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Knee Pain Overview

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When to Go to the Hospital for Knee Pain

If you cannot put weight on your knee, feel sick, or have a fever or if your knee is red and hot, you should consider going to the ER to be evaluated by a doctor because of the possibility of a fracture or infection.

  • Many fractures may require immobilization in a specific position or surgery.
  • Infections need immediate attention. They can be managed but require prompt care.
  • Putting off seeing a doctor may hinder healing.

Other signs and symptoms that demand emergency evaluation:

  • Unbearable pain
  • Pain that does not improve with rest
  • Pain that wakes you
  • Drainage
  • Large wounds
  • Puncture wounds
  • Swelling, if you are on a blood thinner (warfarin or Coumadin) or have a bleeding disorder (such as hemophilia)

Getting a Knee Pain Diagnosis

History: Even in today's world of technology, doctors rely on a detailed history and physical exam more than any single test.

The doctor will typically want to know the exact nature of the pain.

  • Where in the knee is your pain?
  • What does the pain feel like?
  • How long has the pain been present?
  • Has it happened before?
  • Describe any injuries to the knee.
  • What makes it better or worse?
  • Does the knee pain wake you up at night?
  • Does the knee feel unstable?
  • Have you been limping?

The doctor will also want to know a bit about you.

  • Do you have any major medical problems?
  • How active is your lifestyle?
  • What are the names of the medications you are taking?

The doctor will want to know about any related symptoms.

  • Do you still have normal sensation in your foot and lower leg?
  • Have you been having fevers?

Physical exam

  • The doctor will likely have you disrobe to completely expose the knee. If possible, wear shorts to your appointment.
  • The doctor will then inspect the knee and press around the knee to see exactly where it is tender.
  • In addition, the doctor may perform a number of maneuvers to stress the ligaments, tendons, and menisci of the knee and evaluate the integrity of each of these.
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