How do you know if you need to see an orthopedic doctor or get an MRI on your knee after an injury? Below, we’ll interview several healthy individuals that had knee injuries to paint a good picture for when you need a knee doctor, knee MRI, or even knee surgery.
Should I see a knee doctor for my knee injury?
Every knee injury is different; however, there are three telltale signs of a more serious injury that could potentially require a medical intervention to regain full health.
- Swelling after the injury
- A sensation or feeling of looseness or instability in the knee
- The knee displaces (buckles) after the initial injury
All three of those symptoms are usually indicative of more severe strains or knee damage. It doesn’t mean that they require surgical intervention, but it could mean that the injury may not be able to heal properly on its own. Thus…
If you possess any of those 3 qualities, you should see a knee doctor.
Read about how these three injuries feel in these articles:
What type of knee doctor should I see?
You’ll want to see an orthopedic doctor for any kind of knee injury.
There are a lot of them out there. Try to find a recommendation or find one with strong patient reviews.
You can always go to your primary care physician for a recommendation, but it usually isn’t necessary and probably not worth a doctors visit.
What can an orthopedic doctor tell me without an MRI?
Unfortunately, without an MRI, an orthopedic doctor visit isn’t going to provide much more clarity surrounding the nature of your injury.
Orthopedic practices will often require patients to get an X-ray prior to being examined. This is usually a pretty big waste of time. X-rays can’t reveal any soft tissue or ligament damage; which is the vast, vast majority of knee injuries. It can only really tell you about fractures or broken bones.
As for the doctor’s exam, they will usually perform a series of field tests on the knee to check the laxity of it in different points.
The doctor will compare it to the other knee and will be able to tell if they feel different. If so, he may be able to hypothesize the nature of the injury based on your symptoms and the field test.
Unfortunately, if he detects any major injury, he will have to consult an MRI.
I’ve personally had brilliant orthopedic doctors be wrong on their field test diagnosis on 3 separate occasions.
2 times I was told I had a tear when I didn’t and 1 time I was told that my knee was healthy when I had torn my ACL.
It is just really hard to tell without real evidence.
Do I need a knee MRI?
Most knee injuries are not severe and will not require surgery.
This is the primary reason for an MRI, to determine if surgical intervention is necessary.
Many knee injuries heal on their own. If you don’t possess any of those 3 qualities listed at the start of this article, you may not need an MRI.
If you do have swelling, instability, and prolonged displacement and an orthopedic doctor suspects a severe injury, it makes sense to get an MRI on your knee.
Supplements that help with inflammation can minimize the length of swelling and help you determine if you need to see a doctor even faster.
Many people get MRI’s a means of providing “peace of mind” as well; however, MRIs are not fairly expensive — depending on your healthcare provider.
If you are on the fence about an MRI, you may want to ask yourself— and your doctor — two questions:
- Will my potential injury require surgery?
- If so, would I be willing to do surgery?
If the answer to either is, no. Then, you are likely wasting money on an MRI.
What kinds of knee injuries require surgery?
There are too many potential surgical interventions in the knee to list all of them.
However, I will list a few common injuries that require surgery:
- Complete ACL tear
- Grade 3 MCL, PCL, or LCL tear
- Severe Meniscus tear on the outside horn of the knee
- Patellar tendon rupture
Those are the big ones. In most cases, these injuries are extremely apparent.
For example, a complete ACL tear usually means lots of swelling after the injury, some displacement issues, and a chronic feeling of instability and looseness.
A complete MCL tear (or grade 3 sprain) usually results n a near inability to stand up on the injured leg.
In most cases, more mild symptoms are indicative of partial tears or strains that won’t require surgery.
Should I get knee surgery?
If your injury requires surgery to heal completely, probably.
You will likely have many restrictions in life without opting for surgery on a severely compromised knee.
There are some exceptions. For example, I don’t have an ACL in my left knee and still compete in intense athletic activity every day.
If I don’t see a doctor, what can I do to heal faster?
If you believe that you are like the majority of people with knee injuries and have a self-healing injury, you may not need to see a doctor or get an MRI.
To recover from the injury faster, you will want to minimize any stress to the injured limb (extra workouts etc. should be avoided).
Rest, ice, and elevation will take away swelling quickly. NSAIDs can also provide some temporary help with inflammation (although long-term use is not recommended). We reccomend natural supplements that are reccomended by orthopedic doctors.
What is the best form of natural knee rehab?
Stretching (that doesn’t cause pain) and foam rolling can soften up surrounding tissue and reduce the stress on injured areas. This is called myofacial release and has some good science behind it.
These are the tools that work best for these modalities.
Are knee braces recommended?
Sometimes a knee brace can provide a sense of stability and comfort when dealing with a new injury. Long-term a brace could lead to imbalances or weaknesses in the knee.
Often, it is best to leverage a knee brace after a fresh injury when returnign to activity. Then, shedding the brace after the injury begins to heal in an effort to begin earning back confidence in the knee’s health.
These Baurfiend braces are far and away some of the best available for any knee injury. They don’t slip, provide actual stability, and don’t limit mobility.
Questions about knee injuries?
I’ve had over a dozen knee injuries. leave your comments below and I’ll chime in with my answers.
Tyler is an award-winning entrepreneur, former athlete, and founder of several successful online publications about sports, health, and well-being. Tyler has both a storied career in business and as an author/writer — contributing to publications like Forbes, The Harvard Business Review, The New York Post, and many more. A former competitive athlete, Tyler is now the founder of InjuryHealthBlog.com.