A knee injury can either be a severe problem or nothing to worry about, but knowing the difference can be a challenge. If you’ve ever bumped your knee on the edge of the coffee table, you know it’s a painful experience—but it’s probably not a medical emergency or a reason to visit the emergency room.
Other knee injuries can require surgery and rehabilitation for a full recovery. Knee injuries are common and can happen to anyone at any time. In the U.S., there are between 100,000 and 200,000 ACL ruptures (anterior cruciate ligament tears) every year.
Should you go to the emergency room for knee pain? Keep reading to learn when a visit to the emergency room for knee pain is urgent versus when rest and an ice pack might be all you need.
What Does Your Knee Pain Feel Like?
If you’re trying to decide when to go to the ER for knee pain, evaluate how your pain.
- Is it a sudden pain as a result of an impact or movement?
- How long have you felt pain?
- Is it a sharp pain or is it a dull ache?
In many cases, a long-term knee ache that you’ve felt for days, weeks, or months probably doesn’t require a visit to an emergency room. However, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to evaluate a possible knee injury or long-term deterioration of cartilage and ligaments in and around your knee. Knee pain can develop over time from everyday use or repetitive movements.
If you feel a sudden sharp pain that doesn’t go away, it could be time for someone to take you to the ER. If you landed hard playing a sport or you felt something “pop” followed by sharp pain while walking, a trip to the emergency room can quickly determine what’s going on with your knee and provide immediate relief.
How Did Your Knee Pain Emergency Happen?
Knee injuries are common with athletes playing sports or running long distances. Many work-related injuries happen to knees as a result of lifting heavy objects or repetitive motion. Simply missing a couple of steps or tripping and falling can cause a knee injury as well.
If you took a hard fall or landed wrong while playing soccer or football, an ER visit can quickly diagnose the injury and help you get back on the field. A trip-and-fall injury at home could be as simple as putting your feet up and sitting with an ice pack for a while.
With an on-the-job injury, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention at the ER.
Can You Walk?
A slight knee sprain is painful, but might not require a trip to the emergency room. However, a sprain or any injury that keeps you from walking, bending, or extending your knee due to pain could be reasons for you to visit an emergency room right away.
If you can’t put weight on your leg, you could have a severe injury. The emergency room can perform x-rays and quickly assess the painful problem with your knee. Even if the diagnosis is to send you home with crutches and some pain medication, the emergency room could be the right answer if you can’t walk on your knee.
Trying to walk on an injured knee without treatment can cause more damage and prolong your recovery.
How Does It Look?
This is where a trip to the emergency room can be obvious. You can experience knee pain without any visible injury. Just because you can’t see an injury doesn’t mean you don’t have an internal one.
Other knee injuries are “painfully” obvious and should send you straight to the emergency room for treatment.
- Is anything protruding? If broken bones stick out or you notice your knee cap in the wrong place, it’s time to get to the ER.
- Is it swollen? Swelling isn’t always visible with a serious knee injury, but if you see significant swelling, you probably have a problem that needs urgent attention.
- Is it bruised? Deep bruising can indicate shattered bones, pooling blood, or torn ligaments. If a bruise forms quickly after an impact to your knee, get to the emergency room right away.
Sometimes an injury can look worse than it is, but you don’t want to take a chance with an ugly knee injury. If it looks bad enough to cause concern, make your way to the ER as soon as you can.
Are You Bleeding?
If you have a cut or a puncture on or around your knee that won’t stop bleeding, then you need emergency help to get it under control. Losing too much blood at a fast rate can cause more health issues than an injury to your knee.
No matter the cause of the injury, if you can’t control bleeding, have someone take you to the emergency room or call 911 right away. A bleed can indicate other underlying issues triggered by an impact or twisted knee.
ER vs. Urgent Care
If you decide it’s time to seek emergency treatment, an emergency room can offer more extensive services than an urgent care facility. Our emergency room has the equipment on-site for imaging and running labs to quickly diagnose your injury.
While an urgent care facility might be the first step for relief from your knee pain emergency, an emergency room can offer better insight into your injury. Emergency room staff, nurses, and doctors can also provide more thorough treatment options.
Should I Go to The Emergency Room For Knee Pain? In Many Cases, Yes!
If you’ve hurt your knee, don’t spend too much time wondering, “Should I go to the emergency room for knee pain?” In many cases, the emergency room is the best place to diagnose and treat a knee injury effectively.
Community Health 1st ER is open 24 hours and seven days a week. Don’t let a knee injury get worse before you decide to seek treatment! Contact us with questions or to let us know you’re on the way!