Accessibility Tools

What Is Knee Instability?

Knee instability can occur if the knee or a supporting structure, such as a ligament, becomes weakened or damaged such that the joint is unable to fully support the weight of the body. This type of injury can result from a sudden twist or direct blow that forces the knee to buckle or bend beyond its normal limit.

Instability can cause the knee to noticeably shift from side to side during basic activities. The resulting excess movement can create excess wear and tear on the joint, leading to the breakdown of cartilage (osteoarthritis).

What are the symptoms of knee instability?

An unstable knee may:

  • Buckle or give out
  • Catch or lock
  • Appear puffy or swollen
  • Bend inward or outward

To pinpoint the source of these symptoms, a physician will typically evaluate each of the bones, cartilage structures, ligaments, tendons and muscles that work together to support the knee joint. After performing a physical examination and testing the stability of the knee, a physician may order one or more imaging tests, such as an X-rays, MRI or CT scan.

How is knee instability treated?

Treatment for knee instability can vary depending on the injured structure and the extent of the damage. Initially, a physician may recommend conservative treatment, such as rest, ice applications, compression and elevation of the leg (R.I.C.E. therapy), followed by physical therapy and bracing, if necessary. Any associated pain and inflammation can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

To address severe symptoms that do not respond to several weeks of nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be recommended. For instance, a surgeon may perform a surgical repair or reconstruction of the supporting structures.

At Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, Texas, we typically encourage our patients to try nonsurgical treatment options for knee instability before considering joint replacement or any other type of surgery. If you’d like to meet with a knee specialist, contact Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, TX, today.