Treatment of knee injuries
A doctor or physiotherapist may suggest several different treatments, depending on what you’ve done to your knee and how bad the damage is.
Medicines for knee injuries
Your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers containing codeine if your pain is very bad.
Physiotherapy for knee injuries
If your injury is more severe, or it doesn’t seem to be improving over time, you may refer to a physiotherapist. A physiotherapist is a healthcare professional who specialises in movement and mobility.
Surgery for knee injuries
For some knee injuries, your doctor or physiotherapist may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon. The surgeon may recommend that you have surgery to repair the damage to your knee – especially if other treatments haven’t worked.
Your surgeon is more likely to suggest surgery if you have one of the following injuries.
- You’ve torn your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), especially if you do a lot of sport or have also torn a meniscus. ACL reconstruction involves taking a piece of tendon (usually from your patella tendon or hamstring) to replace the damaged ligament.
- Your knee is still painful or locks after an injury to your meniscus. Your surgeon may repair or partially remove your damaged meniscus.
- You’ve injured your medial collateral ligament (MCL) and it hasn’t healed after three months of non-surgical treatment. Your surgeon may repair or reconstruct your MCL.
You may be able to have a type of keyhole surgery called knee arthroscopy to get to the damaged area of your knee.
Diagnosis of knee injuries
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and check your knees. They may feel for fluid in your knee joint by pressing gently around your kneecap. They’ll also ask you to describe how you hurt yourself, where your pain is and what type of pain it is.
Your doctor may ask you to walk, sit or lie down. This is so they can test for any injury to your knee ligaments or soft tissues. They’ll bend and straighten your knee and move your leg into different positions.
Your doctor may recommend some other tests.
- An X-ray or CT scan – this can check for a broken bone (fracture) or arthritis.
- An MRI scan – this is useful if your doctor is not sure about the diagnosis. It may help to show up damage to the cartilage or soft tissues of your knee after an injury.
- Knee aspiration – your doctor may remove a sample of fluid from your knee to look for blood.
- Knee arthroscopy – your surgeon may look inside your knee using a telescope attached to a tiny camera. This can help to show if there’s damage to a meniscus, cartilage or ligament. Your doctor may treat your damaged knee at the same time as doing the arthroscopy.
Types of knee injury
Knee ligament injuries
You have two sets of ligaments in your knee. The collateral ligaments run down either side of your knee, while the cruciate ligaments lie inside your knee. If different ligaments get damaged, this can lead to different types of knee ligament injuries.
- Collateral ligament injuries
- Cruciate ligament injuries
Other soft tissue injuries
You can damage other soft tissues around your knee, such as your cartilage and tendons. Soft tissue means any tissue in your body that isn’t bone.
- Cartilage injuries
- Tendon injuries
Symptoms of knee injuries
Most people with a torn knee ligament have similar symptoms. These include:
- instability – you may feel like your knee is giving way
Frequently asked question
How quickly do knee ligament injuries heal?
Your healing and recovery time depends on which part of your knee you’ve injured and how badly it’s affected.
If you have slightly sprained your medial collateral ligament (MCL), you may be able to go back to sport again in two to three weeks. But if your MCL sprain is a bad one, this can take up to 12 weeks.
Returning to sports and other physical activities too quickly may mean you’re more likely to hurt yourself again. So always follow your doctor or physiotherapist’s advice and exercise recommendations.