What can cause knee stiffness and pain in less than a week without any distinct injury? And when is this an emergency?
January 21, 2012 4:20 PM   Subscribe

What can cause knee stiffness and pain in less than a week without any distinct injury? And when is this an emergency?

I've checked out reputable medical information sites but don't seem to have a clear answer as it pertains to my particular situation. Over the past week I've been experiencing knee pain and knee stiffness, however I really don't recall any sort of moment where I hurt my knee. If anything I've been really sedentary lately, with just one dance class a week. My left knee hurt mildly on Tuesday, and became increasingly stiff throughout the week. I was able to bend it slowly with mild pain, but today it is very stiff and it's stiff to the point that I can't bend it.... or rather, I hit a point of resistance very quickly and it feels like I shouldn't try to go any further. Home care regimen has been Tylenol and tiger balm, and I spent an evening with an ice pack and then an evening with heat... I felt better after the ice, so I think I will go back to that. It doesn't hurt when I'm just laying around, and only barely twinges when it's bearing weight. Stiffness/pain seems somewhat focused on the inner side of the leg.

I realize you're not my doctor, but since I am wholly unfamiliar with knee injuries I'd appreciate your ideas on this, and if it sounds like an emergency situation versus wait til Monday/a week/til it annoys you/etc.

Thanks in advance.
posted by NikitaNikita to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The variety of possible causes is too great to guess with any kind of responsibility. Your age, weight, activity level, prior injuries and individual postural situation all factor in. In women even your cycle can affect what's going on with your knee musculature.

All joints in the body exist in a fine balance of mobility and stability. Increases and decreases of either quality in one joint can manifest pain in another, and often the knees are the first place the posture dysfunction makes its presence felt. The actual root of the dysfunction could be located anywhere from your ankle to your spine (this is why when you do see a doctor about it, you should not be satisfied if they only look at your knee; some would put you through any number of godawful drug regimens and surgery sooner than consider the possibility of some obvious misalignment referring pain from your hip or ankle).

Get a basic checkup done and seek an appointment with a specialist. Until then don't risk injury by putting your knee under any undue stress.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:01 PM on January 21, 2012

It could be anything. To me it sounds like a torn meniscus, but that's because that's what the most common knee injury is.
If you can, switch to advil because Tylenol is not an anti-inflammatory (aleve works as well). You want to reduce inflammation to try to reduce potential further damage, and I would say continue with the ice packs for the same reason. BUT, you should have it looked at as soon as possible. Even if the advil makes the pain go away, you don't want to do further damage and create for yourself a whole ball of problems that could have been avoided. Stay off of it as much as possible, and get thee to the ortho.
If it is a meniscus tear, you may be able to fix it just via physical therapy if it's not too bad. If an arthroscopy is needed, it's not that huge of an ordeal, but will still require some downtime for recovery.
Or it could be a pulled muscle. Or something misaligned.
You need to have it professionally diagnosed.
My knee issue came on just as rapidly and seemingly out of nowhere as yours. My friend who is a PT looked at it and thought it was a meniscus tear, and the ortho thought it was a meniscus tear until she got back the MRI. I have severe degenerative osteo and no cartilage in most of my left knee. I waited three agonizing months to discover that I needed a knee replacement.
I still do, but modern technology being amazing I get a series of injections into my knee instead, and almost good as new-can still dance to 6 am when required- just no more running 5k's for me.
Trust me, you'll want to get it looked at.
posted by newpotato at 5:14 PM on January 21, 2012

Sorry- to answer your question more precisely-When I wrote as soon as possible I didn't mean urgent care or emergency room, I meant as soon as you can get an appointment at your doc or orthopedist
posted by newpotato at 5:21 PM on January 21, 2012

New Potato right. I had symptoms but went to bad doctor, who after cortizone and xray
put me on physical therapy...pain still there. Went to another orthopedic guy and got MRI--torn meniscus...wearing brace and will take some months but now pain subsiding and I avoid over working legs...that, says doc, should do it...if not, then surgery...but healing slow because I am over 80. MRI showed it and the doc said Xrays often do not show it.
posted by Postroad at 7:51 PM on January 21, 2012

Lack of vitamin D.
posted by cda at 7:13 AM on January 22, 2012

posted by pianomover at 8:13 AM on January 22, 2012

I had a similar situation. I can't tell you what you have, but my pain/stiffness was definitely related to being sedentary and weak muscles (specifically the hip abductor). It's called Illiotibial band syndrome and you should probably stay off of it as much as possible. I had physical therapy and that solved it completely.

It's probably not an emergency unless you can't put any weight on it without severe pain. Otherwise, make an appointment with your regular doctor or an orthopedist. He or she will probably do an X ray and then send you home with a prescription for painkillers and physical therapy.

Good luck, you'll be okay.

P.S. Tiger balm, Ben Gay, etc doesn't "do" anything except stimulate the nerve endings in your skin so you feel that and not the pain. It won't hurt you but I hope you know it's not healing anything.
posted by desjardins at 8:41 AM on January 22, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all. The pain/stiffness is coming and going, but I'm dealing. Icing and Advil is definitely helping it; I made an ortho appointment and they can get me in next Wednesday.
posted by NikitaNikita at 9:16 AM on January 24, 2012

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