I am an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. I see about 30 patients everyday with knee problems and do over 200 knee surgeries every year. Most people with knee pain do not need surgery. If your knee is hurting and not getting better, you need to see a knee specialist.
What are the signs of a knee problem? The most common sign is pain. If you are young and twisted your knee with pain on the sides of the knee, a likely diagnosis is a tear of the meniscus cartilage. This is best diagnosed on physical exam by an orthopedic specialist and can be confirmed with an MRI. If there is a small tear in the meniscus it can heal, but a large tear will require arthroscopic surgery. Those of us who do a lot of these surgeries can typically do it in less than 15 minutes and you can walk immediately after the surgery. It is a quick and easy surgery, but if you can avoid the surgery avoid it.
If you twisted your knee and heard a “pop,” it is likely that you tore your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This is a very important stabilizer of the knee and if you play any pivoting sports you will need it reconstructed. Unlike a meniscus surgery, ACL surgery means recovery of at least 6 months before you can return to sports.
Swelling of your knee can be caused from either an acute injury or due to a chronic problem. Living in Westchester, if your knee swells without a direct injury test for Lyme disease. If diagnosed early, treatment with antibiotics will prevent long-term complications of Lyme disease which can include arthritis and brain/nerve issues.
If your knee swells and it is red, hot and painful make sure it is not an infection. This is an emergency. If you suspect an infection, go immediately to your orthopedist’s office or go to the emergency room. You cannot wait and ignore this. The consequences of not dealing with an infection early can be life altering.
Knee pain from arthritis usually presents as chronic pain that is getting worse over weeks to months. Pain is usually in the front of the knee and worse going up and down stairs or after sitting for too long. Also, arthritis usually feels worse in the morning when you first get out of bed and at the end of the day when your leg has fatigued.
If your knee hurts or swells, ice and Motrin may be helpful. However, if your symptoms persist or you worry about an infection get it evaluated and diagnosed by a medical doctor who will help get you back to normal activities.
By Dr. Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA
Director of Orthopedic Surgery
Westchester Sport & Spine of White Plains Hospital