Knee Injury

Is this your symptom?

  • Injury to a bone, muscle, joint, or ligament of the knee

Some Basics...

  • There are many ways that people can injure their knees.
  • There are also many types of knee injuries. There are bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and muscles in the knee. These can all be injured.
  • Treatment depends on the type of injury.

Types of Injuries

  • Abrasion: This is the medical term for scraped skin. This happens when an injury scrapes off the top layer of the skin. A person may say that he or she "skinned" their knee. Pain is usually mild. This can usually be treated at home. Making certain the wound is clean is the most important thing.
  • Contusion: This is the medical term for bruise. It is caused by a direct blow to the skin and muscles. The skin is not broken and there is no cut. The bruised skin may first look red, then purple, and finally orange-yellow. These skin color changes are from blood that leaked from tiny torn blood vessels in the bruised area. The skin may also be swollen. Pain is usually mild to moderate. Bruises are tender to touch. Most often this can be treated at home. A cold pack can help reduce the pain and swelling.
  • Cut - Superficial: Superficial cuts (scratches) only go part of the way through the skin and rarely become infected. A scratch is an injury to the skin made by a sharp edge. For example, scratches can be caused by fingernails, a sharp nail, a piece of metal, or a branch of a tree or bush. This can usually be treated at home. Making certain the wound is clean is the most important thing.
  • Cut - Deep: Deep cuts (lacerations) go through the skin. A laceration is caused by cutting the skin with the sharp edge of an object. Lacerations longer than ½ inch (12 mm) usually need sutures (stitches).
  • Dislocation: This is when a bone comes out of the joint. The joint always looks crooked or deformed. The pain is severe. A person with a knee dislocation will not be able to walk. This is serious and admission to the hospital is always needed. A doctor will treat this by putting the bone back into the joint socket.
  • Dislocation of Kneecap (Patella): This is when the kneecap slips off the top of the knee joint. The knee joint will look funny or deformed. A person with a patella dislocation will not be able to walk. The pain is moderate to severe. A doctor will treat this by pushing the patella bone back into the right place.
  • Fracture: This is the medical term for a broken bone. It means the same thing as a break or crack in the bone. The pain is severe. A person with a knee fracture usually cannot walk. Surgery may be needed.
  • Patellar Tendon Rupture: This is a tear of the tendon just below the knee cap. Often a person cannot lift that foot and completely straighten the knee. Surgery is often needed.
  • Quadriceps Tendon Rupture: This is a tear of the thigh muscle just above the knee cap. Often a person cannot lift that foot and completely straighten the knee. Surgery is often needed.
  • Sprain: A sprain is the medical term used when ligaments are torn or over-stretched. Ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect bones to each other. This is the same thing as a "twisted knee". Knee sprains are very common. They happen most often while playing sports. Pain and swelling can range from mild to severe. Most knee sprains heal themselves with time and rest. Crutches and a knee brace are usually needed.
  • Strain: A strain is the medical term used when muscles are torn or over-stretched. A more common term for this is a "pulled muscle". These are common injuries from falling, heavy lifting, and sports. Strains may heal themselves with time and rest. Surgery is rarely needed for a muscle strain.

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

When to Call for Knee Injury

Call 911 Now

  • Major bleeding (nonstop bleeding or spurting)
  • Knee looks crooked or deformed (like a dislocated joint or bad fracture)
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Severe pain
  • Severe swelling
  • Skin is split open or gaping and may need stitches
  • You think you have a serious injury
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • A snap or pop was heard at the time of injury
  • Large swelling or bruise at the site of the injury (wider than 2 inches, 5 cm)
  • Limping when walking
  • Over 60 years old and pain lasts more than 24 hours
  • Have osteoporosis and pain lasts more than 24 hours
  • Take steroid medicine and pain lasts more than 24 hours
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Last tetanus shot was over 10 years ago, for CLEAN cut or scrape
  • Last tetanus shot was over 5 years ago, for DIRTY cut or scrape
  • Pain from injury keeps you from working or going to school
  • Pain from injury is not better after 3 days
  • Injury is still painful or swollen after 2 weeks
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Minor bruise
  • Minor strained (pulled) muscle or sprained (stretched) ligament

Care Advice for Minor Bruise, Sprain, or Strain

  1. What You Should Know:
    • There are many ways that people can injure their knees.
    • There are also many types of knee injuries. There are bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and muscles in the knee. These can all be injured.
    • You can treat a minor bruise, sprain, or strain at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Treatment of Bruise (direct blow to knee area):
    • Cold Pack: For pain or swelling, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the sore area for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed.
    • Heat Pack:
      • If pain lasts over 2 days, apply heat to the sore area. Use a heat pack, heating pad or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
      • For widespread stiffness, take a hot bath or hot shower instead. Move the sore knee under the warm water.
    • Rest the injured knee as much as possible for 48 hours.
  3. Treatment of Sprains and Strains of Knee:
    • FIRST AID: Wrap with a snug elastic bandage. Put an ice pack on the knee to reduce bleeding, swelling, and pain. Wrap the ice pack in a moist towel.
    • Treat with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E.). Do this for the first 24 to 48 hours.
      • REST the injured leg for 24 hours. You can then return to normal activity if it is not too painful.
      • Keep using ICE packs for 10-20 minutes every hour for the first 4 hours. Then use ice for 10-20 minutes 4 times a day for the first 2 days.
      • Apply COMPRESSION by wrapping the injured part with a snug, elastic bandage for 48 hours. If you feel numbness, tingling, or more pain, the bandage may be too tight. Loosen the bandage wrap.
      • Keep injured leg ELEVATED and at rest for 24 hours. Put your leg up on a pillow. Stay off your feet as much as you can.
  4. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  5. What to Expect: Pain and swelling most often start to get better 2 to 3 days after an injury. Swelling is most often gone in 7 days. Pain may take 2 weeks to go away.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pain becomes severe
    • Pain is not better after 3 days
    • Pain or swelling lasts more than 2 weeks
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 12/14/2017 1:32:39 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:11 PM

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First Aid - Bleeding Leg
  • Apply direct pressure to the entire wound with a sterile gauze dressing or a clean cloth.
First Aid - R.I.C.E.

RICE is an acronym for how to take care of a sprain, strain, or bruise. There are four things you should do:

  • REST the injured part of your body for 24 hours. Can return to normal activity after 24 hours of rest if the activity does not cause severe pain.
  • Apply a cold pack or an ICE bag (wrapped in a moist towel) to the area for 20 minutes. Repeat in 1 hour, then every 4 hours while awake.
  • Apply COMPRESSION by wrapping the injured part with a snug, elastic bandage for 48 hours. If numbness, tingling, or increased pain occurs in the injured part, the bandage may be too tight. Loosen the bandage wrap.
  • Keep the injured part of the body ELEVATED and at rest for 24 hours. For example, for an injured ankle, place that leg up on a pillow and stay off the feet as much as possible.
First Aid - Cold Pack for Minor Leg Injury
  • Apply a cold pack or an ice bag (wrapped in a moist towel) to the area for 20 minutes. Repeat in 1 hour, then every 4 hours while awake.

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