What is an Unstable Knee?
The knee joint is one of the largest joints in the body. This highly complex joint has several tissues supporting and stabilizing its movement:
- Condyles and menisci: Bony protrusions of the thighbone called condyles fit snugly into the depressions of the lateral and medial menisci (spongy cartilage) of the shinbone.
- Ligaments: These are bands of tissue crisscross across the joint bones, connecting and holding them in place.
- Capsules: These are tissue that connects the bones of the knee, by forming a sleeve over the joint.
- Muscles: They provide secondary stability.
Causes of an Unstable Knee
Damage to any of these supportive structures causes instability of the knee joint. An unstable knee can be caused by the sudden twisting of the knee, tears of the meniscus, ligament or capsule, osteoarthritis of the knee (wear and tear of the cushioning cartilage tissue between the bones) and sports injuries. When these tissues get injured, the patella or kneecap can move out of its groove in the knee joint and lead to instability.
Symptoms of an Unstable Knee
An unstable knee causes pain, swelling, stiffness and a tendency of the joint to buckle or give way.
Diagnosis of an Unstable Knee
When you present with these symptoms, your doctor diagnoses knee instability by performing a thorough physical examination to test the stability of each ligament and may order imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI or CT scans to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of an Unstable Knee
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Initially, your surgeon may recommend conservative treatments such as rest, ice application, compression and elevation of your leg (R.I.C.E.), physical therapy and use of braces. Pain relieving medications may be prescribed for symptomatic relief.
However, when these conservative treatments yield an unsatisfactory response, surgical correction may be recommended. Considering the type and severity of an injury, your surgeon decides on the surgical repair or reconstruction of the joint by replacing the damaged parts with a prosthesis.
Doctors Performing Knee Instability Care
O. David Taunton, Jr., M.D.Hip & Knee
Nathan B. Haile, M.D.Hip & Knee
Paul A. Tavakolian, M.D.Hand, Wrist & Elbow