When to see a doctor for a knee injury

Signs your knee injury could be serious

Knee injuries are among the most common injuries in exercise and sports.  I see tons of these patients in my office every day with a wide variety of problems.    How do you decide if it is serious?  How do you know if you should see a doctor for your knee?  I would like to give you five reasons you should see your doctor or orthopedic surgeon because you may need surgery

I felt a pop in my knee

Clicks and small noises in your knees are common and are a part of normal knee movement.  When I think of a pop that is concerning, I think of an abnormal knee movement or twist resulting in a loud usually painful pop in the joint.  Sometimes it’s a series of pops. There may be a tearing sensation. This is definitely something you would remember, different than insignificant pops and clicks. This could represent a ligament tear or a meniscus tear. This may be something that needs to be repaired

I can't bear weight on my knee

Some injuries cause pain with weight-bearing. This pain can be unbearable with any pressure on your foot. While this could be many things, you could have a fracture. If it is this painful to put any weight on your leg, it is better to stay off of it and be evaluated. You would not want to miss a significant injury.  Use crutches until your doctor can see you.

My knee feels swollen

Swelling after a knee injury can either be in the tissues around the knee, or fluid inside the knee itself. When this fluid builds up inside the knee, we call this an effusion. This happens because something happened inside your knee causing damage and the knee is reacting. This can make it hard to bend your knee very far.  This can come on quickly in a few hours, or over a few days. If you have developed swelling after an injury, it is always best to have this evaluated by a doctor.

My knee feels locked or won't bend

Some injuries cause the knee to lock up. In other words, it won’t bend or straighten. Some people are just unable to straighten. This is often accompanied with severe pain when trying to move your knee too far. If your knee is stuck, don’t try to force it. This is definitely a sign of something that might need urgent treatment or even surgery. The meniscus inside the knee can tear in such a way to cause this sensation. I like to operate on these right away to try to preserve the tissue as much as possible.

My knee feels unstable

Knees feel unstable after ligament injuries, most commonly. This can happen after a buckling injury or hyperextension injury.   Many people complain of a sense of instability stepping off of a curb or walking on an uneven surface.  You may have swelling fairly quickly afterwards. The knee may feel as if it will give out.  Leaving an injury like this alone can lead to cartilage damage or arthritis later in life.  Please have your knee evaluated if it feels loose.  

My knee is tender to touch

It’s not surprising to have tenderness and pain around your knee after an injury. If the injury is not that significant, it usually goes away after a few days to weeks. If you are left with a spot that hurts a lot whenever you touch it, this could be the sign of something that will not get better without intervention. Please see your doctor if you think you may have a specific area of tenderness on your knee.