When you love to be active, a nagging knee injury can really put a damper on your plans. Knee discomfort and injuries are common, but they don’t need to be chronic. If your knee injury isn’t healing, it may be a sign you need rest or treatment—so don’t ignore it. Here’s everything you need to know about recovering from a knee injury.
Common Knee Injuries
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the knee is a complex joint, making it one of the most easily injured joints in the body. Common knee injuries can range from minor ligament sprains to severe tears, which typically require surgery, says Matt Bayes, M.D., sports medicine and regenerative orthopedic specialist at Bluetail Medical Group in Chesterfield, Missouri. “A flare of pain in an osteoarthritic knee refers to when a patient with knee arthritis has a severe flare of pain and/or swelling after an athletic activity without injury. This usually happens because the knee is no longer able to withstand the activity,” he notes.
Mistakes Runners Make That Can Cause Knee Injuries
For runners, avoiding knee injury is an important consideration while training. “The most common reason for knee injuries in runners is increasing the distance too quickly,” warns Brian Schulz, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. “Generally, it is recommended to increase distance 10 percent or less per week.”
Other tactics you can use to avoid injury:
- Choose the right shoes, and know when to replace them. “Avid runners will be prone to knee pain if they wear incorrect running shoes, such as a shoe designed for a low arch worn by someone with a high arch, or if they fail to replace their running shoes in the correct time interval, typically at 200 to 300 miles depending on body type and shoe type,” Bayes says.
- Stretch properly. Tight muscles are at risk for strain and can put extra force on the knees and other joints.
- Get adequate rest. Take at least one to two days off from running per week to avoid overuse.
- Stay well-hydrated. “Dehydration by even 5 percent has been shown to increase injury risk,” Schulz says.
Possible Reasons Your Knee Injury Isn’t Healing
A knee injury that isn’t healing should be evaluated by a doctor right away. There are a few potential reasons you may find yourself in this situation.
You misjudged its severity.
When you first hurt your knee, maybe you didn’t think it was so bad and kept on keeping on. “Failing to rest from exercise when there is severe pain often causes an injury to progress from mild to severe,” Bayes says. “Simple rest alone will heal many knee injuries.”
Listen to your body, and never push through knee pain, Schulz adds.
You didn’t give it enough time.
“Mild soft-tissue injuries typically need at least two weeks to heal sufficiently to tolerate high-level activity,” Bayes says. “Returning too soon from a knee injury may exacerbate pain and tissue damage.”
You didn’t follow the proper steps.
If your knee injury isn’t healing, ask yourself if you took the proper steps for recovery. (Those are coming up next.)
How You Should Heal a Knee Injury
If you do find yourself with a hurt knee, here’s what you should do:
- Look for signs of severe injury. If there’s swelling or you can’t walk on the leg, see a sports medicine or orthopedic doctor for treatment.
- Practice RICE. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation are usually recommended to help promote healing and flexibility in a knee injury.
- Take an OTC pain reliever. “A low-dose anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help treat pain and swelling in a patient that has no allergy or contraindication to its use,” Bayes says. Schulz says he commonly tells patients to take vitamin D to help promote healing. Ask your doctor if OTC meds and supplements are right for you.
- Consider physical therapy. A professional PT can help you get on the mend using stretches, exercises, and other methods.
What if you’ve tried and tried but still feel like your knee injury isn’t healing? “Injuries that fail to recover with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) and time may be more serious,” Schulz says. “Seek a medical evaluation if an injury persists.”