Doctor? Or quit whining?
April 28, 2011 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Sudden, kind of horrible knee pain--wtf, body? Is this okay, or should I go see a doctor? If the latter, what kind of doctor should I see?

Out of nowhere, my right knee is hurting like a mofo. It started last night—I could feel it sort of throbbing as I fell asleep. It was pretty stiff this morning, and now, around noon, it's noticeably painful as I'm sitting at my desk. Walking hurts a lot. Going up or down stairs is almost unbearable, and scary because it feels like my knee will just fold up under me.

I didn't injure it or have any other kind of trauma. I wear mostly flat shoes with good arch support. I have been a regular long-distance runner with some slight IT-band and overuse problems in the past, though I've only been running sporadically lately. I'm 27, not overweight, and am reasonably sturdy/healthy. This is really out of the blue and the suddenness is freaking me out.

The pain is sort of a deep, pulsing throb at the inside of my kneecap, reaching way under it. When I walk or try to put weight on it my knee feels weak and buckle-y. Straightening my leg completely hurts in that deep, almost nauseating way.

I have sort of an odd relationship with health and medicine—we almost never went to the doctor growing up, and complaining or making a big deal of physical pain was regarded as serious and frowned-upon weakness. As a result, as an adult I have a poorly-pitched pain threshold (oh, that second-degree burn? No big deal, I'll put some aloe on it) and no idea what is reasonable to deal with at home with ibuprofen and ice and what kinds of things are okay to ask for help with (i.e., go to the doctor for). I know people regard some kinds of pain, even severe pain—back problems, for example—as stuff that can mostly be dealt with on their own; would this fall into the same category for you?

Anyway, what could this be? And if I should see a doctor, what kind of doctor should I see?
posted by peachfuzz to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Woah, I'd see a doctor just because the suddenness of it and the fact that you don't remember injuring it.

Joint pain can be the result of many conditions, some serious, some not-so-serious. It is good to get it checked out.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:38 AM on April 28, 2011

I think if walking is itself painful and you feel that your knee may go out entirely, that's a sign to get to the doctor. The very most embarrassing thing that can happen is that the doctor will tell you "oh, you totally didn't have to come in, that's all this is," least you'll know the best way to treat this.

There are some things that it's a good idea to get to the doctor the first time they happen, so a) you and the doctor both realize that "oh, okay, this is something that happens to you, we'll add that to your chart," and b) you'll now know for next time that "ah, okay, I just need ice".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Oh, and I suggest seeing a GP. It could be something non-orthopedic that requires blood testing. Either way, a GP can refer you to an appropriate specialist and give you interim pain relief.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2011

And here it says to go to the doctor if you have "severe, unexplained joint pain", I'd say yours qualifies! It also mentions some of the blood tests that might be necessary which is why I wouldn't suggest going directly to an orthopedist.

Sorry for the multiple comments!
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:43 AM on April 28, 2011

Could this pain be described as "at the back of your knee"? Sudden severe pain that involves the back of the knee can be deep vein thrombosis, which is a medical emergency but is fairly easy to diagnose at the ER by ultrasound. It does not always involve swelling or redness. Hormonal birth control apparently raises your risk.

IANAD; I imagine that pain that feels really knee-joint-centered would not be a DVT.
posted by Frowner at 10:47 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is a drug called ibuprofen which is marketted under a number of names including Motrin and Advil. It is a non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drug. It is very helpful for arthritis and problems of that sort, although you don't want to over use it since it can also potentially burn a hole in your stomach and give you an ulcer.
I believe that you may have had an attack of arthritis. If you take some ibuprofen, you may feel better. If you take it and you don't feel any better, at least you can rule out arthritis.
In very severe cases, it is possible to have an artificial knee installed, to replace a damaged knee. But I doubt that you are that bad.
posted by grizzled at 10:48 AM on April 28, 2011

Unexplained, sudden, nauseating pain = call your Dr now (Dr. may tell you to go to the Emergency Room). End of discussion.
posted by walleeguy at 10:58 AM on April 28, 2011

If you take some ibuprofen, you may feel better. If you take it and you don't feel any better, at least you can rule out arthritis.

I just want to emphasize that this is not a good metric. I have arthritis and ibuprofen doesn't touch it. Nor do prescription NSAIDs. The only things that affect my joint pain are falling-down-drunk amounts of alcohol or medium-high dose prednisone.

Arthritis also doesn't usually appear suddenly in an extremely painful way in a single joint. Osteoarthritis is degenerative, and gets worse over time. (The autoimmune variants can "flare" but the ones I'm aware of are all multi-joint - you wouldn't get it in just one knee.)

