How do I know if my knee injury is serious?

Everything from sports injuries to overuse can damage your knees. Here Mr Rajarshi Bhattacharya, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Imperial Private Healthcare, explains how you can tell whether your knee injury is serious and what to do about it.

runner on a treadmill

“The knee joint is one of the most complex structures of the body and one of the most prone to injury. Twisting the knee or direct blows from sport, falls or accidents can all damage it. Overuse or repeated bending or kneeling can also lead to knee problems.

The knee consists of bones, cartilage (padding between bones that protect joints), tendons (tissue that connects muscle to bone) and ligaments (tissue that connects bone and stabilises the knee joint). Common knee injuries involve damage to these parts, for example, fractures, torn ligaments or tendons, damaged cartilage or dislocation of the knee cap. The main signs of a knee injury are pain and/or swelling that you can feel and see straight after an injury or a few hours or sometimes even a few days later.

Treat at home

Many knee injuries can be treated at home, especially if the swelling is not severe, you can bear weight on your knee without difficulty and you can bend and straighten your knee without too much discomfort. Resting and elevating your leg will ease the pain and swelling. You can also use an ice pack for 20 minutes every few hours, wear a knee brace to stabilise the knee and/or take simple painkillers like paracetamol.

If the pain does not improve within a few days, even with physiotherapy, you should seek the advice of an orthopaedic specialist. Signs of a more serious injury, that require specialist intervention, include being unable to bend, move or straighten your knee, or your knee locks, painfully clicks or buckles when you put weight on it.

Diagnosis

During your consultation with the specialist, you will be asked about the injury, and this will be followed by x-rays and an MRI scan to diagnose the problem. Depending on the scan results, you might be advised to try physiotherapy for a few weeks, followed by another consultation to see if there is any improvement.

In certain situations, surgery might be recommended. Different types of knee surgery include keyhole procedures to repair torn ligaments or tendons, trim or repair damaged cartilage to relieve pain or to fix broken bones back together. One of the most common knee injuries is a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which may involve surgery to reconstruct the torn ligament using a tendon graft from another part of your own body or sometimes donor tendons or artificial ligaments.

Surgical options

At Imperial Private Healthcare’s orthopaedic service, your consultant orthopaedic surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you in detail depending on your injury and symptoms. The highly-experienced surgical team can treat the full range of knee injuries affecting everyone from children to the elderly, using the most up-to-date techniques in operating theatres equipped with leading-edge equipment.

Imperial Private Healthcare is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which has a major trauma centre at St Mary’s Hospital. This means its orthopaedic surgeons are all highly experienced, often working alongside plastic and reconstructive surgeons to treat a high volume of patients, including complex trauma cases with severely damaged knee joints and ligaments as well as semi-professional and professional sports people and so-called “weekend warriors”. This experience means the skilled orthopaedic surgeons have the knowledge to avoid unnecessary surgery while also ensuring that surgery is timely and takes place when needed.

Access to world class treatments

This surgical skill is coupled with high-tech equipment including robotic-assisted surgery and sophisticated navigation systems for more planned knee surgery like joint replacements, to ensure highly accurate placement of knee implants tailored for the individual patient. Links with Imperial College mean that Imperial Private Healthcare patients have access to a world-class gait laboratory where clinicians study a patient’s gait, or walking movements, to help decide the best treatment for their injury. Surgeons are also able to apply the most up-to-date surgical techniques researched in the College’s musculoskeletal laboratory.

In summary, Imperial Private Healthcare’s knee unit combines world-leading expertise and major trauma experience with the latest equipment and orthopaedic research to provide expert care for even the most complicated knee injuries.”

For further information visit our knee pain page on our website or contact our team via imperial.private.healthcare@nhs.net