A Knee Pain Doctor Will Get You Back in the Game

by | Jun 12, 2024 | Sports Medicine | 0 comments

🕓 Reading time: 5 minutes

Knee injuries are such a pain. You’re literally kicking goals one minute; the next, you’re limping and sore.

Melbourne’s obsession with sports, especially footy, rugby, and soccer, means that we GPs have A LOT of weekend warriors and athletes visit to get their tricky knees reviewed and tuned up.

As a doctor with a special interest in helping people with musculoskeletal injuries, my first step is to listen to your story and check you over.

The endgame here is to correctly diagnose your condition and make a treatment plan for a swift and successful recovery.


Outside of some prescribed rest, keeping your leg stationary isn’t always the best approach for healing knee pain.

Maintaining good mobility through movement prevents other joint issues from developing and helps us sustain good muscle mass, mental health, and a strong cardiovascular system.

Below is a quick rundown of the most common sports-related knee injuries I see, the severity of each condition, and the best course of treatment.

Rest assured, with the right treatment and care, we can help get you back on your feet and back on the field doing what you love.

Quick Knee Facts

  • Around 40% of sports-related injuries involve knees.
  • Your knee is your body’s most complicated joint.
  • Babies are born without kneecaps – only fully forming from cartilage to bone between 2 and 6 years old.
  • Knees depend on no less than 10 muscles to make them work properly.
  • You can walk without kneecaps.
  • Bionic knee replacements, or smart knees, are expected to be commonplace by 2030.
x-ray knee with neon colors

Here are the five complaints for which I most frequently help patients.

Let’s look at the symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments of each.

Runner’s Knee

What is it?

Medically known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, runner’s knee is an umbrella term for pain around your kneecap or the front of your knee.

The condition is caused by overloading, such as during heavy training or when starting or changing your exercise routine.

This overloading often exposes an imbalance in muscle groups or an issue with joint alignment.

How do I know if my knee pain is serious?

A typical symptom of runner’s knee is a dull, aching pain that usually occurs with movement.

You may also have trouble climbing stairs, standing after long periods of sitting, and squatting, and swelling may occur occasionally.

Your GP can often diagnose the problem through a physical examination. In some instances, an X-ray or an MRI may guide diagnosis. However, imaging isn’t always useful.

You’ll know your runner’s knee is serious if the pain quickly worsens or excess swelling occurs.

How is it treated?

Some people easily relieve symptoms by loosening their thighs and upper leg muscles, such as with a massage roller.

Bring your runners to your appointment with me. I’ll examine your feet and ankle alignment and see if any rotation or imbalance in your quads might need correcting.

Other treatment options include physiotherapy and exercises at home.

Surgery may be required in severe cases, though this is very uncommon.

What’s the expected recovery time?

With proper treatment and rest, and if surgery isn’t required, you should be right as rain in a couple of weeks.

You’ll likely recover even earlier if you have it treated immediately and take it easy at the first sign of pain.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament ACL Injury

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury

What is it?

Your ACL is like a strong rubber band inside your knee.

It connects your thigh bone to your shin and stabilises your knee to prevent your shin from sliding forward.

Athletes can tear or strain their ACL when abruptly pivoting, stopping, or changing direction.

Footballers, basketballers, and netballers are particularly prone.

How do I know if my knee pain is serious?

You’ll know you’ve torn your ACL if you experience intense pain deep inside your knee and experience instability, particularly when using stairs.

Other symptoms include hearing your knee ‘pop’, sudden swelling, and difficulty bearing weight.

ACL strains are slightly less serious yet still need immediate treatment. The pain may be moderate and likely accompanied by swelling and restricted mobility.

We can diagnose ACL injuries with an MRI or ultrasound.

How is it treated?

Tears commonly call for ACL reconstruction surgery, which involves grafting tissue from the same knee to replace the torn ligament.

Strains typically don’t require surgery. Instead, your GP or orthopaedic surgeon may brace your knee to restrict movement.

We may refer you to a physiotherapist who can prescribe exercises at home.

What’s the expected recovery time?

ACL tears involving surgery will put you out of action for 6 – 12 months.

People with strains often get good movement back in a few weeks, with complete recovery in a few months.

Meniscus Tears

What is it?

Your meniscus cartilage sits between your shin and thigh bone and is responsible for absorbing shock.

It can tear under heavy load when twisting or squatting.

Patients include athletes and older people.

How do I know if my knee pain is serious?

People with moderate meniscus tears sometimes feel no pain at first.

Common symptoms include stiffness, swelling, knee locking, and subsequent pain when standing.

It’s a much more serious injury if you experience severe pain, excess swelling, and difficulty walking.

An MRI is effective for diagnosis.

How is it treated?

As with most knee injuries, treatment depends on the severity of the meniscus tear.

Small to moderate tears may call for rest, a bit of physio, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.

A knee arthroscopy is the go-to treatment for severe tears.

