Severe knee pain and an obvious joint deformity leave no doubt that you need immediate attention from a specialist. But it’s challenging to decide what to do or when to seek orthopedic care for many other knee problems.

One thing is certain: Your knees carry so much weight and sustain such repetitive movement that a small injury can quickly turn into a major knee problem, leading to a long rehabilitation.

For this reason, it’s essential to pay attention to your symptoms and follow their lead when deciding if you need medical care from the knee specialists at ROC. Here, our team put together a list of symptoms that serve as a warning for you to seek medical attention.

Level of pain

Pain is always a red flag that you shouldn’t ignore. See us for an evaluation if your pain:

  • Is severe
  • Gets worse
  • Doesn’t improve in a few days
  • Persists when resting
  • Wakes you from sleep
  • Interferes with your usual activities

Pushing through the pain isn’t a good choice when you may have an underlying knee injury that will get worse without treatment.

Pain caused by an injury

You should always have a specialist evaluate pain that occurs after a known injury — whether a direct impact, twisted knee, or fall — to determine the extent of any joint damage.

Pain with swelling, redness, and bruising

Knee pain accompanied by swelling, redness, bruising, or tenderness to the touch are classic signs of an injury that needs speedy medical care, such as a ligament tear, severe sprain, or fracture.

Swelling often occurs immediately when you have a serious injury, but it can take 24 hours for swelling to appear if you have a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Loss of movement or inability to bear weight

Anytime your knee pain or limited range of motion (inability to fully flex or extend your knee) stop you from using your knee or putting weight on that leg, it’s time to see an orthopedic specialist.

Sudden pain while active

Knee pain that suddenly appears while you’re running, jumping, or engaged in any athletic activity signals an injury that needs an orthopedic specialist. Hearing or feeling a pop during an activity is another sign of an injury like a torn ligament.

Recurring pain during an activity

Your knee may feel fine most of the time, but then pain develops when you engage in an activity like running. You may have an overuse injury that has progressed and can’t tolerate the extra stress of the activity that (most likely) caused the injury.

Overuse injuries require prompt care to prevent minor tears and inflammation from turning into a full-blown tendon, muscle, or ligament rupture.

Knee instability

If the knee joint loses stability, it may feel like your knee is wobbly or that it could collapse or give out when walking. Joint instability usually signals a ligament problem that needs immediate care. If you keep using your knee, the ligament gets weaker and you can end up with chronic knee instability.

When you can postpone medical care

You can manage mild knee pain at home when it’s caused by a minor injury or from increasing the intensity or length of your athletic activities. However, if you follow the RICE protocol — resting, icing, using a compression bandage, and elevating your leg — for several days and the pain doesn’t improve, it’s time to schedule an examination.

You also don’t need immediate care for knee pain that comes on slowly and isn’t associated with an accident. If your pain keeps getting worse and joint stiffness develops, you may have arthritis. Early treatment for arthritis can slow down the ongoing joint damage, so don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment.

Call ROC if you have any questions about when to seek help for your knee pain. Our team can quickly evaluate your symptoms and determine if you need immediate or next-day care.