Knee Care & Treatment

The knee is a vulnerable joint that bears a great deal of stress from everyday activities such as lifting and kneeling, and from high-impact activities such as jogging and aerobics.

The knee is formed by the following parts:

  • Tibia – Shinbone or larger bone of the lower leg
  • Femur – Thighbone or upper leg bone
  • Patella – Kneecap

Common Knee Conditions

Knee pain usually results from overuse, poor form during physical activity, not warming up or cooling down, or inadequate stretching. 

Simple causes of knee pain often clear up on their own with self-care. Being overweight can put you at greater risk for knee problems.

Knee pain can be caused by:

  • Arthritis – Including rheumatoid, osteoarthritis, and gout
  • Baker's cyst – A fluid-filled swelling behind the knee that may accompany inflammation from other causes, like arthritis
  • Bursitis – Inflammation from repeated pressure on the knee, such as kneeling for long periods of time, overuse, or injury
  • Connective tissue disorders such as lupus
  • Dislocation of the kneecap
  • Iliotibial band syndrome – A hip disorder related to injury of the thick band that runs from your hip to the outside of your knee
  • Infection in the joint
  • Knee injuries – May cause bleeding into your knee, which worsens the pain
  • Tendinitis – A pain in the front of your knee that gets worse when going up and down stairs or inclines
  • Torn cartilage (a meniscus tear) – Pain felt on the inside or outside of the knee joint
  • Torn ligament (ACL tear) – Leads to pain and instability of the knee
  • Strain or sprain -- minor injuries to the ligaments caused by sudden or unnatural twisting

Less common conditions that can lead to knee pain include the following:

  • Bone tumors
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease

Your doctor may use a series of tests to diagnose your knee condition, including X-ray of the knee, or a fluid draw from the knee. If a tear is suspected, your doctor may recommend an MRI.

At-home Knee Care & Treatment

Many causes of knee pain, especially those related to overuse or physical activity, respond well to self-care:

  • Rest and avoid activities that aggravate the pain, especially weight bearing activities.
  • Apply ice. First, apply it every hour for up to 15 minutes. After the first day, apply it at least 4 times per day.
  • Keep your knee elevated as much as possible to bring any swelling down.
  • Gently compress the knee by wearing an ace bandage or elastic sleeve. Either can be purchased at most pharmacies. This may reduce swelling and provide support.
  • Take acetaminophen for pain or ibuprofen for pain and swelling.
  • Sleep with a pillow underneath or between your knees.

When to Call Your Doctor

Sometimes treating knee pain at home doesn't treat the condition. Be sure to call your doctor if:

  • You cannot bear weight on your knee
  • You have severe pain, even when not bearing weight
  • Your knee buckles, clicks, or locks
  • Your knee is deformed or misshapen
  • You have a fever, redness or warmth around the knee, or significant swelling
  • You have pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, or bluish discoloration in the calf below the sore knee
  • You still have pain after 3 days of home treatment

Your doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are stronger than those available over-the-counter. If those don't help, your doctor may inject a steroid to reduce pain and inflammation.

Referrals to a physical therapist and podiatrist may be necessary to help prevent future or repeated problems.

Knee Surgery

In some cases, surgery is needed. For example, if arthritis is severe, a joint replacement may be recommended. Minor ligament strain will heal with home care and torn ligaments may recover with use of a knee brace. However, for significant tears or ruptures, as well as a torn meniscus, arthroscopic knee surgery is often needed.

However, for significant tears or ruptures, as well as a torn meniscus, arthroscopic knee surgery is often needed.

Recovery from ligament and meniscus problems is slow. Crutches and extended physical therapy may be needed.