Preparing for your knee appointment


Expert reviewer, Mr Damian McClelland, Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon
Next review due June 2022

Recovering from a knee injury can be a long process, and you may need to have several appointments along the way, including initial diagnosis, assessments, investigations and physiotherapy. To make your appointments more productive, there are things you can do to get ready when you know you have one coming up.

This page gives some tips for things to prepare when your appointment is around the corner.

Man at physio appointment

Diagnosis

If you’ve been having problems with your knee, your first appointment with your GP will be very important. They’ll use it to record detailed information about your symptoms and do a physical examination. The more certain your GP is about what’s causing your problems, the more likely it is that they’ll be able to refer you for appropriate treatment or further investigations.

If you know what your GP might ask you, you can think about your answers beforehand and go to your appointment prepared. Some possible areas are outlined below. It can be a lot to remember, so you may find it useful to write the answers down and take them along to your appointment.

Your injury

If your knee pain is caused by a recent injury, your GP will ask you:

  • when the injury was
  • how it happened – what activity you were doing and where the main impact was
  • whether the injury involved twisting or just impact
  • whether your knee was bent or straight when you injured it
  • whether you heard a popping sound when it happened

If your problems aren’t related to a specific recent injury, your GP will ask you:

  • how long the pain has been going on for, and how slowly or quickly it has worsened
  • about any knee injuries you may have had in the past

Pain

The GP will ask detailed questions about any pain you’re having. They will want to know:

  • how severe the pain is
  • exactly where in your knee the pain is, and whether it ever spreads to other areas
  • whether the pain is constant, or comes and goes
  • whether your pain gets worse with particular activities, for example:
    • walking (especially over long distances, on stairs or going up and down hills)
    • running
    • sitting down (so when your legs are bent at the knee)
    • jumping
    • carrying heavy loads
  • the type of pain you’re having – aching, sharp pain, burning, sensitivity to touch

Other symptoms

As well as pain, you may have other symptoms that could help your GP to get a better idea of what is causing your problem. They may ask you whether:

  • you’ve had any loss of feeling, tingling sensations or ‘pins and needles’
  • there’s been any swelling – how bad and when it happened
  • there is any stiffness in your knee joint
  • your knee feels unstable or buckles, particularly going up or down stairs
  • your knee is getting stuck in one position (‘locking’)
  • you’re having any difficulty walking
  • you have ‘foot drop’, where it’s difficult to lift the front part of your foot and toes

Investigations

After your first appointment, your GP may refer you to a specialist for further investigations. The type of investigation you have will depend on what your possible diagnosis is. This may be a scan or even a more invasive procedure such as an arthroscopy.

For any investigation, the specialist will give you full details beforehand about what it will involve and how you may need to prepare for it. But you may find it helpful to know a bit more about these following tests before you see your doctor.

Scans

There are several different types of scans used to investigate knee injuries, including X-rays, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT). If you’ve got a scan coming up, there are some things you may need to think about.

An MRI scan can take up to an hour. It can feel claustrophobic, but if it’s only your knee being scanned, you may not have your whole body inside the scanner. It can also be very noisy. If you think you’ll find the scan distressing, tell your doctor beforehand so they can let the radiography department know. The staff will give you earplugs and they sometimes play music. You may want to take some time out before the appointment to calm yourself, perhaps by practising some relaxation techniques.

During an MRI scan, the equipment used can react with metal in or on your body. You will have to remove any metal jewellery or your watch before you go into the scan room. It may be better to leave it at home when you go to the appointment.

If you have any medical implants in your body, such as a pacemaker, aneurysm clip or stent, it’s very important to tell your doctor as soon as an MRI is suggested. With some types of metal implant, you can’t have an MRI at all.

CT scans use X-rays, so you can’t usually have one if you’re pregnant. If you’re pregnant, or there’s a possibility that you might be, tell your doctor.

Invasive investigations

There are two main invasive investigations used to help diagnose knee problems: arthrocentesis and arthroscopy. In an arthrocentesis, fluid is removed (aspirated) from inside the knee using a needle and syringe. Arthroscopy (also called keyhole surgery) is an internal examination. A camera on a long thin tube is put inside your knee through a small incision.

If you’re having an invasive investigation, you may need to have a sedative, local anaesthetic or general anaesthetic. If you’re having a general anaesthetic, you will have to stop eating for a time before your procedure (usually six hours). Your doctor will give you specific instructions on this.

Physiotherapy

Emily Partridge, Bupa Physiotherapist, explains how you can prepare for your physiotherapy appointments:

“If your doctor prescribes a course of physiotherapy to treat your knee injury, you’ll need to come in for a number of appointments. To get the most out of these appointments, there are some things you can do to prepare.

“Although you will have already given your doctor information about your pain, be prepared for your physiotherapist to ask you similar questions at your first appointment. They may not have all the information they need to work out your physio programme, so it could be that you have to give some of this information again.

“They’ll ask you about your hobbies and interests in relation to physical activity, for example, if you play any sports. They will also want to talk about your goals and what you expect to gain from the treatment. This is all so you can have a treatment plan that works best for you, so it will be helpful to think about this before your first appointment.

“You’ll need to wear appropriate clothing for your physio appointments. The physiotherapist will need to see and feel your knee, so it’s best to wear shorts. Unless you’re also having physio for your upper body, it doesn’t matter what you wear on your top half.”


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  • Reviewed by Alice Windsor, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa UK Health Content Team, June 2019
    Expert reviewer, Mr Damian McClelland, Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon
    Next review due June 2022



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