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Knee injuries are excruciating and often life-changing.
Perhaps you have experienced a sudden twinge in your knee for no reason or sharp, sudden pain due to an accident.
The thing is, knowing the signs and symptoms of knee injuries is important to enable healthy healing and recovery.
In this blog post, I’ll share the most common causes of a knee injury and how to know if you tore something in your knee.
We’ll look at how to investigate knee injuries, treatment options, and healing methods, plus prevention tips to help reduce the risk of injury in the first place.
Ultimately, I believe you don’t have to let knee pain keep you from enjoying life.
To add to that, if you have sustained a knee injury recently or in the past, take comfort in knowing that there’s a wide range of treatment options and ways to get you back to your best self.
How to Know if You Tore Something in Your Knee
Overuse or misusage of the knee joint is a regular cause of knee injuries.
Repeatedly engaging in activities without proper warm-up sessions or stretching can lead to over-stretched or bruised muscles and full-on torn knee ligaments and tendons (ouch!)
Direct trauma from hard objects or blows to the knee, such as bats or clubs while playing cricket or golf, can also lead to severe knee injuries.
Vehicle accidents or bike crashes often directly impact the knee, while sports like soccer, basketball, and skiing can lead to ACL tears when people land awkwardly, twisting the knee beyond its limit.
Age-related bone degeneration also weakens ligaments over a more extended period, usually decades, without the individual knowing anything about it. This can lead to cartilage loss and soft tissue weakness in older people.
It’s crucial for anyone who suspects they’ve injured their knee (or are struggling with undiagnosed knee pain) to seek medical attention urgently.
Appropriate medical imaging, diagnostic tests, and follow-up rehabilitation are usually needed to help knee injuries recover.
Knee injuries range from minor (perhaps barely noticeable) strains and bumps to more severe ligament tears and lower leg bone fractures.
Now, the most commonly seen knee injury in the medical field is known as ‘ACL injury,’ which is a tear or break of the ACL ligament (the anterior cruciate ligament.)
According to the NCBI, these occur in 1 out of 3500 people in the US. For more statistics on ACL injuries, please see this post here.
Next up on the knee injuries list are the other ligaments or structures in the knee, known as the medial collateral ligament (MCL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), menisci (plural), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
Ligament injuries are far more common than a fractured knee, in truth.
An ACL tear is common among athletes and women due to quick changes in direction or overexertion.
It occurs when the knee is forcefully twisted while the foot is planted, causing the ACL to tear away from its somewhat fragile connection point on the tibia bone.
When this happens, the individual will experience severe pain and an immediate stop to their activity level.
On the contrary, MCL tears are often caused by a direct blow or hit to the outer side of the knee.
PCL tears typically occur when an athlete falls directly onto their knees, impacting the knee cap and pushing the knee backward.
A direct hit to the inside of the knee is usually the cause of LCL injuries.
Lastly, meniscus tears are damage to the cartilage in the knee joint and often happen from a strong twisting motion.
Diagnosing a knee injury correctly is essential to ensuring the best possible healing outcome.
Do not delay getting medical treatment; that’s my best advice!
Various methods for diagnosing knee injuries include physical examination, imaging tests, and mobility tests.
A physical examination is a useful component of diagnosing knee injuries. During this process, your healthcare provider will use their hands to feel the joint for tenderness or instability, which will likely be painful.
They will also assess your range of motion (mobility) and look for any swelling or bruising that may suggest a more serious injury, such as a torn knee ligament.
Imaging scans, including CT scans, ultrasound, and/or an MRI scan, can provide internal diagnostics of the joint, meaning any damage can be examined thoroughly.
These diagnostic tests can show the location of the tear (if present) and the extent of the damage, enabling the orthopedic surgeon to plan the best treatment going forward.
Finally, blood tests might be used to identify underlying medical conditions that could contribute to a knee injury, such as arthritis or gout.
Treatment plans for knee injuries vary based on the severity of the injury and what part of the knee is affected.
For sprains or strains, the treatment typically involves an acronym called RICE (standing for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.)
This is also known as ‘conservative therapy,’ meaning nothing invasive or operative needs to happen.
There are medications to consider to help with pain relief, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen.
Physical therapy is another suggestion used to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee joint, helping to improve the range of motion.
Surgery may be needed to repair a torn ligament or meniscus in more severe cases.
This might be done by open surgery or via arthroscopy (if suitable.)
This is where small micro-incisions are made to allow access to the inside of the knee joint for inspection and repair, using a flexible camera to repair a torn ligament with minimal damage to the surrounding tissues.
Alternatives such as acupuncture or electrical stimulation may also be considered, particularly for older individuals with degenerative conditions who have not succeeded with other treatments.
A proper knee brace, straps, and other supportive aids can help protect the injured knee from further damage.
An elastic bandage offers extra stability while walking or participating in physical activities. Such bandages might also be used to compress swelling.
Of course, let’s not forget about crutches; they reduce weight-bearing pressure on the injured leg and keep a severely injured limb immobile until healing occurs.
Preventing knee injuries goes a long way toward maintaining the health of your knees. Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes!
To begin with, strengthening the muscles around the knee can help support the joint and reduce the risk of injury.
The best exercises for knee muscle strength are squats, lunges, step-ups, and calf raises. If you want more information on the equipment and exercises I have used after my two ACL tears, check out this article here.
Stretching before any physical activity is vital, too, for increased flexibility and reduced chance of strain or sprain.
For those who participate in contact sports, you must wear protective gear like shin guards and knee braces.
Additionally, avoid activities that put too much strain on your knees, such as running on concrete excessively.
Finally, if you are overweight, shedding excess pounds will decrease the stress you put on your joints and improve your mobility immensely.
I hope you find this post valuable – that it has provided some form of support and comfort to you.
If you’d like to read more posts of mine, I suggest reading these next.
Jennifer Evans; Jeffery l. Nielson, 2022, Anterior Cruciate Ligament Knee Injury, NCBI, accessed 20th June 2023, URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499848/
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.