When Can I Walk Off Knee Pain — And When Should I See A Doctor?

June 7, 2022

Henry Ford Health System

Whether you wake up with a stiff knee, sustain an injury, or start feeling knee pain for seemingly no good reason, you might wonder what to do. Should you immediately rush off to the doctor? Can you just ignore it and hope it will get better? Can you treat it yourself? Knowing when you need a doctor’s intervention can be a tricky decision to make.

We see people at the start of injuries and after they’ve been ongoing,” says Nancy White, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. “While the sooner you see an expert, the better, there’s really no right or wrong to it. However, there are a few key signs that it’s a good idea to get it checked out.”

Dr. White recommends seeing a doctor if:

You are waking up with consistent knee stiffness. If there’s no history of an injury involved, it could be due to osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

If your knee pain isn’t going away.

Your knee is swollen and you can’t bear weight on it.

You can’t fully flex or extend your knee.

Your knee is warm to the touch. This could signal inflammation.

If your pain is mild — or you’re trying to decide whether to see someone — Dr. White recommends icing it on a scheduled basis. “That means two to three times a day,” she says. “Apply the ice to your knee. It will get cold. It will burn, then it will get numb. Remove the ice when it gets to the numb stage.” 

She also recommends elevating your leg and putting a compression wrap or sleeve on your knee. If the pain is bad, you can try taking ibuprofen or naproxen for a few days.

Common Causes of Knee Pain

But if your knee is not getting better, it’s a good idea to see a doctor, as common causes of knee pain include: 

► ACL sprains and tears. Short for anterior cruciate ligament, the ACL is one of four ligaments in the knee that allows it to flex and extend. The ACL can tear when your foot is firmly planted in place, and the knee locks and twists or pivots at the same time.

► MCL sprains and tears. Short for medial collateral ligament, the MCL connects your shinbone to your thighbone. It can tear when landing after a jump, or after an exterior blow to the knee (usually during contact sports). Luckily, most MCL injuries heal on their own.

► Meniscal tears. The menisci are your knee’s shock absorbers; they're two discs made of soft cartilage. Abrupt movements (like pivots, stops, turns, squats or lifts) can cause them to tear.

► Kneecap dislocation. A direct hit to the knee — or a sudden twist or pivoting of the leg — can make the kneecap can shift out of place. 

► Patellar tendonitis. This is also known as Jumper’s Knee, as it’s a common injury in basketball and volleyball players. The patellar tendon connects the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone, and can become inflamed from overuse, excessive force or repetitive stress. 

Knee bursitis. The bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac located near the knee joint. Knee bursitis occurs when the bursa becomes inflamed, often because of a knee injury or overuse from frequent kneeling. 

How to Help Prevent Knee Pain

And if you want to help prevent knee pain in the future? “Exercise regularly so that you’re strengthening your quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles,” says Dr. White. “It’s also important to stretch to increase quadricep and hamstring flexibility.”

Wearing shoes with sturdy soles and proper arch support can also help ease pain and issues you may already have, says Dr. White. “I would say the top reasons people get into trouble with their knees are things they could prevent by changing lifestyle habits. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, as being overweight can also lead to increased wear and tear on the joints.

To learn more about your orthopedic condition or to find a provider, visit henryford.com/ortho.

Dr. Nancy White is a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Novi, and Henry Ford Medical Center — Bloomfield Township.

Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear — and When to Seek Treatment

April 2, 2024

Meniscus tears are not one size fits all: Sometimes they cause no pain, other times they’re excruciating.

Henry Ford HealthOnce in a while they heal or adapt on their own, but more often than not they require physical therapy or surgery.    

“Your meniscus is a fiber elastic cartilage that acts as a shock absorber for the knee,” says Ahmad Bazzi, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. “It also helps stabilize the knee joint. But when it tears — which can occur in young athletes after a pivot injury or in older people who have arthritis — it can be painful.”

Here, Dr. Bazzi shares symptoms of a meniscus tear and when to see a doctor. 

What Does A Meniscus Tear Feel Like?

Depending upon the level of injury and type of tear, meniscus tears can either be asymptomatic or cause symptoms like:

  • Locking. When the meniscus tears, a piece of it might move into the knee joint, causing mechanical issues like stiffness and locking of the knee joint.
  • Catching or clicking. This often feels like a sudden ‘click’ in the knee joint, where it suddenly gives out while you’re walking or doing certain movements. 
  • Localized pain on the inner or outer part of the knee. In young athletes, a meniscus tear often causes an impaired range of motion and localized pain on the inner or outer part of the knee. 
  • Pain and swelling. In older people, a meniscus tear often causes swelling and an overall aching pain in the knee.  

Treatment Options For Meniscus Tears

A meniscus tear can only heal on its own if the tear is on the outer part of the knee where it has better access to blood supply. If you’re experiencing pain a few days after injury and you have limited range of motion, instability and/or swelling in the knee, Dr. Bazzi recommends seeing a doctor to get an examination and, if needed, an MRI for diagnosis. 

“It’s hard to tell what type of meniscus tear you have if you haven’t seen a doctor,” says Dr. Bazzi. “If you have a mechanically unstable tear and it goes untreated, it could lead to worsening range of motion and stiffness, or worsening arthritis. It’s important to get seen by a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and the proper treatment. It may take one to three months for a full recovery.”     

Here, Dr. Bazzi shares treatment options:


If someone is having mechanical symptoms like locking or catching, surgery may be considered right away, especially if it’s an athlete younger than 40 years old. “Meniscus tear surgery has a shorter recovery compared to other knee surgeries,” says Dr. Bazzi. “Surgery could either consist of a meniscectomy, which is partial or complete removal of the meniscus, or sometimes just a meniscus repair.”  

Hyaluronic acid or cortisone injections

Non-operative treatments are often recommended for older people who have degenerative tears due to arthritis. “This is because meniscus surgery doesn’t often relieve their pain since they have underlying arthritis, meaning they have cartilage loss in the meniscus,” says Dr. Bazzi. 

Instead, a cortisone injection, which is an anti-inflammatory medication that can be injected into the knee, can reduce inflammation, swelling and pain caused by arthritis.

A hyaluronic acid injection may also be considered, which adds cushioning in the knee. “Hyaluronic acid is one of the substances that make up our cartilage, so this injection helps us mimic the lost cartilage,” says Dr. Bazzi. “It also has anti-inflammatory properties.” 

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is another great option, especially for older people who need non-operative treatment options. It can help the knee adapt to the tear, reduce pain and encourage full range of motion. “Physical therapy for meniscus tears focuses on balance exercises and exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee,” says Dr. Bazzi. “This helps to uphold the knee joint to achieve full range of motion and strength while being pain-free.” 

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/athletes or call 313-651-1969.

Reviewed by Ahmad Bazzi, M.D., a sports medicine physician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Fairlane.