ow..my knees!
May 5, 2011 1:04 AM   Subscribe

I know you are not my doctor, but maybe you can tell me if I should see a doctor for some knee things.

I have no insurance as I'm between teaching gigs, but I will have insurance in about 2 months. Here's the deal:

I hurt my left knee about 5 years ago, it got twisted, made a loud popping sound, swelled up, I went to the ER, ended up in a soft cast for 3 months. Now it sortof always makes a "crunchy creaky rubber-band-y" sound to varying degrees. It's usually ok, but sometimes if I "push it" (bouldering) it'll get weak, wobbly, or give out...and then it hurts and is sore (and I can't do some kinds of sex) for a while til it's better.

I've never hurt the other one, but recently my right knee has started making a "popping your knuckles" sort of sound, literally every time I do motions like going up or down stairs, up or down a steep hill, but not while walking. If I put my weight on only the right leg, it makes really gross crackling sounds and doesn't hurt. I didn't do anything to it...one day I was walking in a somewhat hilly area, but walking and the popping started.

What's going on? Is this normal "you're 27 now" stuff? Should I go to a doctor? If so, is it immediately go, or stop climbing and go after a few months when I'm insured? Are there exercises I can do to strengthen my knees (for sex, climbing, etc)?

I'm 27, a girl, and not overweight. I did just gain about 15 pounds over 5 months to reach the "normal" weight for my height. It's possible I wear heels too much, but was in sneakers when the popping started.
posted by nile_red to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Best answer: Mild knee pain is normal for many active people as they get older.

On the other hand, this does not sound normal for a 27 year old, and you almost certainly need to see a doctor. But as long as you're mobile and not in significant pain, that can probably wait two months.

(My not a doctor guess is that you damaged a tendon or ligament, that it's never quite healed properly, you've now got some rubbing going on between bones (or between bones and cartilage) inside your left knee, and you're favoring your left knee resulting in extra strain on your right.)

In the meantime, rest both knees as much as possible (try to avoid climbing, hillwalking, heels, and stairs). If either knee is in pain, apply ice and elevate. Also start to document exactly what causes pain and noise and where it's coming from. Little things like whether it hurts more when you're going up or down stairs, whether it hurts more if you're sitting down or getting up from sitting down, whether the pain feels like it's under your kneecap or on the outside of your knee, and so on can make for much faster and less expensive diagnosis.

Finally, yes, recovery from most types of knee injury involves exercise. You are going to want to work your knees back to full strength before you start going for those overhead heel holds. If you've got something serious, you'll probably need a physio to set you up with a set of exercises. If it's common and minor, you're GP should be able to sort you out.
posted by Ahab at 1:37 AM on May 5, 2011

what are you're other joints like, have a look at this, is there a family history of hypermobility?
posted by Wilder at 3:36 AM on May 5, 2011

aargh YOUR
posted by Wilder at 3:37 AM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: My other joints are fine (except sometimes my feet ache terribly), there are people in my family with arthritis (Mom, paternal grandmother) and people without (Dad, maternal grandmother).
posted by nile_red at 3:43 AM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: no hypermobility (or any other cool stupid human tricks that kids do in elementary, boo)
posted by nile_red at 3:43 AM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: OH, I forget about it, but my kneecaps are...I don't know, it freaks people out, but they can move around? Not on their own, but I could push them all over my knee if I wanted...I haven't in ages.
posted by nile_red at 3:46 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Based on my own experience, if you possibly can, don't stress your knees and wait until your insurance kicks in. I had a sudden onset of knee issues in the winter, and my insurance didn't kick in until Jan 1. I debated about just paying for a surgery out of pocked (we assumed it was a torn menescuc). It's a good thing I didn't as I need a very very expensive knee replacement. Even with insurance I'm in the hole about 3k for my co-pay share so far. Had I not waited, and had my knee issue diagnosed before my insurance started, it would have been a pre-existing condition and any insurance coverage would not have started until 18 months afterward.
It truly sucks that the system is set up like this, as it can make a bad condition worse while waiting to see a doctor, but it's what we have to live with apparently.
posted by newpotato at 4:31 AM on May 5, 2011

Did they try a drawer test to see if you'd popped any ligaments? I would see a doctor once you have insurance; knee injury is strongly associated with later osteoarthritis.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:53 AM on May 5, 2011

If you can't afford a doctor, go see a physical therapist. They will be able to help you with rehab anyway. They will probably be a little cheaper, but are trained to deal with stuff like this, whereas a primary care physician will most likely refer you to someone else anyway.
posted by TheBones at 5:55 AM on May 5, 2011

I would probably try to take it as easy as possible and go see a doctor as soon as the insurance kicks in. Even if you are feeling better then.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:58 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My knee makes these kind of sounds. (started in my mid late twenties). My doctor was able to diagnose it by " listening" to my knee. No expensive MRI or xray required. I have what's known as open patella. Treatment is strengthening the knee with exercise or physical therapy. Ymmv. I think it's worth seeing at least a primary care doc.
posted by bananafish at 7:17 AM on May 5, 2011

FWIW, the root cause of the problem might not actually be in your knee at all. It could be weakness in your hips causing you to rely unduly on your knees/quads.

My knees have made crunching and scraping sounds for as long as I can remember - by itself it is nothing my doctors or physical therapists have ever cared about.
posted by janell at 7:30 AM on May 5, 2011

Best answer: I have the occasional knee crunch where it starts popping for no particular reason that I can identify. Mostly I get a dull pain that disappears in a few days (like this morning!).

IANAD, but a quick humble opinion for going to a doctor:
- If it starts hurting like hell or the pain brings you to tears it's time to go to a doctor immediately, price be damned.
- If it's recurring and messing up your life to where you need it to go away over the next two months, go to a clinic, low-cost urgent care or physical therapist. Call ahead and see what you can work out seeing you have no insurance. A lot of urgent cares do a flat rate for a visit for the uninsured (my urgent care does a flat rate at $90).
- If it goes away in a week or isn't bothering you too much, wait until you have insurance, then go see the orthopedic doctor.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:18 AM on May 5, 2011

I've had repeated knee surgeries and get loud pops all the time. My physical therapist told me it was just scar tissue, and nothing to worry about.

I wouldn't worry about it (unless there was pain), but I'd still get checked out by a specialist after the insurance kicks in. Knees are important, and small problems can become larger ones in old age.

The specialist will probably:

a) do an xray and find nothing, because xrays are fairly useless for knee problems, then...
b) do an (expensive!) MRI.

The MRI might show something (but even with my excellent insurance, it costs $300 out-of-pocket, so beware).
posted by coolguymichael at 11:10 AM on May 5, 2011

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