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Understanding the different types of knee injuries

Knee injury care at Benenden Hospital

Knee injuries can cause pain, and discomfort, and limit your ability to participate in your daily activities or sports. Whether you have a sport-related injury, have injured your knee at work or it's been damaged due to an accident, we’ve put together a guide so you can understand the different types of knee injuries and how our diagnostic tests and treatments can help you on your road to recovery.

What are the common types of knee injuries?

Tendon injury

Patellar tendonitis: This is an overuse injury that occurs when the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to the shinbone, becomes inflamed. A tendon tear often causes some pain and swelling and you may also find you can’t lift your knee or that your kneecap has shifted either slightly higher or lower.

Cartilage injury

Meniscus tear: The meniscus is a piece of cartilage that cushions the knee joint. If you twist your knee, you’re likely to tear your meniscus cartilage.

A torn meniscus can result from any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, such as pivoting or sudden change of direction. This is especially common if you’re a regular sports player or your job involves carrying heavy objects or repeated squatting, bending or crouching, such as in floor or carpet laying and the construction industry.

Ligament injuries

What is the difference between ACL, MCL, and PCL injuries?

The ACL, MCL and PCL are all ligaments of your knee. Knee ligament injuries can be caused by trauma such as a car accident, playing sport or by repetitive bending and muscle strain while doing your job.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament

The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is located near the front of your knee joint and joins your thigh bone to the front of your shin bone, helping to stabilise your knee during certain movements. ACL injuries most commonly occur during sports that involve sudden stops, changes in direction or jumping and landing — such as basketball, football and skiing. Symptoms may include knee pain, swelling, instability, and difficulty moving the knee joint.

Medial Collateral Ligament

The MCL (medial collateral ligament) is located on the inner side of your knee joint and helps to provide stability to your knee during sideways movements. MCL injuries usually occur as a result of a direct blow to the outer side of the knee. If you play rugby, hockey or tennis, wherein you move sideways or come into contact with other players, you’re more likely to suffer from an MCL injury. Symptoms may include pain and swelling on the inner side of your knee joint, as well as difficulty bending the knee.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament

The PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) is located inside the knee just behind the ACL. Being the largest ligament in your knee, your PCL helps to prevent your knee from bending too far backwards. PCL injuries are less common than ACL and MCL injuries and usually occur as a result of a powerful blow to the front of the knee from impact sports such as rugby and serious road traffic accidents. Symptoms of PCL injuries may include pain, swelling, and difficulty walking or standing.

Post-traumatic arthritis

What is osteoarthritis?

If you’ve suffered from a sports injury such as an ACL tear, car accident, fall or an injury at work, you may be more at risk of developing osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis is classed as post-traumatic and can develop months or even years after a joint injury. A knee injury which damages your cartilage, tendons, ligaments or bone results in one or all of those components wearing out faster than normal.

Most people who develop osteoarthritis are over the age of 50, so if you are younger and have experienced past physical trauma to your knee joint, you may be developing post-traumatic osteoarthritis. The most common signs of osteoarthritis are swelling, joint pain, fluid build-up, and difficulty walking.

Understanding rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the synovial membrane that lines the joints, causing inflammation and damage to the joint tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint in the body, and it tends to be symmetrical, meaning that it affects the same joint on both sides of the body. In the knee joint, rheumatoid arthritis can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and warmth around the joint. People with rheumatoid arthritis may also experience fatigue, fever, and weight loss.

Sport-related knee injuries

Sudden knee pain is common in contact sports, particularly those that involve twisting. It's usually caused by a sprain, strain or tendonitis.

Runner’s knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

This injury is caused by overuse of your knee by walking or running, or it can be caused by a structural defect. Runner’s knee is felt as a dull pain around the front of your knee or a rubbing or grinding sensation, sometimes accompanied by a clicking sound from your kneecap. The best way to recover from runner’s knee is to rest and not run until the pain is gone, giving your kneecap time to heal.

Jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis)

Also known as patellar tendonitis, jumper’s knee is an inflammation of your patellar tendon, which connects your kneecap (patella) to your shin bone (tibia). Jumper’s knee is a sports related injury caused by overuse of your knee joint, so you may be more susceptible if you do athletics, gymnastics, basketball or any sport which requires you to jump on hard surfaces. Jumper’s knee weakens your tendon, which may become inflamed and, if untreated, can lead to tears in the tendon.

How is a knee injury diagnosed?

If you have been suffering from any ongoing pain, swelling or inflammation of your knee joint, you should book an appointment with a healthcare professional. A physical examination will involve the following:

  • Inspecting your knee for swelling, pain, tenderness, warmth and visible bruising
  • Checking to see how far, in different directions, you can move your lower leg
  • Pushing on, or pulling, the joint to assess the strength and integrity of your knee structures

For access to our range of private tests, scans and examinations, you’ll need a referral from a healthcare professional. This could be your own GP, through our Private GP service or from a Consultant, Physiotherapist or Osteopath. At Benenden Hospital, we offer patients a range of tests and scans in our modern Imaging suite, so you can receive a fast diagnosis.

