Knee Pain or Injury: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Anatomy of the knee, showing thigh bone, kneecap, ligaments, and shin bone

Injuries are a common cause of knee problems. Sudden (acute) injuries may be caused by a direct blow to the knee. They can also be caused by abnormal twisting, bending, or falling on the knee. Pain, bruising, or swelling may be severe, and may start within minutes of the injury.

Overuse is another cause of knee pain. Other causes are climbing stairs, kneeling, and other activities that use the knee. Everyday wear and tear, especially as you get older, also can cause knee pain.

Rest, along with home treatment, often relieves pain and allows your knee to heal. If you have a serious knee injury, you may need tests and treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Rest and protect your knee. Take a break from any activity that may cause pain.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up a sore knee on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down for the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • If your knee is not swollen, you can put moist heat, a heating pad, or a warm cloth on your knee.
  • If your doctor recommends an elastic bandage, sleeve, or other type of support for your knee, wear it as directed.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about how much weight you can put on your leg. Use a cane, crutches, or a walker as instructed.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about activity during your healing process. If you can do mild exercise, slowly increase your activity.
  • Reach and stay at a healthy weight. Extra weight can strain the joints, especially the knees and hips, and make the pain worse. Losing even a kilogram may help.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your lung (called a pulmonary embolism). These may include:
    • Sudden chest pain.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Coughing up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe or increasing pain.
  • Your leg or foot turns cold or changes colour.
  • You cannot stand or put weight on your knee.
  • Your knee looks twisted or bent out of shape.
  • You cannot move your knee.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the knee.
    • Pus draining from a place on your knee.
    • A fever.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your knee.
  • You have any new symptoms, such as swelling.
  • You have bruises from a knee injury that last longer than 2 weeks.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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