How Long Should You Wait to See a Doctor for Knee Pain?

Mar 3, 2021

Knee pain is a common problem that affects people of all ages. Because the knee is so complex, several injuries are common to the joint. These injuries can occur over time, during sporting events or other activities.

It can be tempting to disregard knee pain — but you should never have to live with pain or weakness. If you are experiencing redness, significant swelling or severe pain, you should consult with one of our surgeons. They can discuss your options so your daily life activities can be pain-free once more.

Continue reading to learn more about knee pain and when you should see a doctor.


Most knee pain is the result of aging or continual wear and tear on the joint. Other knee problems are often the result of injury or a sudden change in movement.

Mayo Clinic recommends the following treatment options for knee pain:

  • Seek immediate medical attention: If your knee injury is accompanied by a deformed joint, a popping noise, the inability to bear weight, intense pain or sudden swelling, you should seek immediate medical attention.
  • Schedule an office visit: If your knee injury results from a forceful impact, or if you experience significant swelling, redness, tenderness and warmth around the joint, significant pain or fever, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
  • Self-care: Not all knee pain requires medical treatment. If your knee pain comes on slowly, results from a minor injury or results from a more strenuous activity, it can sometimes be managed at home. You can try over-the-counter pain relievers and should follow the RICE model of self-care.


Knee Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is frequently seen in the knees. It is generally a result of wear and tear and age. Women 55 and older are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis than men. Osteoarthritis can also be the result of genetics and is seen in patients who are overweight. Furthermore, it is more likely to occur in those constantly lifting heavy weights or athletes who have had knee injuries.

Treatment for osteoarthritis focuses on reducing pain and regaining mobility. If the patient is overweight, your doctor may first recommend weight loss. Exercise will also help strengthen the joint. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or recommend injections or a brace. We believe in conservative treatment, so while Mountainstate Orthopedic Associates has some of the most qualified and experienced doctors in the region, surgery is usually a last resort. There is no need to operate if, for example, the knee responds well to physical therapy and corticosteroid injection.

Knee Effusion 

A knee effusion occurs when fluid increases in the tissues surrounding the joint. It can happen to any joint but is particularly common in the knee. A knee effusion can result from anything that injures or inflames the knee. Knee effusions are often seen in those with arthritis (such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis). Gout can also cause knee effusion.

Typically, your doctor will prescribe medications to reduce the swelling caused by a knee effusion. If your knee does not respond to those medications, your doctor may prescribe steroid medications or injections. Surgery is rarely needed to treat the swelling.

ACL Strain or Tear

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) provides stability to the knee. The ACL connects the thigh bone to the shin bone and is often injured by a sudden twisting motion (which makes it a common injury for athletes).

Your doctor will perform an exam to assess the severity of the tear. Some ACL injuries can be treated without surgery. Your doctor will probably advise that you reduce your activity (perhaps wear a brace) and attend physical therapy. Your doctor may also recommend additional treatments. Severe ACL tears are incredibly complex; they often require reconstructive surgery to replace the torn ligament.

Meniscus Tear

The meniscus is a rubbery disc that provides a cushion to your knee. There are two menisci in each knee — one on each side. They help keep your knee stable by dispersing your weight across your knee. A meniscus tear is caused by a quick twist or turn, usually, while the foot is on the ground. Tears become more common as people age.

There are three types of meniscus tears: minor, moderate and severe. Minor tears cause pain and swelling that typically subsides in a few weeks. Moderate tears cause swelling and stiffness that may be accompanied by sharp pain when you move the knee. Severe tears can make the knee feel unstable and cause it to give way unexpectedly. The knee may “pop” as pieces of the torn meniscus may move into the joint.

The severity of the meniscus tear determines the treatment. Your doctor may recommend rest, physical therapy or arthroscopic surgery — depending on your activity level, age and how bad the tear is. The surgery is minimally invasive and typically requires a four to six-week recovery period.

Knee Bursitis

Knee bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa (small fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction and provide a cushion). People who kneel for extended periods (like gardeners, plumbers, etc.) have an increased risk of developing knee bursitis, along with those who play particular sports.

Treatment of knee bursitis can include rest, physical therapy, a corticosteroid injection or aspiration (a procedure to drain excess fluid). Surgery is a last resort for bursitis and is typically only recommended to those who don’t respond to other treatments or have recurrent/chronic bursitis.

Patellar Tendonitis 

Patellar tendonitis is a common injury or inflammation of the tendon that connects the kneecap (patella) to the shin bone. Patellar tendonitis often occurs from a repetitive impact on the knee, be caused by playing sports (especially sports that require a lot of jumping), doing household activities and more. It is most commonly seen in middle-aged adults as tendons lose elasticity with age.

Treatment depends on the severity of the injury. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid the activities that aggravate the tendon and rest your knee. Applying ice to the joint can also be helpful. With more severe and persistent pain, your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections, stem cell injections or physical therapy. Surgery is rarely needed for tendinitis.


There are many options to treat knee pain, but the treatment will depend on your knee pain’s cause and severity.

Joint Preservation

Joint preservation is a way of restoring normal joint motion and function without replacement. At MOA, we use a combination of multi-modality treatment options that include activity modification, physical therapy, medications, injections and surgery. Just as every patient is different, each patient’s joint preservation strategy is personalized for their age, activity level, expectations and degree of joint dysfunction.

Knee Replacement Surgery

At MOA, we take great pride in the reputation and ability of our surgical staff. One of our now retired doctors designed and developed the artificial knee replacement we use today. Knee replacement has incredibly positive results for our patients, with a drastic reduction in pain and an overall improvement in their quality of life. We are proud to be the first and only ambulatory surgery center in the state of West Virginia to do outpatient total joint procedures.

At MOA, we believe that the time for a knee replacement surgery is when the patient is ready — not when the doctor recommends it. When the pain becomes unbearable and you are having trouble sleeping due to the discomfort, it may be time to discuss the procedure with your doctor.

Download our free guide, “Guide to Knee Pain” to learn about the conditions listed above, treatment and more.


Mountainstate Orthopedic Associates is one of the region’s leading orthopedic practices. We take pride in the education and experience that each of our doctors holds.

We strive to keep you informed and active in the decision-making process from your initial appointment to the conclusion of your treatment. It is always our policy to be conservative with our course of treatment and to only recommend surgery if it is genuinely needed. With many of our surgical procedures, our patients are home the same day of surgery.

If you have knee pain, get in touch — we will schedule an appointment and create a plan to get you back to your normal activities.

References: Knee pain: Symptom When to see a doctor