and iliotibial bands, which can limit the body’s ability to recover from a workout
  • having an imbalance of strength and flexibility
  • wearing poorly fitting or worn out shoes
  • having overweight or obesity

Diagnosis and testing of sudden knee pain

Unless sudden knee pain clearly results from an injury or accident or the pain is severe, most people can safely wait for a few days before seeing a doctor. During this time, people should avoid or limit any activities that cause discomfort.

Resting, applying ice packs, and using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), can provide relief. Symptoms may then start improving. However, this does not always happen.

A visit to a physician typically begins with a complete medical history and an overview of the person’s activity level. The doctor then manipulates the person’s leg, checking for pain, tenderness, and swelling. They also do this to assess the range of motion. To make a diagnosis, the doctor may need imaging, such as MRI scans or X-rays.

Treatment Options for Sudden Knee Pain

The treatment for sudden knee pain depends on its cause and severity. Some examples are below:

  • Arthritis. NSAIDs, physical therapy, yoga, and Pilates can help reduce pain, but if the condition is severe, a person may need knee replacement surgery.
  • Meniscus tears. When a tear is smaller, rest and over-the-counter pain relievers can help. More severe cases may require arthroscopic surgery to repair the tear or remove pieces of torn tissue.
  • Tendinitis. Thoroughly stretching the affected leg can increase blood flow, reduce inflammation, and help correct alignment shifts.

When a person is in too much pain to do physical therapy, the doctor may recommend cortisone shots. These provide a degree of relief that usually allows a person to start their rehabilitation exercises.

How to Prevent Sudden Knee Pain

Wear and tear on the body is inevitable, and injuries can be hard to avoid entirely. Still, the following can help people can maintain or improve their balance, strength, and flexibility, offering some protection from sudden knee pain:

  • strengthening the core and hips
  • maintaining flexibility in the joints
  • improving alignment
  • increasing levels of activity slowly
  • wearing shoes that fit well
  • stretching regularly

Summary

Sudden knee pain is a common issue — the complex structure of the knee means that it can be injured in various ways. Often, recovery from a knee problem just involves rest and self-care.

However, people with severe or persistent pain may require physical therapy or surgery.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

Frequently Asked Questions about Knee Pain

Frequently Asked Questions about Knee Pain

Article Featured on WebMD

Your knee hurts and you want to know why. Whether it’s an injury or arthritis, here are answers from an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine and knee care.

Could my pain be from osteoarthritis?

Yes. Probably 95% of knee pain caused by arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is caused by “wear and tear” on the joints. Other types, like rheumatoid arthritis, are much less common causes of knee pain.

What kind of injuries can cause knee pain?

They’re usually twisting injuries to the knee: ACL, meniscus, or ligament injuries.

What’s the difference?

The main difference between arthritis and other kinds of knee pain is there’s no trauma associated with it. A person who tore their ACL or had a meniscus injury knows exactly when it happened. With arthritis, it’s more of a dull, aching pain. It gets worse as time goes on.

Will my pain go away on its own?

It depends. Arthritis pain tends to wax and wane over time. It may not completely go away, but sometimes it feels much better. Pain from an injury improves at first, but if you’re left with a sore joint, you may not be able to do certain activities.

When do I need to see a doctor?

Everyone has a different pain threshold. If you’ve an injury and your knee swells, you need to see your doctor. Even if the swelling goes away, you need to have your knee examined — you might have injured something inside the joint. If you have arthritis pain and the bad days outnumber the good, you should see your doctor.

How do I keep my knees healthy?

I think weight control is important. Flexibility helps as well. If you take part in a sport that requires a lot of physical exertion, like skiing or tennis or soccer, you need to get in shape.

