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When to worry about knee pain

Matt Salzler, MD is an orthopedic surgeon.There are two types of injuries that cause knee pain: acute traumatic injuries and chronic overuse injuries. Learn the difference between the two, when to seek medical treatment and how you can prevent future knee injuries from Chief of Division of Sports Medicine, Matthew Salzler, MD

Causes of acute injuries

Acute injuries tend to occur from high-speed twisting and turning events of the knee, pivoting motions or deep bends/loads. However, a direct blow to the knee can also cause acute injuries. Common acute knee injuries include ACL tears, meniscus tears, MCL sprains and patella and quad-tendon ruptures.


  • Acute pain
  • Swelling
  • Popping
  • Difficulty bearing weight
  • Difficulty with stretching or bending the knee
  • Kneecap or patella dislocation

Acute injury treatment

In general, if you experience a painful “pop” in your knee accompanied by swelling, and/or you can’t bend and straighten your knee – request an appointment with a sports medicine doctor as soon as possible.

Jeffrey Zarin, MD and Michael Baratz, MD in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery discuss common causes and treatments for knee pain.Causes of chronic overuse injuries

Chronic overuse injuries, while not as severe, can be just as painful as acute injuries. Some examples of overuse injuries include IT band syndrome, patella tendonitis and patellofemoral pain syndrome.


  • Snapping/popping sounds when moving knees
  • Weakened knees
  • Mild but persistent pain

Overuse injury treatment

These types of injuries do not need urgent treatment. Stretching, ice, rest and light strengthening exercises can improve the symptoms. If symptoms persist for more than a few weeks or you have more concerns, contact your physician for an evaluation.

General prevention

The best way to prevent a knee injury is to maintain physical fitness and agility. Practice stretching and strengthening exercises, focusing on the quads, glutes and hamstrings. Always stretch before aerobic exercise, as many injuries happen when muscles are fatigued.