How a Knee Injury Is Treated (2022)

Knee injuries are relatively common and come in many different varieties. Whether it’s a tear to a ligament or tendon, damage to a bone or its cartilage, or subluxation of the joint itself, a wide array of structures can be involved. Because of this, an equally high number of treatments exist to address the subsequent symptoms of your knee injury.

From conservative and at-home options to more invasive procedures, each intervention has the potential to improve your condition in the right circumstances. To find out more, read about the details of each treatment in the sections below.

How a Knee Injury Is Treated (1)

Home Remedies

Any time a knee injury occurs, it is best to be evaluated and diagnosed by a healthcare provider. That said, several at-home remedies can be administered early on to combat the symptoms of your condition.


One home-based intervention that can help reduce the inflammation that sets in after an acute injury is the R.I.C.E. principle. This acronym, which stands for Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation, represents a grouping of four treatments aimed at decreasing your pain and swelling.

To properly utilize this coupling of remedies:

  1. Begin by resting your leg and refraining from any activities that lead to increased pain.
  2. Apply ice to the affected leg for 10 to 30 minutes at a time. Doing so at least three times daily will help combat any inflammation that develops.
  3. Apply a snug elastic or ACE bandage to help reduce any fluid around your knee. It is important that the dressing is not too tight.
  4. Elevate your leg above your heart any time you are off of your feet to help combat swelling in the joint.


Following an acute tear of one of your knee ligaments, your leg frequently feels unstable, and tasks like standing or walking can be unsafe. In these circumstances, wearing a stabilizing brace while you are on your feet can help improve the sturdiness of your leg and make daily activities safer.

In addition, a knee extension brace (one that keeps your knee completely straight as you walk) is typically recommended after a patellar (knee cap) fracture. This type of device helps reduce the forces placed on the injured bone in your daily activities.

How to Select a Knee Brace

While many knee braces can be purchased over the counter, it is best to speak to your healthcare provider first so that you select the style that is most appropriate for your condition. In addition, braces are typically meant to be short-term treatment and are usually administered in tandem with other interventions like physical therapy or surgery.

(Video) How to Diagnose and Rehab a Knee Injury | Sports Injury Clinic

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

The inflammation associated with most knee injuries can lead to pain and swelling, making it very uncomfortable to go about your day. With this in mind, several over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help to ease the discomfort in your leg and improve some of your symptoms.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—like ibuprofen or aspirin—are one of the most common classes of medications used after a knee injury. This type of medicine is commonly used for short-term reductions in the pain caused by tears to the collateral (ACL or PCL) or cruciate (MCL or LCL) ligaments in the knee.

This class of drugs is also frequently recommended and taken after a meniscal tear, however the benefits in this situation are still being researched. Similarly, the effects of NSAID use after tendon tears also remain unclear, as this class of medication may interfere with tendon healing after a partial tear.

To add to this, NSAIDs can have negative side effects in individuals with gastrointestinal, kidney, or bleeding disorders. As such, it is important to speak to your healthcare provider before beginning any new medication regimen.


Another OTC medication that may be an option after damaging your knee is acetaminophen. This drug, sold under the brand name Tylenol, is commonly taken to relieve the pain caused by meniscus injuries. Like NSAIDs, however, high-level studies showing its benefit in this condition are still lacking.

Acetaminophen typically does not cause adverse side effects in individuals with kidney, blood, or gastrointestinal issues. Because of this, it may be a more appealing option than NSAIDs for some people.

It is worth noting, however, that high doses of this medication can cause liver damage, making it contraindicated in people with liver conditions or who consume alcohol.


Some patients are unable to take OTC pain medication due to other health concerns or because their pain is too intense. In these circumstances, certain prescription medications may be utilized for short-term symptom control.

Selective NSAIDs

Selective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Celebrex or Meloxicam, can provide short-term pain relief by reducing the inflammation that tends to develop after a knee injury. Unlike OTC NSAIDs, however, they do not block the production of a stomach-protecting compound called prostaglandin. Because of this, selective NSAIDs generally do not cause gastrointestinal side effects and are easier for people with other stomach conditions to take.

This class of medications may elevate your risk of developing a heart attack or stroke, however, so individuals with cardiovascular disease should use caution prior to taking it.

Opioid Analgesics

In rare instances, opioid analgesic pain medication may be prescribed to help control your pain. This class of drugs, which includes hydrocodone and morphine, is generally reserved for severe pain that is unable to be controlled with other OTC or prescription medications.

