The knee is one of the most commonly injured joints on the human body, coming only second to the ankle.
Knee injuries are caused mainly by a direct impact on the knee from falling, getting involved in a motor vehicle accident, or being hit with a hard object. Some injuries can resolve on their own, but others are more serious and will require medical intervention.
You may ask, “how do I know if my knee injury is serious”? This article will answer that question. You will also learn more about treating and preventing knee injuries.
Common Types of Knee Injuries
Knee injuries affect different parts of the knee. Some can be treated at home, while others may need medical intervention. Let’s take a look at some of the common types of injuries involving the knee.
A fracture is a knee injury involving the patella, otherwise known as the knee cap. It varies from a mild crack in the patella to a severe breakage from its top to bottom.
A patella fracture is mainly caused by high-impact trauma such as car accidents or falls. Some of its characteristics include swelling in the knee, having muscle spasms, and difficulty in moving the knee.
People with osteoporosis are more susceptible to getting their knees fractured and can do so by merely tripping.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury
Also known as an ACL injury, this is a sprain or tear in the anterior cruciate ligament, a tissue that connects your shinbone (tibia) with your thighbone (femur).
The common symptoms of an ACL injury include a loud popping sensation in the knee, rapid and intense swelling, severe pain, and inability to walk or move the knee.
ACL injuries are common in people who play sports such as basketball.
This knee injury is simply a tear in the meniscus, a C-shaped cartilage that serves as a shock absorber between your thigh bone and shinbone. It also protects these bones from wear and tear.
The meniscus can tear when you suddenly twist your knee while bearing weight on it. In severe cases, it can get shredded, causing it to break loose and wrap itself around the knee joint, therefore locking it up.
People who play sports such as soccer, volleyball, or any other type of sport involving a sudden change in direction while running are more likely to get this injury.
Knee bursitis is an inflammation in bursae, small fluid-filled sacs located near the knee joint. The bursae are responsible for reducing friction between the knee bones and ligaments, tendons, skin, and muscles near the knee joint.
Knee bursitis’ symptoms mainly depend on which bursa is inflamed. But generally, your knee may feel swollen, tender, and warm in a particular section.
Common Signs and Symptoms of a Knee Injury
Now that we’ve looked at the various types of knee injuries, let’s take a closer look at the common signs and symptoms of these and other injuries.
- Inability to straighten your knee completely
- Redness in a particular section of your knee
- A part of the knee feels warm to the touch
- Swelling and stiffness
- A popping sensation in the knee
You may be asking yourself, how do I know if my knee injury is serious? Here are a couple of symptoms that may indicate that your injury is quite severe.
- When you are unable to bear the weight of your knee, or it feels unstable
- When you can’t extend or flex your knee fully
- If you are experiencing other body symptoms such as a fever
- If you have intense knee pain that won’t subside even after several remedies
- When you notice an obvious deformity in your leg or knee
How Long Does a Knee Injury Take to Heal?
For mild knee injuries such as strains or sprains, it may take between 2-4 weeks to heal. On the other hand, severe injuries due to high-impact trauma can take anywhere between 4-12 months to heal.
However, this is dependent on many factors, like the medical treatment administered and how well you take care of your knee.
How to Treat a Knee Injury
Regardless of how mild your knee injury might seem, it’s important to visit a doctor for the following reasons.
The Doctor Will Properly Assess Your Injury
Doctors have the right expertise and equipment to assess your knee injury to determine which type of injury it is and which part of your knee has been affected. Let’s look at some of the methods your doctor may use to assess your knee injury.
The doctor may conduct imaging tests such as X-rays to look for knee bone fractures. They may also use a CT scan (which combines X-rays taken from various angles to form a cross-sectional image of the inner side of your body) to detect issues such as fractures and inflammations.
Your doctor may also use ultrasound, a technology that utilizes sound waves to create images of the soft tissue structures in and around your knee. They may gently move your knee in different directions during the ultrasound to determine where exactly you have been injured.
In some cases, they might use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to get 3D images of your knee.
