The knee pain resulting from a fall may indicate an acute, as opposed to a chronic, knee injury. The location of your knee pain may help your doctor determine the nature and severity of your injury. Your doctor must accurately diagnose your injury before she can begin treatment. While you should never self-diagnose, understanding your knee pain may help you provide your doctor with a clear overview of the injury.
The knee is primarily a hinge joint, whose primary functions include bending and straightening, or flexion and extension. The knee joint is also capable of lateral and rotational movements. Falling may cause an exaggeration of any of these movements, which can result in tears or fractures. Physicians often ask questions about the type of fall you experienced. Your body position when falling, the knee's appearance, and the type of pain you are experiencing provides clues to the type of injury incurred.
Your knees have four ligaments, which connect your thigh bone to your lower leg bones, the Mayo Clinic explains. Ligament injuries in a fall are characterized by immediate pain that intensifies when you walk or bend your knee, a popping sound, a feeling that the knee may buckle, and an inability to bear weight. A fall can also affect the meniscus, C-shaped cartilage behind the knee. Meniscus tears are characterized by pain, swelling that occurs between 24 and 26 hours after the injury and an inability to extend your knee joint.
The specialists at the Family Doctor website elaborate on the symptoms associated with post-fall knee pain. A deformed and swollen knee may indicate a fracture or internal ligament tear. Pain that intensifies after climbing stairs or after long hours of sitting might indicate torn cartilage or ligaments. Sharp pain in the back of the knee may be the symptom of a torn hamstring.
Treatment must be specific to the pain and the injury. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication for torn cartilage, and rest, ice, compression and elevation for a torn hamstring. Tears of the medial collateral knee ligament require rest, but rarely surgery. Injuries to the anterior cruciate usually need surgical repair. Use rest, ice compression and elevation during the pre-surgical period. Physical therapists at the Vail Valley (Colorado) Medical Center advise that you place the pillow used for elevation under the foot, not under the knee. Placing the pillow under the knee keeps the leg in a perpetually flexed position, which may delay the ability to extend your leg.
Numerous scenarios make you more susceptible to falling. Bursitis, a chronic knee injury, is often associated with overuse. The resulting swelling may alter your movement patterns, making injury-causing falls inevitable. Balance skills, which decrease with age, increase the possibility of a fall, and leg muscle imbalances may cause knee instability. Faulty sport-specific movement patterns also increase the likelihood of a knee injury. The Vermont Ski Safety organization, for example, identified potentially dangerous situations, which include skiing with the arms behind the body and attempting to stand up while still moving after a fall. Preventing injury-producing falls involves avoiding overuse, performing balance exercises, correcting leg muscle imbalances and participating in sport-specific athletic coaching.
Knee pain after falling may indicate a serious injury, and should never be ignored. Simply applying a brace and continuing your regular athletic activities will not make the pain go away. Consult a physician as soon as possible.