(Video) Knee injury ,Injuries - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

Opioids are extremely habit-forming and are generally only utilized for short periods of intense pain. In addition, this medication can cause side effects like:

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Confusion

Because of this, healthcare providers generally use a significant amount of caution before prescribing opioids.

Opioids Can Cause Many Cardiac Problems

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

While at-home remedies and medications can help alleviate some of the initial pain and swelling, these treatments do not address the underlying damage done within your joint. Because of this, further interventions are usually necessary to help you overcome a knee injury.

The sections below detail the most frequently performed surgeries and specialist-driven procedures.

Physical Therapy

Following certain types of injuries, physical therapy (PT) may be prescribed by your healthcare provider to help you regain the range of motion, strength, and stability in your knee.

PT is often recommended after a meniscal tear and has been shown to produce outcomes in function and pain that are similar to those from a partial meniscectomy surgery. This is especially true for individuals with pre-existing osteoarthritis in their knee.

Therapy is also frequently prescribed following a traumatic ligament tear. Some individuals attend PT before a ligament reconstruction surgery in an effort to reduce their swelling and improve their range of motion. Others choose to avoid surgery completely and to treat their injury with therapy. It is important to note that when dealing with the ACL, this option has been linked to decreased overall knee function, increased long-term instability, and a greater risk of osteoarthritis development when compared to surgery.

Finally, physical therapy is also an option for individuals after a dislocation of their knee cap. While PT can help restore your movement and build strength in your leg, the likelihood that another subluxation will occur is higher than if the injury is addressed surgically.

Ligament Reconstruction

Following a complete tear of one of the stabilizing ligaments in the knee, reconstruction surgery is frequently performed to re-create these important structures in your joint. Typically, a graft from another area of the body—like your hamstring or patellar tendon—is utilized, though in some cases one from a cadaver may be needed.

(Video) How to Tell if Knee Pain is Meniscus or Ligament Injury

While any of the four primary ligaments can be torn, the ACL is most commonly affected. Reconstruction surgery provides the highest chance of returning to prior levels of activity while reducing the risk of long-term instability. It is worth noting, however, that in spite of this procedure, there is still an elevated risk of re-tearing the graft or developing osteoarthritis in the joint.

Partial Meniscectomy

Partial meniscectomy surgery is frequently performed on people who experience a torn meniscus. This procedure involves arthroscopically removing the portion of the meniscus that is torn or damaged. While this is an extremely common intervention, recent evidence has raised some questions about its long-term outcomes.

Studies have found that the improvements in pain and function after a partial meniscectomy are comparable to those from physical therapy alone. This seems to be especially true for people with pre-existing osteoarthritis in their joints.

As such, this surgery may be most beneficial for individuals who fail to get relief from physical therapy or whose meniscal tear physically blocks them from regaining their range of motion.

Depending on the characteristics of the meniscal tear—where it’s located and what type—and the age of the patient, a full repair may also be performed.

Tendon Repair

Tears in the tendons surrounding the knee joint typically occur in the patellar tendon (just below the knee cap) or the quadriceps tendon (just above the knee cap). These muscular injuries are extremely debilitating and almost always require a procedure to repair the damage.

Surgical intervention usually involves suturing the tendon back together and anchoring it to the patella. As a rule, this procedure is usually done acutely after the injury, as delays can make the fixation more challenging.

Long-term outcomes are generally quite good, though there is some increased risk of a re-tear. Chronic stiffness or muscular weakness may also develop in some individuals after this surgery.

Articular Surgeries

The articular cartilage is a smooth, slippery covering that lines the ends of the bones in the knee. This important tissue helps to absorb the forces placed through the joint and allows the bones to slide over one another without friction. While defects in the articular cartilage can occur as the result of degeneration over time, they can also be caused by an acute injury. Depending on the size and location of the damaged cartilage, several different types of articular surgeries may be performed, including:

  • Microfracture or abrasion procedures: These involve causing small amounts of bleeding in the affected boney area in an effort to elicit the body’s healing response.
  • Osteochondral autograft transfer system (OATS): This consists of taking plugs of cartilage from elsewhere and implanting them in the injured area.
  • Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI): This procedure attempts to regenerate the body’s cartilage by implanting other cartilage cells in the area of the defect.

A multitude of factors—including defect size, patient age, and prior activity level—go into deciding which technique is appropriate. That said, in most cases the overall improvements appear to be similar regardless of the technique selected.

In the case of large articular defects (over 4.5 square centimeters), however, the OATS or ACI procedure does show significant improvements over a microfracture surgery.

