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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Knee Problems and Injuries
Most people have had a minor knee problem at some time. Most of the time our body movements don't cause problems. But sometimes symptoms develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or injury. Knee problems and injuries most often occur during sports or recreational activities, work-related tasks, or home projects.
The knee is the largest joint in the body. The upper and lower bones of the knee are separated by two discs (menisci). The upper leg bone (femur) and the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) are connected by ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The surface of the bones inside the knee joint is covered by articular cartilage. It absorbs shock and provides a smooth, gliding surface for joint movement.
Knee problems are often caused by an injury to one or more of these parts of the knee. But they may be caused by things other than injuries. Some people are more likely to have knee problems than others. Many jobs, sports and activities, getting older, or having a disease such as osteoporosis or arthritis increase your chances of having problems with your knees.
Injuries are the most common cause of knee problems. Sudden (acute) injuries may be caused by a direct blow to the knee. Or they may be caused by abnormal twisting, bending the knee, or falling on the knee. Pain, bruising, or swelling may be severe and occur within minutes of the injury. Nerves or blood vessels may be pinched or damaged during the injury. The knee or lower leg may feel numb, weak, or cold. It may tingle or look pale or blue. Acute injuries include:
Overuse injuries occur with repetitive activities or repeated or prolonged pressure on the knee. Knees can get irritated and inflamed when you climb stairs, ride a bike, jog, or jump, putting stress on your joints and other tissues. Overuse injuries include:
Problems not directly related to an injury or overuse may occur in or around the knee.
Treatment for a knee problem or injury may include first aid, rest, bracing, physical therapy, and medicine. In some cases, surgery is needed. Treatment depends on:
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in adults and older children
Major trauma is any event that can cause very serious injury, such as:
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and this change does not go away.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Symptoms of infection may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
With severe bleeding, any of these may be true:
With moderate bleeding, any of these may be true:
With mild bleeding, any of these may be true:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Babies and young children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Put direct, steady pressure on the wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Try the following tips to help relieve knee pain, swelling, and stiffness.
It's important to rest and protect the affected area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing your pain or soreness.
When you rest, place a small pillow under your knee.
Ice will reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice or cold packs right away to prevent or reduce swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
Compression, or wrapping the area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help reduce swelling.
Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. Prop up the area on pillows while you apply ice and anytime you sit or lie down.
Do this until you can get advice from your doctor.
For 48 hours, avoid things that might increase swelling. These things include hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, and drinks that contain alcohol.
After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat. You can start gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help restore and keep flexibility. Some experts advise switching between heat and cold treatments.
Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and encourage blood flow. Don't massage the affected area if it causes pain.
Try these exercises:
These include running, skiing, snowboarding, and playing tennis. Don't try them until your knee is no longer painful or swollen.
Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.
If you need to use a wrap for more than 48 hours, you may have a more serious injury that needs to be checked by a doctor.
Most injuries are not caused by abuse. But bruises are often the first sign of possible abuse. Suspect physical abuse of a child or vulnerable adult when:
You may be able to prevent further injuries by reporting abuse. Seek help if:
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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