During the physical exam, your doctor is likely to:
- Inspect your knee for swelling, pain, tenderness, warmth and visible bruising
- Check to see how far you can move your lower leg in different directions
- Push on or pull the joint to evaluate the integrity of the structures in your knee
In some cases, your doctor might suggest tests such as:
- X-ray. Your doctor may first recommend having an X-ray, which can help detect bone fractures and degenerative joint disease.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan. CT scanners combine X-rays taken from many different angles, to create cross-sectional images of the inside of your body. CT scans can help diagnose bone problems and detect loose bodies.
- Ultrasound. This technology uses sound waves to produce real-time images of the soft tissue structures within and around your knee, and how they are working. Your doctor may want to maneuver your knee into different positions during the ultrasound, to check for specific problems.
- Magnetic resonance imaging. MRI uses radio waves and a powerful magnet to create 3-D images of the inside of your knee. This test is particularly useful in revealing injuries to soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, cartilage and muscles.
If your doctor suspects an infection, gout or pseudogout, you’re likely to have blood tests and sometimes arthrocentesis, a procedure in which a small amount of fluid is removed from within your knee joint with a needle and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Again, treatment for knee pain depends on your specific injury. Mild to moderate injuries that cause knee pain will often resolve on their own, given time. To speed the healing, you can:
- Rest your knee. Give your knee a rest for a few days and avoid intense activity.
- Ice your knee to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 15-20 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days or until the pain is gone.
- Compress your knee. Use an elastic bandage, straps or sleeves to keep down swelling or add support.
- Elevate your knee with a pillow under your heel when you’re sitting or lying down to reduce swelling.
- Take anti-inflammatory medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can have side effects and should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
- Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.
To resolve some cases of knee pain, you may need a procedure. People with bursitis sometimes need to have excess fluid drawn from the knee. Injections can be given to settle down inflammation for arthritis. Surgery might be needed to reconstruct ligaments or address unstable cartilage injuries.