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MPFL Reconstruction

A dislocation of the knee cap in the outward (lateral) direction causes damage to a structure on the inner border of the patella called the medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL). While this injury can be treated conservatively with physical therapy, it is frequently treated surgically with an MPFL reconstruction if the dislocations are recurrent.

This procedure involves taking a graft from another area of the body or from a cadaver and using it to recreate the damaged medial patellofemoral ligament. The surgery aims to add stability to the inner portion of the patella and prevent it from dislocating in the outward direction. Generally, this intervention is very successful, with low rates of dislocation and high percentages of people returning to their preferred sport or exercise.


Fractures to one of the three bones that make up the knee joint (the femur, tibia, or patella) occasionally occur as the result of a fall or other traumatic accident. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, surgery is sometimes necessary to stabilize the fractured bone.

The most common type of surgery for a boney fracture in the knee is an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) procedure.

This technique involves realigning the fracture and placing pins, screws, plates, or rods into the bone to stabilize the area. There many different types of fractures in the knee, each with its own surgical outcomes and potential side effects. In general, however, ORIF procedures in this area require physical therapy to help you regain the function in your leg.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

In some situations, complementary or alternative treatments may provide some relief after a knee injury. These are typically not primary treatments, however they may be considered in certain circumstances.

Stem Cell Therapy

Recently, stem cell therapy has become more popular as an alternative way to treat articular defects. This intervention involves taking embryonic stem cells, stimulating them to multiply in a lab, and then implanting the cells into the injured area of your knee.

These cells are thought to have regenerative properties and may stimulate new cartilage growth in the damaged portion of the bone. While there are limited studies on this treatment, the initial results have been promising, and stem cell therapy may provide another way for people with articular defects to address their symptoms.

PRP Injections

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections involve drawing blood from your body, utilizing a centrifuge machine to separate out the plasma portion of the blood, and injecting this substance back into the injured area.

The treatment’s potential benefits center on the fact that plasma contains high amounts of growth factors, a substance that helps with tissue healing. Unfortunately, the evidence supporting this treatment is quite limited at this point, with its pain-reducing benefits appearing to be short lived at best.

A Word From Verywell

Traumatic knee injuries can be extremely painful and may significantly impact your ability to go about your day. Because of this, it is crucial to have them assessed by a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

(Video) How to Fix Back of Knee Pain in 30 SECONDS

Following a thorough evaluation, your healthcare provider will be able to recommend the interventions that are right for your specific condition. While your recovery may take some time, in most cases the treatments listed above can help you return to the things you love doing!


How is a knee injury treated? ›

Rest the joint at first. Reduce pain, swelling and internal bleeding with icepacks, applied for 15 minutes every couple of hours. Bandage the knee firmly and extend the wrapping down the lower leg. Elevate the injured leg.

How do you prevent and treat knee injury? ›

The following tips may help prevent common knee injuries:
  1. Warm up by walking and stretching gently before and after playing sports.
  2. Keep the leg muscles strong by using stairs, riding a stationary bicycle, or working out with weights.
  3. Avoid sudden changes in the intensity of exercise.
  4. Replace worn out shoes.

Are knee injuries treatable? ›

Depending on the cause of the injury, knee treatments might be treatable at home, or they might require extensive medical treatment. Here is what you need to know about the ten common types of knee injuries and their treatment methods. These types of injuries are very common among athletes who play contact sports.

What happens if knee injury is not treated? ›

An untreated knee injury, for example, may click, catch, or buckle repeatedly, sometimes with pain. Injuries can also heal and become re-injured later. Disability. Left untreated, injuries like partial tendon tears can become full ruptures that leave no connection between bones and muscle.

How long does knee injury take to heal? ›

A minor knee sprain may take up to 6 weeks to heal, while a severe sprain may take months. Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety.

What are 3 common knee injuries? ›

Some of the more common knee injuries include:
  • ACL injury. An ACL injury is a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — one of four ligaments that connect your shinbone to your thighbone. ...
  • Fractures. ...
  • Torn meniscus. ...
  • Knee bursitis. ...
  • Patellar tendinitis.
11 May 2021

How do I protect my knees when walking? ›

If you have sensitive knees, the following strategies can help protect your knees when walking:
  1. Start slowly and warm-up. ...
  2. Aim for at least 6,000 steps a day. ...
  3. Use the right shoes. ...
  4. Walk on softer surfaces. ...
  5. Use assistive devices.