  • X-ray: Your doctor may first recommend having an X-ray, which can help detect bone fractures and degenerative joint disease
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: These scans can help to diagnose bone problems and subtle fractures, as well as gout
  • Ultrasound: This technology uses sound waves to produce real-time images of the soft tissue structures within and around your knee. Your doctor may want to move your knee into different positions during the ultrasound to check for specific problems
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test is particularly useful in revealing injuries to soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, cartilage and muscles. An MRI uses radio waves and a powerful magnet to create 3D images of the inside of your knee

Take advantage of 0% finance on selected diagnostic tests between £350- £999. Our payment plans, offered through our trusted partner, Chrysalis, mean you can fit your repayments into your monthly budget rather than having to find the full cost at the time of your treatment.

What are the treatment options for a knee injury?


Your GP may recommend physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles around your knee and make it more stable. Our expert team of Physiotherapists will create a treatment plan so you can recover and return to your daily activities and any sport you participate in.

Any exercises will depend on what type of knee injury you have and at what stage of recovery you’re at. However, our Physiotherapists have put together a general guide to exercises that may be helpful.

Range-of-motion exercises

Heel slides, leg lifts and ankle pumps can all help to improve the flexibility of your knee joint

Strengthening exercises

Lunges, leg presses, hamstring curls and squats can build your glutes which support your legs and generally help to build strength in the muscles around your knee joint. Other activities, such as swimming and cycling, can also support strengthening of the knee.

Balance and stability exercises

To prevent future knee injuries, improving your balance and stability is important. This can be achieved by single-leg stands, side-to-side jumps, and stability ball exercises

Low-impact cardiovascular exercise

While you’re recovering from your injury, you can keep up your cardio fitness without putting too much stress on your knee joint by walking, cycling, and swimming

Cortisone steroid injections

In some cases, your doctor may suggest injecting medications or other substances directly into your joint. Cortisone steroid treatment involves injecting a steroid (cortisone) directly into the joint in order to reduce inflammation and relieve pain in a joint caused by injury or arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis) and allow you to move the affected joint much more comfortably and easily.

The treatment can relieve pain symptoms for several months

Knee surgery

After receiving a diagnosis for your knee injury, your healthcare professional may refer you to one of our Orthopaedic Consultants if you require surgery, often a last resort. We offer the following knee operations:

Ligament reconstruction

Ligament reconstruction may be required following an injury to your knee joint which has caused a ligament to rupture. This surgery reconstructs your damaged ligament, and perhaps the joint that it connects

Arthroscopic surgery

An arthroscopy is a form of laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery, most commonly performed on the knee or hip. Arthroscopy is recommended if you suffer from joint pain, stiffness, swelling, sometimes for diagnostic purposes, but can also be used to remove pieces of loose cartilage or bone, to repair damaged cartilage, or to drain excess fluid from a joint

Partial knee replacement surgery

If you’re struggling with pain as a result of osteoarthritis or a knee injury, you may need a partial knee replacement. During a partial knee replacement procedure, the damaged compartment will be replaced with a prosthesis, leaving behind the healthy bone and cartilage

Total knee replacement

More invasive than a partial knee replacement, total knee replacement replaces your entire damaged knee joint with an artificial joint. A knee replacement operation (arthroplasty) is usually only recommended after non-surgical knee treatments such as pain relief, therapy and muscle strengthening have been tried first

How can you prevent knee injuries?

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stretch before you exercise and add weight training to your exercise regime
  • Don’t overtrain
  • Wear the correct gear at work – heavy duty shoes and a knee pad
  • Familiarise yourself with manual handling techniques – ensure your loads are manageable and increase the number of people lifting loads
  • Pay attention to your posture when standing and walking
  • And whatever you’re doing, take regular breaks

How long does it take to recover from a knee injury?

The recovery time from a knee injury depends on the type and severity of your injury and what your general health and fitness is like. Minor knee injuries, such as strains and sprains, can often heal within a few weeks with proper rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) therapy, as well as physiotherapy and stretching exercises to regain strength and mobility.

More severe injuries, such as ligament tears, meniscus tears or fractures may require surgery and therefore have a longer recovery period. It is important to work closely with your GP, Consultant or Physiotherapist to develop a personalised treatment plan and to monitor progress throughout the recovery process.

They can help provide guidance on proper exercises, activity levels, and other factors that can affect recovery time. Overall, the average recovery time from a knee injury can range from up to one month for more minor injuries up to one year for more major knee injuries.

Return to what you love by accessing our private treatments

If you’ve been struggling with knee pain or discomfort as a result of playing sports or during the course of your job, we can help.

Get fast access to a face-to-face private GP or Physiotherapy appointment via our online booking system. Find out more about our self-pay tests and scans by completing our online enquiry form or by contacting our Private Patient team via Livechat or on 01580 363 158.

Published on 29 March 2023