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Knee injuries

Diagnosis of knee injuries

Your doctor will take a complete medical history and conduct a physical exam of your knee. He or she will look for swelling, pain, bruising, and warmth, and may also test how far you can move your lower leg in different directions, including pushing or pulling.

Next, your doctor may order some imaging tests:

  • X-rays show bone fractures or degenerative joint disease
  • Ultrasound produces images of the soft tissues in your knee
  • CT scans create more detailed pictures to find subtle fractures
  • MRI uses radio waves and a powerful magnet to view soft tissues like ligaments, tendons, and cartilage

Your doctor may additionally order blood tests to rule out underlying conditions or infection.


Treatment and prevention options depend on the severity of the knee injury. Minor injuries may respond to rest, ice, heat, compression, and elevation. Anti-inflammatory medicines can relieve minor pain and swelling.

Your doctor may still be able to treat the knee injury with nonsurgical methods. These include bracing, physical therapy, and joint injections to reduce inflammation and help with healing. However, many knee injuries eventually require knee surgery to restore function fully. Knee exercises can strengthen your knee and the surrounding muscles to help prevent future problems.


When you are preparing to see your doctor, it is essential to write down a list of symptoms and pain, and any questions you have. Some questions to keep in mind include:

  • When did your symptoms first start?
  • Did you have an injury?
  • How severe are your symptoms, and does anything make them better or worse?
  • Do your symptoms ever go away?
  • Have you taken any medications?


Recovery will largely depend on the type of injury that you have. With mild knee injuries, you will be able to make a full recovery with rest and strengthening. If you do need to have surgery, your recovery time will be much longer. It can take several months up to a year to fully recover from ACL surgery.

When you should see a doctor

For mild or moderate knee pain, you may be able to manage it at home with reduced activity, rest, and ice.

You should, however, call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • You are unable to extend your knee fully
  • You have a fever in addition to pain, swelling, and redness
  • Severe pain associated with an injury
  • You cannot bear weight or feel as though it will give out if you do put pressure on it

Dignity Health provides expert care for a variety of orthopedic conditions, including knee injuries.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.