How to Diagnose Knee Pain

Three Methods:Diagnosing Acute Knee PainIdentifying Other ConditionsSeeking Medical Care

The knee is a complicated and pivotal joint. When you experience knee pain, it can affect every aspect of your life. Knee pain can be caused by numerous problems, some of which are difficult to diagnose because they present like other knee conditions. Recognizing common causes of knee pain and common conditions can help you figure out the cause of your pain. If you don’t know why your knee hurts, try to pay close attention to your symptoms so you can get the pain diagnosed and treated accurately.

Method 1
Diagnosing Acute Knee Pain

  1. Image titled Treat a Swollen Knee Step 1
    Decide if you have a fracture. Kneecap fractures are common knee problems. You can fracture your knee just by falling onto your knee hard enough. If you fracture your knee, you may need surgery. Knee fractures are generally serious and take a long time to heal.[1]
    • If you have a fractured knee, you will feel pain in the front of the knee. The front of your knee will also be swollen and bruised. You will not be able to straighten the knee or walk and put pressure on the knee.
  2. Image titled Heal from a Knee Dislocation Step 1
    Determine if you have a ligament injury. Ligaments are the tissue that surrounds the joint and connects bones to other bones. People who play sports often injure their ligaments. Torn or stretched ligaments limit the movement of the knee, making it difficult to turn or twist. Multiple ligaments are often injured together.[2]
    • A stretched ligament is considered a sprain. With a sprain, the knee may swell or bruise, and the knee hurts and is hard to use. If the ligament has torn, there might be bleeding beneath the skin. Sometimes there is no pain because the tear also tears the pain receptors.[3]
    • The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) are in the middle of the knee. The ACL is responsible for forward movement and the PCL is responsible for backward movement. The ACL is usually injured during a sudden change of direction, and PCL injuries occur during a direct impact, like an accident. Sports such as soccer, football, basketball, and skiing lead to ACL and PCL injuries.
    • The medial collateral ligament (MCL) provides stability of the inside of the knee. The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) provides stability of the outside of the knee. These are not as commonly injured as the other ligaments. These generally are injured when you get hit in the knee during sports.
  3. Image titled Heal from a Knee Dislocation Step 3
    Check for a meniscus injury. The meniscus are two pieces of cartilage in the knee that helps absorb impact from the thigh and shin. Knee cartilage injuries are one of the most common knee injuries. Though anyone can tear their cartilage, it is common among athletes. Older people tear their meniscus due to degeneration and thinning of the cartilage.[4]
    • A torn meniscus feels like a pop. You may not feel anything until a few days after the tear.
    • Immediately, or up to a few days after the tear, you may experience pain, swelling, stiffness, difficulty walking, locking of your knee, your knee being weak and not holding, and a limited range of motion.
  4. Image titled Cure a Baker's Cyst Step 7
    Identify a dislocation. A patella dislocation is when the kneecap is forced out of its normal position. You will see an obvious dislocation of the knee, where the knee looks like it is not in the correct place. The kneecap may pop back into place, though still cause problems.[5]
    • You will feel pain as soon as the patella pops out of place. Your knee will swell at the site. You also may not be able to move the knee or leg, and the area around the dislocation may be a different color.[6]
    • This knee injury is rare. It generally occurs due to major trauma, such as car crashes or a high speed injury. You may also dislocate your knee while doing certain physical activities, such as dance. Young people are at a higher risk for kneecap dislocation.

Method 2
Identifying Other Conditions

  1. Image titled Cure a Baker's Cyst Step 8
    Determine if you have a Baker’s cyst. A Baker’s cyst occurs when fluid builds up in the back of the knee. This happens when something is wrong or injured inside the joint. This cyst points to a larger underlying problem, like a torn meniscus, that needs to be found soon because the swelling can cause damage to the knee.[7]
  2. Image titled Treat Patellar Tendonitis Step 13
    Decide if you have bursitis. Bursitis is inflammation or an injury to the prepatellar bursa. Bursa help the kneecap move smoothly across other tissues without friction. If the bursa gets inflamed, the tendons may also get inflamed, which leads to pain.[8]
    • Bursitis can cause stiffness or pain in the knee. The pain may increase if you touch it or move the knee. The knee may also be swollen and red.[9]
    • Bursitis is caused by repetitive motions, like bending or stooping. You can also get it by putting pressure on the joint by kneeling for too long on a hard surface.
  3. Image titled Treat Patellar Tendonitis Step 1
    Monitor for tendinitis. Patellar tendinitis occurs when you do the same motion on your knee, like running or cycling. Patellar tendinitis is when the tendon between your kneecap and shin becomes inflamed.[10]
    • Pain is the main symptom of patellar tendinitis. The pain is located beneath your kneecap, near the place it attaches to your shin.
    • The pain may surround a workout, either as you begin or after you finish one. Eventually, the pain will make it difficult to stand or take stairs.
  4. Image titled Know if You Have Arthritis in the Knee Step 11
    Check to see if you have arthritis of the knee. Arthritis of the knee occurs when the knee joint swells. Arthritis generally occurs with age or due to a knee injury. It can make everyday tasks difficult, like standing and sitting, walking, or taking stairs. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are common symptoms of arthritis of the knee.[11]
    • Osteoarthritis occurs due to age. It can start around age 50, but may affect younger people. It occurs due to the wear and aging of the cartilage of the knee, which causes less protection for the bones as they rub against one another.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that will not only affect the knee, but joints over the entire body.
    • Post traumatic arthritis occurs after a knee injury. Sometimes this happens years after the injury. Broken bones, ligament injuries, and meniscal damage can cause this type of arthritis.

Method 3
Seeking Medical Care

  1. Image titled Heal from a Knee Dislocation Step 10
    Visit your doctor. If you are experiencing extreme knee pain, swelling, limited mobility, discoloration, or other symptoms that interfere with your daily life, you should see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if you know you have injured your knee, like in a sports contact accident or a fall. Getting the correct diagnosis can help treat your pain and heal it.[12]
    • If you don’t get the cause of the pain accurately diagnosed, you will only be treating the symptom and not the cause, so it will not heal.
  2. Image titled Reduce the Pain of Osgood Schlatters Disease Step 11
    Detail your symptoms. When you go to the doctor, you should be as specific with your symptoms as possible. Saying that you have swelling and pain refers to just about every knee problem you could have. Try to give your doctor information about any activities you were doing before the pain started and any other symptoms.[13]
    • Let your doctor know if your knee is locking or making popping noises. Tell the doctor if the kneecap was dislocated but moved back. Include any changes in color or size.
    • Tell your doctor where on your knee the pain is. The location of the pain can help them come to a diagnosis. Is it inside or outside of your knee? Is it in the center, in the front, or the back? Does it hurt just above or below the knee?
    • Tell your doctor about any sudden movements that caused knee pain, if you were doing a physical activity recently, or if you have fallen.
  3. Image titled Cure a Baker's Cyst Step 17
    Describe your pain. Another way you can help your doctor is by describing your pain. This may take some consideration on your part. Do you consider the pain constant or only when you do certain things? Is the pain a dull ache or a sharp severe pain? Try to be specific because different types of pain can help your doctor narrow the cause.[14]
    • Tell your doctor when you feel the most pain. Tell your doctor if only certain activities cause the pain, or if it starts but gets better when you move certain ways.
    • Let your doctor know if you have done the RICE method - rest, ice, compression, elevation - and how that affected the pain.

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Categories: Feet Knees and Legs | Pain Management and Recovery