Knee injuries are common among weekend athletes and pros alike.
The knee is the largest joint in the body. Its four main parts—bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons—can be easily injured. In fact, many injuries involve more than one structure in the knee, so you need expert orthopedic treatment to properly heal.
If you’ve injured your knee, make an appointment with your UCHealth primary care provider for an evaluation, medical advice and a possible referral to an orthopedic specialist for a customized treatment plan. A serious knee injury can’t go untreated. You need expert care to get back in the game.
Common knee injuries
The most common knee injuries are fractures around the knee, dislocation, and sprains and tears of tendons and ligaments. The most common signs of knee injury are pain and swelling. You may also hear a popping sound at the time of injury, your knee may lock up, or your knee may feel like it’s unstable and giving way after the injury. Unfortunately, many of the sports and physical activities we love are the cause of knee injuries due to the high-energy impact from running, jumping and pivoting.
Our specialists can treat any injury to the knee joint and parts of the knee. The most common injuries we treat include:
- Broken bone. The most common fracture around the knee is the patella, or kneecap. Other common fractures include the end of the femur (distal femur fracture) and tibia (proximal tibia fracture) where they meet to form the knee joint. Fractures are typically caused by falls, car crashes and high-impact contact in sports.
- Dislocation. Occurs when the bones of the knee are out of place, either completely or partially. Dislocations are most often caused by falls, car crashes and sports-related contact.
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. Often occurs during sports activities like soccer, football, and basketball from changing direction rapidly or landing from a jump incorrectly.
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injuries. Often caused by a blow to the front of the knee while the knee is bent, as in motor vehicle crashes and sports.
- Collateral ligament Injuries. Typically caused by contact to the outside of the knee that pushes it sideways, often in sports
- Meniscus tears or meniscal tears. Sudden meniscal tears often happen during sports from twisting, cutting, pivoting or being tackled. Meniscal tears may also occur as a result of arthritis or aging.
- Tendon tears and tendonitis. The quadriceps and patellar tendons can be stretched and torn or overused, common among middle-aged people from running, falls or landing improperly from jumping.
After you hurt your knee, you can try the R.I.C.E. method at home:
Rest your knee by not walking on it.
Ice your knee to help pain and swelling.
Compress your knee by wrapping it with a bandage.
Elevate your knee.
If your injury needs further treatment, your doctor will first recommend non-surgical treatments such as:
- Immobilization. A brace will prevent your knee from moving, and if you have a broken bone, a cast or splint will hold the bones in place while they heal.
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist will teach you exercises to restore function and strengthen the muscles that support your knee. Physical therapy works especially well for patellofemoral pain syndrome—most patients are pain-free after just six weeks.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling.
Surgery is sometimes the best treatment option
Many fractures and knee injuries require surgery to fully restore function and range of motion. Many procedures are open surgery, as in serious fractures. In some cases, like ACL injuries and meniscus tears, we can perform arthroscopic surgery through small incisions using an arthroscope fitted with a camera and small tools. Recovery time depends on the procedure and your other health conditions.
If you play sports, always wear appropriate shoes and protective gear, stretch before and after, and eat a healthy, nutritious diet.
If you’re a runner, be careful about the number of miles you put in. Take care of your knees now, so you can keep doing the physical activities you love without injury for years to come.
Orthoinfo: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Common Knee Injuries (https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/common-knee-injuries/)
MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Knee pain (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003187.htm)
Pubmed. National Library of Medicine. Knee injury patterns among men and women in collegiate basketball and soccer. NCAA data and review of literature (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8600737/)