Knee pain is the most common musculoskeletal complaint to land people in their doctor’s office.
As a society, we’re more active than ever. We jog, golf, track our steps, take fitness classes and do whatever we can to stay fit and have fun. In general, that certainly does keep us healthier. But it can also be hard on the joints, particularly our knees.
So when you’re walking and experience sudden knee pain, do you give it time or do head to the doctor’s office?
A Closer Look at the Knee
Before we get into that, let’s take a look at the anatomy of the knee. The knee joint is comprised of four bones—the femur, tibia, fibula and patella.
Ligaments connect bone to bone and include the anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament.
Tendons, meanwhile, connect muscle to bone and include the quadriceps tendon and the patellar tendon.
But that’s not all. You’ve also got cartilage and bursae that cushion the knee.
Common Causes of Sudden Knee Pain
As you can see, sudden knee pain can signify a lot of things, ranging from a torn ligament that needs treatment to a strained tendon that needs rest. Here are a few of the more common knee injuries:
• A sprained or torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). You may hear a pop and then be unable to put weight on your knee. This is a common sports injury and often requires surgery.
• A tendon rupture. This more commonly occurs in athletes older than 40. A complete rupture requires surgery, while a partial tear may be treated with splinting. If you experience a complete rupture, you’ll know it because you won’t be able to extend your knee.
• A meniscal injury. This can be caused by an injury or just overuse. You’ll feel a grinding or clicking sound and possibly also swelling. Surgery is often required.
• Tendonitis. This is an inflammation of the tendon often caused by sports that require jumping, such as basketball or volleyball. Pain is worse with activity and better with rest, ice and anti-inflammatory drugs.
When to Go to the Hospital
You should seek immediate medical attention for sudden knee pain if you can’t put any weight on your leg (which could indicate a fracture) or if you feel sick, have a fever or if your knee is red and hot (signs of infection).
For less severe pain, doctors recommend following the PRICE protocol which is an acronym for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. If, after a week, your condition is not better, then it’s time to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
With everything there is to do and experience in life, none of us need a bad knee slowing us down, especially with all of the treatments that are available. To learn more about knee pain, download our guide, When to See a Doctor for Chronic Knee Pain.