How can I prevent knee injuries when exercising? ›

How to Protect Your Knees During Exercise
  1. Take time for a warmup. ...
  2. Apply heat. ...
  3. Be consistent with strength training. ...
  4. Choose exercise variety. ...
  5. Consider knee-friendly activities. ...
  6. Wear the right shoes. ...
  7. Don't ignore pain.

When is a knee injury serious? ›

Make an appointment with your doctor if your knee pain was caused by a particularly forceful impact or if it's accompanied by: Significant swelling. Redness. Tenderness and warmth around the joint.

Is heat good for knee pain? ›

Heat helps loosen tight muscles and joints and relieves pain and muscle spasms. If you have swelling, it's best to use ice for 24 hours, then switch to heat. If swelling isn't a problem, it's fine to use heat when you first notice knee pain.

How do you treat knee ligament pain? ›

How is a knee ligament injury treated?
  1. Pain medicine such as ibuprofen.
  2. Muscle-strengthening exercises.
  3. Protective knee brace.
  4. Ice pack to ease swelling.
  5. Surgery.

Can a knee injury heal without surgery? ›

Surprisingly, most knee injuries heal without surgery, says Dr. Steven Gausewitz, chief of staff at Hoag Orthopedic Institute, Irvine, Calif.

What is the most common knee injury? ›

ACL injuries are one of the most common types of knee injuries and account for about 40 percent of all sports-related injuries. An ACL injury can range from a small tear in the ligament to a severe injury –when the ligament completely tears or becomes separated from the bone itself.

Can knee injuries be permanent? ›

After a traumatic knee injury, it's possible to have permanent consequences. Lasting damage can occur for a few different reasons. In some cases, the severity of the injury is significant enough to cause permanent damage.

How can I walk with a knee injury? ›

Always try to walk normally – i.e. heel down first. In the early stages after injury excessive weight bearing may cause increased pain and swelling. You may be given crutches for a short time to help with this. Gradually increase your activity as the pain and swelling subside.

How long should you rest an injury? ›

But for both types of injuries, the best advice remains to rest only for 24 to 48 hours, then gradually work your way back to doing the amount of activity you were doing before your injury.

When do you need knee surgery? ›

Knee replacement surgery is usually necessary when the knee joint is worn or damaged so that your mobility is reduced and you are in pain even while resting. The most common reason for knee replacement surgery is osteoarthritis. Other health conditions that cause knee damage include: rheumatoid arthritis.

What is the most painful knee injury? ›

The quick answer is that the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is most likely to be considered the worst ligament in the knee to tear.

What causes most knee injuries? ›

The most common causes of knee pain are related to aging, injury or repeated stress on the knee. Common knee problems include sprained or strained ligaments, cartilage tears, tendonitis and arthritis.

What food is good for knees? ›

The Best Foods for Healthy Joints
  • Seeds and Nuts. Seeds and nuts are packed with healthy Omega-3 fatty acids known to fight inflammation and help reduce it in your connective tissue and joints. ...
  • Coldwater Fish. ...
  • Fruit. ...
  • Cruciferous Veggies. ...
  • Beans and Lentils. ...
  • Olive Oil. ...
  • Whole Grains. ...
  • Root Veggies and Garlic.
27 Oct 2020

Does walking strengthen knees? ›

Walking is a low-impact activity that doesn't put too much stress on your knees and can help strengthen the muscles in that area. Start slow and try to work up to a half-hour walk three to five times a week.

Should I wear a knee brace while walking? ›

You'll likely walk around to try out your brace. Follow the orthotist's or your doctor's instructions about when to wear your knee brace. Some people wear their knee braces only during continuous activity, such as walking or playing certain sports. Other people find it helpful to wear the brace most of the day.

How should I sleep with knee pain? ›

Back or Side Sleeping for Less Knee Pain

If on your back, put a pillow under your knees for support. On your side, keep your knee in a flexed position to minimize pain. Try to never sleep with your legs crossed. If you have knee pain due to injury, you should see an orthopaedic specialist.

What is the first aid for knee injury? ›

The most important aspect of first aid treatment for acute knee injuries is compression. This can reduce swelling. Use an elastic bandage and start wrapping it around the knee. Start from below the knee and finish slightly above it.

Why does my knee pain when I bend it? ›

Sharp pain in knee when bending

If your knee pain when bending is sharp, the most likely causes are a torn ligament or meniscus, fracture of one of the bones of your knee joint, osteoarthritis or patellar tendonitis.

