Have you injured your knee or have a long-term knee problem?
The Bupa knee clinic can help you find the information and support you need.
Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, October 2011.
This factsheet is for people who have a knee injury, or who would like information about it.
Knee injuries are common, especially when taking part in sport. Injuries to soft tissues, such as ligaments, cartilage and tendons, are the most common, although damage to the bones is also possible.
There are many different structures inside and outside your knee. These include ligaments, which connect your bones together, articular cartilage, which covers the end of your shin bone and thigh bone in your knee joint, and a crescent-shaped disc called a meniscus. This is made from cartilage and acts as a shock absorber and helps to stabilise your knee. Injury to your knee may damage any one of these structures.
Your knee ligaments help to keep your knee stable.
The medial collateral and lateral collateral ligaments are found on either side of your knee joint, and act to limit the amount it can move from side to side. You can sprain or tear your medial collateral ligament if you twist your leg while it's straightened, for example, when being tackled in rugby. Your lateral collateral ligament isn’t usually damaged on its own, but you may need to have it repaired if you have damaged other ligaments.
Your anterior cruciate ligament and posterior cruciate ligament form a cross (cruciate) inside your knee. They help to keep your knee stable when the joint is moving backwards and forwards. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries are one of the most serious types of knee injury.
If you have injured your medial collateral or lateral collateral ligaments, your doctor may grade your injury according to how severe the damage is.
Apart from ligaments there are other soft tissues around your knee that can be injured. Soft tissue means any tissue in your body that isn't bone.
You may tear the meniscus in your knee. You can damage it if you play a sport that involves twisting your upper leg while your foot is planted on the floor. As you get older, your meniscus may become slightly thinner or have micro tears (degenerates). This makes it more likely to tear after a very minor injury.
If you use your knee a lot, for example if you run, you can irritate or tear the tendon that connects your kneecap (patella) to your thigh muscle. This tendon is called the patella tendon and the condition is patella tendonitis.
You may feel or hear a popping or snapping sensation at the time of the injury. You may also find that you can't stand properly on the affected leg, or put your full weight on it.
The symptoms for most ligament injuries will be similar, no matter which one has been damaged. These may include:
You may feel a tearing sensation and severe pain if you injure the meniscus in your knee. Pain may develop towards the inside, outside or back of your knee joint (depending on which meniscus you injured) and you may see some swelling.
If you have any of these symptoms, visit your GP or physiotherapist for advice.
You may injure your knee if:
Your doctor or physiotherapist will ask about your symptoms and examine you. This may include feeling for fluid in your knee joint by pressing gently around your kneecap. He or she will also ask you to describe how your injury happened, where your pain is and what type of pain it is.
Your doctor or physiotherapist may ask you to walk, sit or lie down so he or she can test for injury to your knee ligaments or soft tissues. He or she will bend and flex your knee and move your leg into different positions. Your physiotherapist may also ask you to step, squat or hop.
Your doctor may refer you for other tests in a hospital or clinic. These may include an MRI or ultrasound scan, and occasionally an X-ray. These tests can help to diagnose more complicated or severe injuries.
There are different types of treatment that your doctor or physiotherapist may suggest, depending on the type and severity of the damage to your knee. It’s important to be patient when recovering from a knee injury. Your injury may take time to fully repair itself, so you may not be able to do all the things you are used to doing for some time.
You should follow the PRICE procedure to manage any type of soft tissue injury to your knee. PRICE stands for the following.
There are certain things you should not do in the first three days after your injury so you don’t damage your knee further. These can be remembered as HARM.
If you’re having difficulty bearing weight on your knee, you may need to use crutches or wear a brace to make sure that you keep weight off the affected knee.
You can buy over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol to treat mild and moderate pain. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and ketoprofen can help to reduce inflammation and swelling, as well as relieve pain. NSAIDs are available as gels, creams and sprays that you can put directly onto your skin and gently massage in, as well as tablets or capsules that you take by mouth.
Your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers if your pain is severe. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have questions, ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice.
If your injury is more severe or complex, your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist (a health professional who specialises in movement and mobility). You can also choose to see a physiotherapist privately. He or she will develop a programme of rehabilitation exercises to gradually strengthen your knee and stretch your muscles. These exercises will vary depending on the type of injury you have and how severe it is. Your physiotherapist may also use various techniques to help speed up the healing of your knee.
Braces or strapping to support your knee are occasionally used during rehabilitation, usually when an injury has been severe.
For some types of knee injury, your doctor or physiotherapist may recommend that you have surgery to repair the injury to your knee – especially if other forms of treatment haven’t worked. Your doctor will refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon for assessment.
The surgeon is more likely to suggest surgery if you have one of the following injuries.
Rarely, surgery may involve opening up your knee joint to repair it, or you may be able to have a type of keyhole surgery called knee arthroscopy to access the damaged area of your knee.
There are some precautions you can take to try to reduce the risk of damaging your knee ligaments.
See our video about knee injuries:
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
Read our brochure about musculoskeletal services from Bupa which include treatment by physiotherapists, podiatrists, osteopaths and sports doctors.
Our most extensive health assessment delivering an in-depth profile of your health. Includes cardiorespiratory fitness tests and consultations. To book an assessment today call 0845 600 3458 quoting ref. HFS100.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
Publication date: October 2011
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