The knee is a large, complicated joint. In fact, it is the largest joint in the body and withstands a lot of pressure because it supports the weight of the body. The knee joint has the ability to flex, rotate, bend and extend.
The structure of the knee causes it to be susceptible to injuries that can even cause it to give out. When someone says their knee has “given out,” they are referring to instability of knee joint – a feeling that your knee buckles or doesn’t function as it should.
When a knee gives way, it is most often as the result of a soft tissue injury such as a tear or strain of the ligaments that help to keep the joint stable and secure.
Anatomy of the Knee
Understanding the relevance of the different parts of the knee will provide insight into how to protect it, and what to do if and when your knee gives out.
The three bones that form the knee joint are the thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella). Within the knee joint, there are three separate compartments: the inside (medial), outside (lateral), and front of the knee just behind the kneecap (patellofemoral) compartments. Within each compartment are ligaments, bone, cartilage, and synovial fluid.
Ligaments in the knee allow side-to-side, forward, and backward movement; they also keep the knee from moving in the wrong direction.
When a blow to the outside of the knee occurs, it can tear ligaments that control the motion of the knee. Injury to the collateral ligaments, which control the sideways motion of your knee, can significantly impact knee joint stability, causing your knee to give out. In this case, swelling also often occurs, and medical treatment should be administered immediately.
Other knee ligament injuries can also result in knee instability and the sensation that the knee is giving way such as tears or sprains of the:
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which runs along the center of the knee and controls rotation and forward movement of the shinbone
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), which is also located at the middle of the knee, but controls backward movement of the shinbone
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL) provides stability to the inside of the knee
If any of these ligaments are compromised it can cause pain and discomfort and can make the knee “give way.”
Knee Instability? See Your Orthopedist
Speak with your orthopedic specialist regarding knee instability.
He or she will assess the situation and advise what your next steps for medical care should be. Depending on the extent of a soft tissue injury like a ligament tear, treatment can include conservative as well as surgical options.
For example, resting the knee and applying cold packs can help alleviate pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatories may also be recommended. A knee brace can provide support and protect the knee from further injury. In the case of a severe ligament injury such as a complete tear, surgery may become necessary. Note, however, that there are minimally invasive options to knee surgery than can speed recovery and lessen your post-op pain and scarring.
After your knee instability has been successfully treated, physical therapy is often prescribed. You will be guided through exercises that can help strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee to further support it and help prevent re-injury to the area.
Dr. James M. Talkington is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who will expertly evaluate and treat your knee injury, while addressing any orthopedic concerns you may have. Call the Florida Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics office today to request an appointment. Our number is (850) 763-0346.