This sounds like something acute and worth seeing a doctor over. Let us know how it goes!
posted by restless_nomad at 11:19 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your story sounds very similar to an experience my brother had about five years ago. He woke up one morning with a pain in his knee that progressed during the day to the point where he couldn't put weight on that leg. He hadn't fallen or bumped it or otherwise injured it. It was his right leg and he was unable to use it to drive so I took him to the ER. They took X-Rays, ran blood tests and gave him a pair of crutches. He returned for the various follow-up appointments over the course of about three weeks...after a few days the knee did get a tab bit swollen and slightly red on one side of the kneecap and hurt to the touch. The doctors did MRIs, took fluid from the knee and I don't know what else. They kept asking him "Are you sure you didn't fall? Are you sure you didn't somehow strain it playing basketball or something?" (My brother isn't an athlete other than doing his daily 30 minutes on the treadmill.) Every test came back negative and no explanation for the pain was ever found. Brother was on crutches for about two weeks, though, and it took about a month for the pain to go completely away.

Nevertheless, I still recommend you see a doctor just to rule out anything serious. Good luck.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:23 AM on April 28, 2011

see a GP and ask for a referral to a physiotherapist, physios can do incredible things to help you heal (whether or not this is a join/bone/muscular or blood/osteo/etc kind of problem)
posted by ameliaaah at 11:37 AM on April 28, 2011

Go to a doctor, it can be anything, and since you're a runner, it can be some undiagnosed issue that flared up.
I was a runner until last october, then I had happen to me a very similar story to yours, sudden debilitating pain, inability to walk without pain, etc. My pain felt more like a stabbing pain (rather than a throbbing pain) underneath the kneecap.
Everyone assumed it was a torn menescus, but unfortunately it turned out to be severe degeneration due to osteoarthritis.
This surprised everyone because it wasn't a gradual onset of pain, but happened very suddenly, essentially overnight.
I have bone on bone arthristis in three places and a knee replacement will be happening in my near future. For the time being I am getting synthetic cartilage injections into my knee (cortizone shots did nothing at all for me, though some do find relief from them), and can still do a fairly hard workout, but running is something that even with brace is pushing it.
I lived with it for about 3 months before all the insurance and injection ordering and appts could be set up, and it got progressively more painful over that time period. Don't do this to yourself. Go to an orthopedist as soon as you can. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it will likely be something that will affect you in the future, and if it's something bad that you can prevent from happening by changing some habits now, you will want to know.
BTW, I'm slender and mildly athletic, and in my 40s (considered by most orthos as too young for this to have happened, but there you go)
posted by newpotato at 11:38 AM on April 28, 2011

It sounds kind of maybe like chondromalacia patella, aka "runner's knee" to me, but obvsly IANAD or YD. I had this last year and the sensation I felt deep under my kneecap was utterly revolting and almost not even pain. Putting any weight on it was definitely buckleworthy and deeply unpleasant.
posted by elizardbits at 11:44 AM on April 28, 2011

You need to make sure it's not DVT.
posted by barnone at 12:20 PM on April 28, 2011

Have you had a viral infection recently? If so, you might be having a bought of seronegative arthritis. Which is a fancy way of saying you need to see a doctor immediately. Good luck!
posted by nerdfish at 1:53 PM on April 28, 2011

And as for which doctor to see - I'd go straight to my GP, with the expectation that I might be sent to the emergency room/imaging centre for scans. Your GP (or the hospital) will refer you to whatever specialist you might need.
posted by nerdfish at 1:57 PM on April 28, 2011

One morning in my twenties I woke up with severe knee pain. At the time I had excellent health and crappy insurance, so I took some ibuprofen and it subsided. It would keep coming back, and I kept taking ibuprofen. Much later I learned I had gout, and if I'd gone to the physician the first time it hit, I might still be skiing and cycling. Instead: I've had multiple surgeries, had to stop most physical activities, both knees are shot, and I'm putting off double knee replacement -- the only remaining option for me -- as long as I can.

Go see a physician. Don't put it off.
posted by phliar at 2:57 PM on April 28, 2011

Get off of your leg and call your family doc. If they can't see you in the next 24 hours, go to an E.R. I can't tell you what's going on, but this is not an acceptable level of pain.
posted by puddinghead at 3:46 PM on April 28, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, peoples, for the reality check. I'll let you know if it turns out to be a thing...or not a thing!
posted by peachfuzz at 6:02 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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