This procedure involves your surgeon inserting a tiny camera and tools into your knee via a small cut to repair or remove torn meniscus sections.

What’s the expected recovery time?

Many people happily live with minor tears and treat flare-ups as they occur.

Most people recover from an arthroscopy in a week or two. For older people, recovery may extend to six weeks, especially if other knee issues are at play.

patella fracture hockey

Knee Bursitis

What is it?

Knee bursitis occurs when the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac surrounding the knee joint, becomes inflamed from injury, overuse, or infection.

It’s your bursa’s job to minimise friction between soft tissue and bone.

Gout and arthritis can also contribute to your symptoms.

Bursitis largely affects people as they get older.

How do I know if my knee pain is serious?

Sharp or shooting pain in your knee joint is a good indicator that your bursitis requires prompt medical attention.

This is especially the case if you develop a fever and restricted movement. Your knee may also be quite tender, swollen, and unusually warm.

Doctors diagnose the condition through physical examination, imaging, or analysing a sample of your bursa fluid.

How is it treated?

The first line of treatment is usually rest, ice, compression, and elevation. In many cases, bursitis sorts itself out with time.

Your GP may drain your bursa to relieve pressure, especially if they suspect an infection. If the bursa fluid is septic, we may prescribe antibiotics.

If bursitis reoccurs, a cortisone steroid injection may be necessary. Surgery is a last resort when all other treatments fail.

What’s the expected recovery time?

With adequate rest and at-home care, bursitis symptoms will likely subside in a couple of weeks.

Untreated bursitis can bother you endlessly and potentially lead to further knee problems.

Patella Fractures

What is it?

A kneecap (patella) fracture generally results from an impact accident where you hit your knee on a hard surface.

Volleyballers and hockey players are particularly susceptible to patellar fractures. The injury also often occurs in car accidents.

How do I know if my knee pain is serious?

Most patella fractures are extremely painful and will leave you unable to walk.

You may also notice swelling and bruising to your knee and an inability to straighten your leg.

Your GP can usually diagnose a patella fracture during a physical examination. An X-ray or CT scan can reveal the degree of damage while guiding treatment.

How is it treated?

Treatments vary in line with the nature and severity of the fracture, though most don’t require surgery.

Hairline and stable (non-displaced) fractures respond well to immobilising your leg with a cast or splint.

You’ll need to keep weight off your leg and undergo physical therapy in time.

Displaced fractures, where the kneecap has shattered and moved out of place, generally require surgery and a possible partial knee replacement.

Full knee replacements are less common.

What’s the expected recovery time?

Again, recovery time depends on the type and severity of the fracture and the course of treatment.

It can take three to six months to get back on your feet – much longer if you’ve had surgery involving pins and wires to hold a shattered patella together.

Dos And Don’ts When Your Knee Hurts

Pain is a great communicator.

It’ll tell you when something is wrong with your knee, indicating that you need to take it easy and get it looked at sooner rather than later.

Preventing more serious or permanent damage is the goal here.

If your knee is in an unusual amount of pain, I suggest doing the following:

  • R.I.C.E: Rest, ice, compress, and elevate when necessary. Your knee is a great joint for icing but requires consistency.
  • Take a break or de-load from the exercise or sport that likely contributed to your sore knee.
  • At the same time, keep as active as practical to maintain your leg muscle mass and fitness.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and body mass index (BMI).
  • Wear flat and supportive footwear. Avoid high-heels and roller skates.
  • Consider your sitting and sleeping positions and ensure these don’t add to your knee problems.
  • Don’t put off seeking medical advice. Let your intuition guide you to have your GP examine your knee.
GP exam knee

When to Get to Your GP

Visiting a GP with sports medicine experience is a great place to start if your knee is in significant pain.

With your knee being such a complicated joint, I can help determine the source of your pain, enabling an accurate diagnosis and guiding an effective treatment plan.

Some signs that your knee requires medical attention include:

  • You suffered a recent injury or trauma to your knee.
  • You can’t walk or put any weight on your knee.
  • Your knee pain persists or gets worse, even after rest and recovery.
  • You notice swelling or unexplained warmth around your knee.
  • Your knee locks or clicks more than usual.
  • Your knee and surrounding areas look physically irregular or discoloured.
  • You can’t straighten or bend your leg.

If your injury requires more specialised care, I can refer you to the most appropriate specialists and physical therapy practitioners.

I’m skilled at matching your personality and the nature of your condition with the most appropriate orthopaedic surgeon or physiotherapist, for example, to get the best results.

I know your time and money are valuable, and I appreciate that any specialist referral reflects upon me.

Doctor Nick Hudson blogs

Dr Nicholas Hudson is a local GP at Doctors of South Melbourne.

He has a special interest in sports medicine, men’s health, and chronic and complex conditions.

You can make an appointment online with Nick or call us on (03) 8579 6838.


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