Sometimes, the doctor can also conduct a lab test called arthrocentesis, whereby a small amount of fluid is extracted from your knee using a syringe. The fluid is then taken to the laboratory to be tested for any inflammations or even infections.
They Will Administer and Recommend the Appropriate Medication
Once your doctor has determined your type of knee injury, they will administer the proper medication to help heal your injury and provide pain relief. Here are a couple of treatments you may get.
Physical therapy plays a critical role in the healing of knee injuries. For starters, it helps strengthen the affected muscles, therefore making them more stable. During therapy, you may be required to perform specific exercises that will help your affected knee to resume back to its normal functioning gradually.
In the instance that you have osteoarthritis, your doctor may also recommend using a knee brace to reduce pain and speed up recovery.
You may also need a couple of injections mainly to reduce pain. Some of the injections your doctor may suggest include:
- Hyaluronic acid: This injection is similar to the fluid that lubricates your knee tendons, ligaments, and joints. It reduces pain and improves your knee's mobility. Its effectiveness can last up to six months.
- Corticosteroids: This injection also provides pain relief, and it can be effective for months, helping you go through the healing process with ease.
How to Heal a Knee Injury at Home
As we mentioned earlier, there are various ways you can treat your knee injury at home. But, it is advisable to visit a doctor to know the severity of your injury.
Over-the-Counter Medicines and Creams
Medicines like naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen are excellent in minimizing knee pain. However, it is still vital to consult your doctor to know which medicine is ideal for you.
You can also apply creams containing numbing contents such as capsaicin or lidocaine to make the pain more bearable.
One of the most important things to do when you have a knee injury is rest. Take a break from your daily activities, especially if you engage in vigorous ones like sports.
Resting prevents your injured knee from being strained, enabling it to heal properly. Your resting period will depend on the type of knee injury you have.
Put Some Ice on the Injury
Placing ice on your injured knee causes the blood vessels to become narrow (also known as vasoconstriction), therefore minimizing the blood flow to the affected area. This reduces swelling, inflammation, and soreness in your knee. You can use frozen peas, crushed ice, or an ice pack.
However, it is recommended that you do not leave the ice on your knee for more than 20 minutes, as it may damage your skin or nerves.
Apply Heat on the Injury
This home remedy is beneficial, especially if you have a long-term knee injury. Unlike ice, heat widens the blood vessels (also called vasodilation), increasing blood flow to the affected area.
Apart from reducing soreness and pain, heat relaxes the muscles in your knee, enabling easier movement. When applying heat to your knees, avoid very hot heating pads as they may burn your skin.
Elevate Your Knee
Another effective way to treat a knee injury is to elevate your leg. Doing so helps reduce blood flow in the affected spot, therefore reducing pain. For best results, it is advisable to raise your leg above the position of the heart.
How to Prevent Knee Injury
There’s little you can do to prevent accidents from happening. Still, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from knee injuries.
Avoid Being Overweight
Extra body weight adds more pressure to your knee, making you more prone to injuries and chronic knee pain. So it is essential to always maintain a reasonable body weight.
Minimize Taking Part in High-Intensity Workouts
While high-intensity exercises like working out in the gym are excellent for maintaining a healthy body, it is recommendable to be cautious, especially if you suffer from conditions such as osteoporosis. Low-impact exercises such as walking and swimming are preferable.
Stretch Your Knees Before Working Out
Stretching your knees before embarking on any exercises is vital as it helps loosen your legs and knees, making them more flexible.
Protect Your Knees During Vigorous Activities
Wearing some sort of protection, like knee guards, while engaging in risky sporting activities such as rollerblading is a great way to protect your knees from getting injured.
A knee injury can cause great discomfort and disrupt your everyday endeavors. The good thing is that most injuries can be managed at home and will resolve themselves in little time. Unfortunately, some injuries, especially those resulting from high-impact accidents, can have lifelong effects.
If you are a sportsperson, your career may be significantly affected especially if you don’t get the right treatment. As such, in the instance of any knee injury, consult a medical professional immediately.