What are 5 symptoms of a knee injury? ›

5 Knee Symptoms You Should Not Ignore
  • Clicking, locking, or popping in the knee joint.
  • Swelling.
  • Knee pain when sitting, driving, walking, sleeping, or exercising.
  • Instability or a feeling of the knee giving way.
  • Pain or stiffness which causes a decreased ability to bend or straighten the knee.

How do I know if I tore something in my knee? ›

  1. A popping sensation.
  2. Swelling or stiffness.
  3. Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee.
  4. Difficulty straightening your knee fully.
  5. Feeling as though your knee is locked in place when you try to move it.
  6. Feeling of your knee giving way.
6 Jan 2022

How do you tell if knee is sprained or torn? ›

Many people seem to come across the most common one regarding whether their Knee is a sprain or tear.
Symptoms of a Knee Sprain
  1. Swelling.
  2. Bruising.
  3. Pain around the knee area.
  4. There was a popping noise when the actual injury occurred.
  5. Your range of motion is minimal.
  6. Stiffness from the amount of pain.

How do I know if I tore a ligament in my knee? ›

What Does a Knee Ligament Injury Feel Like?
  1. Pain, often sudden and severe.
  2. A loud pop or snap during the injury.
  3. Swelling within the first 24 hours after the injury.
  4. A feeling of looseness in the joint.
  5. Inability to put weight on the joint without pain, or any weight at all.
26 Nov 2020

Should I wear a knee brace all the time? ›

If your orthopedist recommends it, you can wear your brace all day. However, improper use of a knee brace can worsen your pain or cause further damage to the knee. If you are using a brace that immobilizes your knee, the joint can weaken.

Does exercise make knee pain worse? ›

Exercise shouldn't make your existing knee pain worse overall. However, practicing new exercises can sometimes cause short term muscle pain as the body gets used to moving in new ways. This kind of pain should ease quickly and your pain should be no worse the morning after you've exercised.

Is walking good for knee pain? ›

Walking builds your muscles so they can take the pressure off your joints and handle more of the weight themselves. That means less pain for your knees.

When is a knee injury serious? ›

Make an appointment with your doctor if your knee pain was caused by a particularly forceful impact or if it's accompanied by: Significant swelling. Redness. Tenderness and warmth around the joint.

Can you still walk with a torn ligament in your knee? ›

In most cases, the injured person can still walk with the torn knee ligament. But the movement will be severely limited, not to mention painful. Surgery may be the best route to a pain-free life, with amazing success rates. If someone suspects a damaged ACL or MCL seek immediate medical attention.

Can you bend your knee with a torn ligament? ›

Unable to Bend Knee.

When you've torn your ACL you will lose a range of motion. Try bending your knee and then straightening it out. If you can't bend your knee to a 90 degree angle or straighten out your leg because of pain, stiffness and swelling, then it is likely that you've torn your ACL.

What is the most common knee injury? ›

ACL injuries are one of the most common types of knee injuries and account for about 40 percent of all sports-related injuries. An ACL injury can range from a small tear in the ligament to a severe injury –when the ligament completely tears or becomes separated from the bone itself.

When should you not ignore knee pain? ›

Sudden, severe pain in the knee. Pain that persists while walking. The knee abruptly giving out, causing you to fall and feel unstable while walking. Swelling within 24 hours after the initial injury.

Can a torn ligament heal itself? ›

While a torn ligament can heal on its own over time, it is best to seek out medical attention to ensure that the affected area heals correctly without a lot of excessive scarring.

Does ligament damage show up on xray? ›

X-rays do NOT show tendons, ligaments, nerves, cartilage or blood vessels. X-rays typically show bones and joints, and may, at times, show the absence of skin (e.g. infection).

What does a torn knee cartilage feel like? ›

stiffness. a clicking or grinding sensation. the joint locking, catching, or giving way.

What helps ligaments heal faster? ›

Balance, control, and strengthening exercises can also help your ligaments heal more quickly than they otherwise would.


1. How to Relieve Knee Arthritis Pain in 30 SECONDS
(SpineCare Decompression and Chiropractic Center)
2. Quick Fix for Knee Pain Relief – Treatment by Dr.Berg
(Dr. Eric Berg DC)
3. Managing Your Knee Pain - Strengthen for Recovery
(My Doctor - Kaiser Permanente)
4. Injury clinic | Knee cartilage tear symptoms explained
5. How to Know If You Have a Serious Knee Injury or Problem
(Bob & Brad)
6. Torn ACL Knee Ligament
(Nucleus Medical Media)

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