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Knee Symptoms

zUnderstanding symptoms

Causes of knee pain | Understanding symptoms | Nonsurgical treatments | Surgical options | Knee prevention

What is covered in the understanding symptoms section?

What do symptoms mean? Can you self diagnose your knee problem? How can you decide if you need to see a doctor for your knee pain? Here is some helpful information.

Why do I have knee pain?

If you have knee pain, rest assured you are far from alone. Each year 6 million Americans seek medical help for painful knees. This translates into 2.5 percent of the U.S. population sitting in doctors’ offices for relief of knee pain. Even more self-diagnose and treat themselves with pills and home remedies.

The knee is a complex mechanism, which absorbs shock as we jump, and is extremely flexible, permitting change in direction while running at high speeds. It is made of ligaments, which provide support, and muscles for strength. It is a well- lubricated mechanism, which functions reliably unless unduly twisted, bruised, or broken. When this happens problems occur.

The knee is the most commonly injured joint treated by orthopedic surgeons representing 26% of orthopedic business, followed by spine and hip injuries.

Are knee fractures common?

Often knee pain is the result of an accident, such as a fall or a car crash. Fractures are common. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), over a lifetime, each American will suffer two fractures. Many of which will occur at the knee. However, trauma represents a relatively small percentage of knee problems.

The vast majority of knee problems result from repetitive trauma. The frequent wear and tear causes cartilage or joint surfaces to become slowly damaged over time, such as chronic arthritis of the knee joint. This leads to pain and reduces the flexibility of the knee. Over half of all knee pain may be tied in some way to arthritis.

Why can’t the knees stand up to these demands? Any mechanical device can and will fail if placed under undo strain.

Indicators of a serious problem

  • The pain is very intense
  • The pain comes on very strong and suddenly
  • You hear a pop from your knee area

Misleading symptoms


If you hear grinding in your knee as you flex and extend the leg, you may think you have a knee problem, but in some cases that grinding sound may be normal, especially if there is not associated pain or discomfort. Noises, when accompanied by pain, should always be taken seriously.

You should have a knee specialist check them out to be sure you are not doing further damage to the knee joint. A loud "pop" for example that comes from an abrupt physical movement, during basketball or tennis, can signal a torn anterior cruciate ligament. There may also be a feeling of instability or nausea. A torn ACL is very serious and needs the attention of a knee specialist promptly.

* Pain:

Some serious problems are not even painful at first. Generally speaking, the immediate onset of pain is a sign that something serious is wrong and you need to see a knee expert. But also be aware that sometimes serious problems can develop that DO NOT produce excruciating pain.

*Note:The more of these symptoms you exhibit and the more intense they are, the worse the problem could be.


I hurt my knee in an accident. What do I do now?

Sometimes knee pain is the result of an accident, such as a fall down stairs or the knee being banged into a dashboard during a car accident. But this is in a relatively small percentage of cases. The vast majority of knee problems develop not from a single accident or fall, but rather over a period of years. In these cases, the knee becomes like a creaky or unstable hinge that doesn’t get better, either because components in the knee are weak or unstable, or the lubricating pads and bone surface have been damaged over time.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that of all the bum knees that come limping into doctors’ offices every year, only 20 percent will need surgery. Of those that don’t need surgery, most will get better with time. Anti-inflammatories and specialized exercises that increase range of motion, flexibility, strength, and resistance to future knee strain are usually prescribed. Sometimes knee braces are also used. That’s positive news to focus on.

Aside from car accidents, slips, and falls, knees are injured merely from hauling us around all day long. Although we want to stay active, Americans are eating more. The U.S. Government now estimates that 56 percent of Americans are now classified as overweight. This extra weight puts an extra load on aging knees.

How does the knee work?

Why can’t the knee withstand all these extra demands? With undue strain, any mechanical device will fail over time. The knee is a complex hinge designed by Mother Nature. It includes an ingenious mechanism that absorbs shock as we jump from heights, twists when we are running at high speed and change direction, and jacks up heavy loads like a hydraulic lift. Around this hinge are tendons, ligaments, and muscles which provide lateral support and strength.

This wonderful knee mechanism comes with a lifetime supply of hinge lubricant, just so long as the hinge isn’t banged, twisted, bruised, or broken. When that happens, serious problems begin.

Arthritis, a form of natural rust, can also cause knee pain. Arthritis is a nasty disease—often inherited and usually associated with aging—which erodes the natural flexibility of a joint. As mentioned, half of knee pain can be tied in some way to arthritis.

I have pain in my hip. What is wrong?

Hip pain can be caused by osteoarthritis, fractures, dislocations, rheumatoid arthritis, aseptic bone necrosis, and avascular necrosis. Treatment options can vary from rehabilitation to total hip replacement surgery. A total hip surgery consists of removing the damaged area and replacing that area with a prosthesis that acts like a joint. The prosthesis allows for smooth and frictionless motion.

Will I need to have Total Hip Replacement surgery?

A candidate of total hip surgery is someone that has intense pain and difficulty performing everyday activities such as walking or standing. Doctors will usually exhaust all non-invasive procedures before electing surgery for the patient. Total hip replacement has become a common procedure among the aging population. Most patients will enjoy relief from pain and improved function following the surgery and rehabilitation. In the United States, the average joint replacement patient is around 60-70 years old. However, all different ages have received hip implants due to certain health and trauma issues. The life of the prosthesis depends on factors like a patient’s physical condition and activity level, body weight and the surgical technique.

How a doctor diagnoses knee problems

When a patient visits a knee specialist to help diagnose a knee problem, there are three parts to the examination; the medical history, the physical examination, and diagnostic imaging.

During the medical history, the knee surgeon will try to find out if you have developed your problem through heredity, through lifestyle habits or through a sudden sports injury. This will give the physician the best idea of how to find out exactly what is wrong, and then suggest proper treatment of the injury. You should indicate to your doctor if you have been using steroids since they can cause joint inflammation. Lyme Disease from the deer tick and rheumatoid arthritis can also trigger joint inflammation, for instance.

Following the medical history, your doctor will give a physical examination to see if he can hear or feel what is wrong. This portion of the exam is somewhat like a carpenter trying to find out why a hinge on a door is squeaking or is not properly aligned by opening and closing the door a few times to listen to what is going on. This will show the doctor which tests he or she should perform to find out the cause of your pain.

Next, the physician may have an MRI or x-ray image taken of your knee. An x-ray often times does not provide the clarity needed to see precisely what is wrong. In these instances, an MRI or CT-Scan is used. X-rays, for example, only show bones. MRI and CT-scans show soft tissues.