Also, when you get tired, you need to stop. Look at the rate of knee injury: It goes up in the fourth quarter or final period of a game. Just a millisecond or two of delay of muscle function can cause injury. If the muscles that protect the ligament are tired, they don’t do a good job.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

Patellar (Kneecap) Fractures

Patellar (Kneecap) Fractures

Article Featured on AAOS

A patellar fracture is a break in the patella, or kneecap, the small bone that sits at the front of your knee. Because the patella acts as a shield for your knee joint, it is vulnerable to fracture if you fall directly onto your knee or hit it against the dashboard in a vehicle collision. A patellar fracture is a serious injury that can make it difficult or even impossible to straighten your knee or walk.

Some simple patellar fractures can be treated by wearing a cast or splint until the bone heals. In most patellar fractures, however, the pieces of bone move out of place when the injury occurs. For these more complicated fractures, surgery is needed to restore and stabilize the kneecap and allow for the return of function.

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What are the symptoms of knee ligament injuries

What are the symptoms of knee ligament injuries?

What are knee ligament injuries?

Knee ligaments are the short bands of tough, flexible connective tissue that hold the knee together. Knee ligament injuries can be caused by trauma, such as a car accident. Or they can be caused by sports injuries. An example is a twisting knee injury in basketball or skiing.

The knee has 4 major ligaments. Ligaments connect bones to each other. They give the joint stability and strength. The 4 knee ligaments connect the thighbone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). They are:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This ligament is in the center of the knee. It controls rotation and forward movement of the shin bone.
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). This ligament is in the back of the knee. It controls backward movement of the shin bone.
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL). This ligament gives stability to the inner knee.
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL). This ligament gives stability to the outer knee.

What causes knee ligament injuries?

Cruciate ligaments

The ACL is one of the most common ligaments to be injured. The ACL is often stretched or torn during a sudden twisting motion. This is when the feet stay planted one way, but the knees turn the other way. Slowing down while running or landing from a jump incorrectly can cause ACL injuries.  Skiing, basketball, and football are sports that have a higher risk for ACL injuries.

The PCL is also a common ligament to become injured in the knee. But a PCL injury usually occurs with sudden, direct hit, such as in a car accident or during a football tackle.

Collateral ligaments

The MCL is injured more often than the LCL. Stretch and tear injuries to the collateral ligaments are usually caused by a blow to the outer side of the knee. This can happen when playing hockey or football.

What are the symptoms of knee ligament injuries?

Cruciate injury

A cruciate ligament injury often causes pain. Often you may hear a popping sound when the injury happens. Then your buckles when you try to stand on it. The knee also swells. You also are not able to move your knee as you normally would. You may also pain along the joint and pain when walking.

The symptoms of a cruciate ligament injury may seem like other health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Collateral ligament injury

An injury to the collateral ligament also causes the knee to pop and buckle. It also causes pain and swelling. 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.

How are knee ligament injuries diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you have your health history and do a physical exam. You may also needs one or more of these tests:

  • X-ray. This imaging test can rule out an injury to bone instead of a ligament injury. It uses energy beams to make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film.
  • MRI. This test uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body. It can often find damage or disease in bones and a surrounding ligament, tendon, or muscle.
  • Arthroscopy. This procedure is used to diagnose and treat joint problems. The healthcare provider uses a small, lighted tube (arthroscope) put into the joint through a small cut (incision). Images of the inside of the joint can be seen a screen. The procedure can assess joint problems, find bone diseases and tumors, and find the cause of bone pain and inflammation.

How are knee ligament injuries treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

  • Treatment may include:
  • Pain medicine such as ibuprofen
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises
  • Protective knee brace
  • Ice pack to ease swelling
  • Surgery

Key points about knee ligament injuries

  • Knee ligaments are the short bands of elastic tissue that holds the knee together. There are 4 main ligaments in each knee.
  • Knee ligament injuries can be cause by trauma, such as a car accident. Or they can by caused by sports injuries.
  • The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most common ligaments to be injured.
  • Treatment may include medicine, muscle-strengthening exercises, a knee brace, or surgery.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.