- Your knee may suddenly hurt and become swollen after a fall or wrong movement. You can walk, but it is painful.
- Try to keep moving normally. It helps the healing process to keep moving.
- If your symptoms don’t clear up, visit your GP after a week.
Your knee will be less swollen then. This way your doctor can examine your knee better.
- Most knee problems clear up on their own in a few weeks or months.
- Are you unable to straighten your knee or stand on your leg? Then call your GP immediately.
- Dutch healthcare practices in general may differ from what you are used to in your home country. Learn more.
A painful knee after a fall or wrong movement
You may have a painful knee after a fall or wrong movement. For example:
- if you fall and land on your knee
- if you jump and twist at the same time
- if you run and make a misstep
- if you run and fall
- if you run and suddenly try to stop
- if you walk and quickly change direction
- if you trip
- if you stumble
- if you make a sliding tackle
- if you kick a ball and twist the leg you’re standing on
- if you are hit or kicked in the leg
These movements are more likely to occur while playing sports, such as hockey, football and skiing.
What will I notice when I have a painful knee?
You may notice one or more of these things if you have hurt your knee:
- Sometimes you feel or hear something snap during a fall or wrong movement.
- The knee hurts immediately.
- The knee gets swollen, sometimes with bruising (turns blue).
- You can still walk, but it is painful.
- You feel like your knee is going to collapse.
- You usually can’t keep doing what you were doing, such as playing a sport.
How will the doctor examine my knee?
If your knee is very swollen, the doctor cannot examine it properly. Every movement hurts. This makes it hard to determine what's wrong with your knee.
You should therefore make an appointment with your GP about 5 to 7 days after the fall or wrong movement. Your knee will not be so swollen then. Your doctor can then examine your knee by feeling and moving it.
An X-ray of the knee is only necessary if the doctor thinks you have broken a bone.
An MRI scan is not necessary:
- The treatment of knee problems does not depend on what can be seen on a scan.
The advice during the first weeks is always: use your knee more and more and let it heal on its own.
Sometimes, after a scan, people will receive treatments that aren’t necessary. These treatments could have disadvantages and cost a lot of money.
- A scan will not help your injury heal any faster either.
What could happen to my knee after a fall or wrong movement?
The knee has many parts. All of these can be painful if you fall.
- Most people have a sprained or strained knee after a fall.
- Sometimes the ligaments are stretched or torn.
- The cartilage in the knee (meniscus) is sometimes damaged. This sometimes causes the knee to ‘lock’: you can no longer straighten your knee.
- Very occasionally, the kneecap (patella) is dislocated. The kneecap may then look like a thick lump on the outside of your knee.
- If the knee is hit very hard, the kneecap or the lower leg can break. This can happen during an accident, for example.
Advice for a painful knee after a fall or wrong movement
- You can cool your knee immediately after the fall or wrong movement.
This can be done with an ice pack or with ice cubes in a plastic bag.
Wrap the ice in a tea towel. This way your skin won’t freeze.
Cooling can help reduce the pain. It is not clear whether cooling also helps the knee heal faster.
- If the knee is not so painful or swollen any more, try to keep moving normally. It helps the healing process to keep moving.
- If you have a lot of pain, it is better to rest your knee for a few days. You are still allowed to walk short distances. Using crutches can help. These can be rented from the ‘home care shop’ (Thuiszorgwinkel), If you sit or lie down, put your leg up, on a chair or on the sofa, for example.
- It is better not to place a pillow under your knee. This makes the knee heal a little less quickly. Spending too long with your knee on a pillow can make it harder to straighten it.
- If it feels comfortable for you, you can cool the knee from time to time. But you don’t have to.
- There are advantages and disadvantages to wearing a knee support (knee bandage). It can reduce the pain a little and provide support. But it is not clear whether it helps the knee heal faster or slower. Another disadvantage is sweating under the knee support. You also have to pay for a knee support yourself.
If you want to wear a knee support, don’t use it for more than 4 weeks.
- The knee is usually less swollen after 5 to 7 days. You can then walk more.
- Make an appointment with your GP if your knee remains swollen and very painful.
Have you hurt your knee at work, or are you unable to work due to your painful knee? Then contact your company doctor.
Medication for a painful knee
If you have a lot of pain, you can take painkillers (in Dutch), such as paracetamol (acetaminophen). You can take up to 1000 mg 4 times a day.
If that doesn’t help enough, you can try a different painkiller (in Dutch), such as ibuprofen or diclofenac (an NSAID) (in Dutch). These are available in gel or tablet form.
You can rub the gel on your knee. This works just as well as NSAID tablets, but has far fewer side effects.
Are you over 60 years old? Do you have a chronic illness? Or are you already taking medication? Ask your doctor or pharmacy if you can use an NSAID.
What happens next if you have a painful knee?
Usually the knee heals on its own. You can often do everything again after a few months.
Physiotherapy is usually not necessary. It is not known whether physiotherapy really helps.
You might still have a lot of problems with your knee after 4 or 5 weeks, at work or while playing sports. You can then try physiotherapy to see if it helps. The therapy then helps to prevent you from making incorrect movements due to your knee problems.
When to call for a painful knee
Call your GP or out-of-hours service (huisartsenpost) immediately if you have any of these symptoms:
- You can’t stand on your leg at all.
- Your knee is ‘locked’, you can no longer bend or straighten your knee.
- Your knee gets very swollen and bruised (turns blue) in the 2 hours after the fall or accident.
- Your kneecap is (or was) dislocated.
More information about knee problems
This information is based on:
- the GP’s guideline on Traumatic knee injuries (Traumatische knieklachten).