When to see a sports specialist for a knee injury

Mr Arijit Ghosh Mr Arijit Ghosh Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon
Mr Arijit Ghosh, an experienced orthopaedic knee specialist, explains the most common sporting injuries, how you can aid recovery at home and when it’s time to seek medical intervention.

Knee injuries are very common. In fact, the knee is one of the most commonly injured joints in sports. Significant forces go through the joint with load bearing and twisting, meaning it's susceptible to injury.

Knee pain itself can be very debilitating, making activities such as running, jumping and bending quite painful, and sometimes even walking and weight bearing can be difficult.

What are the most common sporting injuries?

Sprains, tendonitis, ligament injuries and cartilage injuries can be quite common. Although most can be treated with conservative management (e.g. activity modification and a structured physiotherapy regime), some injuries may require surgical intervention such as keyhole surgery or ligament repair/reconstruction.

How can I aid recovery at home?

Most simple knee injuries can be managed at home. The ‘RICE’ protocol is often helpful in treating these:

  • Rest – avoid strenuous or painful activities and avoid standing for long periods of time
  • Ice – use an ice pack or frozen peas for about 20 mins every 3–4 hours
  • Compression – potentially wrap a bandage around your knee, but not tight enough to cause pain
  • Elevation – keeping the knee propped up on some pillows may help.

At the same time, pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen gel can help. NSAIDS (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatories) such as ibuprofen tablets can also help, but these do have side effects and aren't safe for everyone – so please check before taking them.

When should I see a specialist for a knee injury?

There are a number of reasons to see a specialist for a knee injury. You should seek medical advice immediately if:

  • your knee is badly swollen or out of shape
  • you have associated fevers or a high temperature
  • you can't move your knee or put any weight on it
  • your knee pain doesn't settle with time
  • your knee injury was particularly forceful (a ‘pop’ was heard at the time, there is ‘jamming’ of the knee, or you can hear significant clicking)
  • you have a feeling of weakness, instability, or the sensation your knee will give way
  • you can't perform everyday tasks due to knee pain or stiffness.

A specialist will talk to you about your injury and symptoms. They'll be able to examine your knee to determine whether you have injured any particular structures.

Would I need diagnostic testing?

Specialists will also have access to diagnostic investigations such as X-rays and MRIs:

  • X-rays will show bony injuries and evidence of chronic problems such as arthritis
  • An MRI is a very detailed scan that can look at the cartilage, ligaments, joint surfaces and bones in high detail.

These will be able to diagnose your knee problem and provide a structured treatment plan to get you back to fitness.

What kind of injury am I prone to if I’m an athlete?

Athletes are prone to knee ligament injuries, which can be in the form of ligament ruptures. The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is a ligament that helps stabilise the knee. An ACL tear often results in the sensation of the knee giving way, and often requires knee surgery.

A tear of the ‘shock absorber’ or meniscus is also common and may require a meniscectomy. Other common injuries for athletes and runners include sprains and tendonitis, which are usually treated with a structured physiotherapy regime.

All treatment is aimed at getting you back to fitness so that your knee doesn't hold you back and allows you to enjoy the activities you want to.

Last updated Thursday 14 September 2023

First published on Thursday 14 September 2023