Knee Injuries and Disorders

Knee problems are very common, and they occur in people of all ages.

Your knee joint is made up of bone, cartilage, ligaments and fluid. Muscles and tendons help the knee joint move. When any of these structures is hurt or diseased, you have knee problems. Knee problems can cause pain and difficulty walking.Knee problems are very common, and they occur in people of all ages. Knee problems can interfere with many things, from participation in sports to simply getting up from a chair and walking. This can have a big impact on your life. The most common disease affecting the knee is osteoarthritis. The cartilage in the knee gradually wears away, causing pain and swelling.

Injuries to ligaments and tendons also cause knee problems. A common injury is to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). You usually injure your ACL by a sudden twisting motion. ACL and other knee injuries are common sports injuries.

Some knee problems, such as those resulting from an accident, can’t be prevented. However, you can prevent many knee problems by doing the following:
  • Warm up before playing sports. Walking and stretching are good warm-up exercises. Stretching your muscles in the front and the back of the thighs is a good way to warm up your knees
  • Make your leg muscles strong by doing certain exercises. For example, try walking up stairs, riding a stationary bicycle, or working out with weights
  • Avoid sudden changes in the intensity of your exercise
  • Increase the force or duration of your activity slowly
  • Wear shoes that fit and are in good condition
  • Aim to maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts pressure on your knees

There are many conditions that can cause knee pain. These are typically grouped into acute injuries, occurring after a single traumatic event, and overuse injuries, where the pain comes on gradually without a discrete inciting incident.

The symptoms of your knee problem depend on the type of injury or disorder. 

Generally, symptoms of a knee injury or disorder include:
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
Injuries to the cartilage or ligaments of the knee may also cause:
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Clicking or popping sounds in the knee
  • Locking or buckling of the knee joint
Doctors diagnose knee problems by using:
  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Diagnostic tests, such as x-rays, bone scan, CAT scan, MRI, arthroscopy, and biopsy

Physical therapy is essential to the treatment and prevention of many of the conditions that affect the knee joint and its surrounding supporting structures. Physical therapy for knee pain often includes ice, stretching, and muscle strengthening exercises. To speed recovery and protect against future knee damage, activities that cause pain should be avoided temporarily.

When living with knee problems, everyone should get three types of exercise regularly:
  • Range-of-motion exercises to help maintain normal joint movement and relieve stiffness
  • Strengthening exercises to help keep or increase muscle strength. Keeping muscles strong with exercises, such as walking up stairs, doing leg lifts or dips, or riding a stationary bicycle, helps support and protect the knee
  • Aerobic or endurance exercises to improve function of the heart and circulation and to help control weight. Weight control can be important if you have arthritis because extra weight puts pressure on many joints. Some studies show that aerobic exercise can reduce inflammation in some joints
Your doctor or physical therapist can help you come up with an exercise plan. This can help your knee(s) without increasing the risk of injury or further damage. As a general rule, you should choose gentle exercises such as:
  • Swimming
  • Aquatic exercise
  • Walking

You should avoid jarring exercises such as jogging or high-impact aerobics.