During the physical exam, your doctor might press on your knee to feel for injury, looseness or fluid in the joint from bleeding. He or she may move your knee, leg or foot in different directions and ask you to stand and walk. Your doctor will compare your injured leg with the healthy one to look for any sagging or abnormal movement in the knee or shinbone.
In some cases, your doctor may suggest one or more of the following imaging tests:
- X-ray. While an X-ray can't detect ligament damage, it can reveal bone fractures. People with posterior cruciate ligament injuries sometimes have breaks in which a small chunk of bone, attached to the ligament, pulls away from the main bone (avulsion fracture).
- MRI scan. This painless procedure uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create computer images of the soft tissues of your body. An MRI scan can clearly show a posterior cruciate ligament tear and determine if other knee ligaments or cartilage also are injured.
- Arthroscopy. If it's unclear how extensive your knee injury is, your doctor might use a surgical technique called arthroscopy to look inside your knee joint. A tiny video camera is inserted into your knee joint through a small incision. The doctor views images of the inside of the joint on a computer monitor or TV screen.
Treatment depends on the extent of your injury and whether it just happened or if you've had it for a while. In most cases, surgery isn't required.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will help make your knee stronger and improve its function and stability. You may also need a knee brace or crutches during your rehabilitation.
If your injury is severe — especially if it's combined with other torn knee ligaments, cartilage damage or a broken bone — you might need surgery to reconstruct the ligament. Surgery might also be considered if you have persistent episodes of knee instability despite appropriate rehabilitation.
This surgery usually can be performed arthroscopically by inserting a fiber-optic camera and long, slender surgical tools through several small incisions around the knee.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Employing R.I.C.E. — rest, ice, compression and elevation — can help speed recovery of mild to moderate joint injuries.
- Rest. Stay off your injured knee and protect it from further damage. You might need crutches.
- Ice. Apply ice packs to your knee for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days.
- Compression. Wrap an elastic bandage around your knee.
- Elevation. Lie down and place a pillow under your knee to help reduce swelling.
Preparing for your appointment
If your knee injury is severe, you might need emergency medical care. Otherwise, you're likely to consult your primary care doctor. He or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in knee injuries or sports medicine.
What you can do
You might want to write a list that includes:
- Detailed descriptions of your symptoms
- Information about medical problems you've had in the past, including previous knee injuries
- Information about your parents' or siblings' medical histories
- The medications and dietary supplements you take
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor might ask you questions, including:
- How and when did you injure your knee?
- What, if anything, seems to relieve your pain?
- What, if anything, seems to worsen your pain?