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Knee pain

Diagnosis of knee pain

Knee pain is often diagnosed during a physical exam, during which your doctor will test your range of motion and check your joint for any signs of abnormality or injury.

Depending on the source of your knee pain, a Dignity Health doctor may also order one or more of the following tests:

  • Arthroscopy. A minimally invasive procedure allows your doctor to see inside your knee joint. You may also have treatment, such as arthroscopic knee surgery, to correct your knee condition.
  • Imaging tests. These may include a CT scan, X-ray, MRI, and a bone scan. You may need to have more than one imaging test throughout your treatment.
  • Joint aspiration. For this test, your doctor will take a sample of fluid from your knee and analyze it.


Knee pain is commonly treated with physical therapy, knee exercises you can do at home, medication, and knee surgery.

Many sources of knee pain can be effectively treated with over the counter pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. “RICE” therapy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is also often helpful in reducing pain and swelling following a mild knee injury.

Some injuries may require taking some time off from sports and other activities to recover, or need physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around your knee.

In rare cases, such as for torn ligaments or advanced deterioration from arthritis, knee pain will need surgery to treat, such as to repair an injury or even replace the joint.


Most knee pain cases resolve on their own with at-home therapy, with symptoms like pain and swelling diminishing within a few weeks.

The recovery time varies based on the cause of injury, which structures in the knee are affected, and the severity of the damage.

If your doctor recommends physical therapy, you may need to take a couple of months to make sure the muscles are strengthened, and you are safe to return to sports or other activities without further risk to your knee.

When you should get emergency care for knee pain

Knee pain is rarely a sign of a life-threatening condition. However, in rare cases, conditions such as deep vein thrombosis — a blood clot that can travel up your leg to your lung — require immediate emergency care.

You should call 911 immediately if you have these symptoms:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing

In addition, some knee injuries should be treated quickly to avoid causing pain or further damage. Please see urgent (same day) care if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Abrupt, severe pain, or deformity (in your thigh, knee, or lower leg)
  • A popping sound heard at the moment of a knee injury (this could be a torn meniscus)
  • Inability to put weight on your leg or walk
  • Signs of infection in addition to knee pain such as a fever, heat, and severe swelling around your knee

Dignity Health provides complete care for knee pain as part of our orthopedic services.

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