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Knee injuries

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Your knees provide support for your body and allow your legs to bend and straighten.
  • Knee injuries can include damage to ligaments, tendons, cartilage or bone.
  • If you have a lot of pain or cannot walk because of a knee injury, see a doctor.
  • If your knee injury is not serious use rest, ice, compression and elevation.

How do knees work?

The knee is the largest joint in your body. Your knees are complex joints which need to take your full weight. They allow your legs to bend and straighten.

There are 3 bones that meet at your knee:

  1. the end of the femur (thigh bone)
  2. the top of the tibia (shin bone)
  3. the patella (kneecap)

The end of each of these bones is covered with cartilage which lets the parts move smoothly.

Between your femur and tibia there is a thicker cushion of cartilage called the meniscus.

Your knee also has 4 ligaments joining the bones as well as tendons which join bones to muscles in your leg.

Anatomy of the knee.

What is a knee injury?

You might have a knee injury if there is damage to the bones, ligaments, cartilage or tendons.

Common knee injuries include:

Less common injuries to the knee include:

What causes knee injuries?

Knees are easily injured because they take your full body weight. Knees come under stress when you run and jump. Knee injuries are particularly common when your knee is twisted whilst weight bearing.

It is common to injure your knee when playing sports such as:

You may have a chronic knee injury due to:

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor if:

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How are knee injuries diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine you and ask about your symptoms. You will need to describe what happened at the time of the injury including:

Your doctor may order an x-ray, CT or MRI scan. These imaging tests are not always needed for knee injuries.

Talking about what happened and a physical examination by the doctor can be enough to diagnose the injury.

If there is a lot of swelling, some tests will not be able to be done until a few days after the injury.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist doctor for treatment.

How are knee injuries treated?

Often knee injuries will get better using PEACE & LOVE:

You can visit a physiotherapist for advice on knee injuries.

Don't use heat or massage to treat your injured knee. Avoid vigorous exercise while your knee is healing.

How are more serious knee injuries treated?

If you have a serious knee injury, you may need physiotherapy and a guided rehabilitation program.

Different treatments may be required for more serious knee injuries:

Are there any complications of knee injuries?

Go back to your doctor if:

Resources and Support

You can use healthdirect's Service Finder to find a physiotherapist

Read our article about knee pain.

Musculoskeletal Australia can help with information about other causes of knee pain such as osteoarthritis.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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