Angie's LIST Guide to
Orthopedics: Knees

Some orthopedic doctors specialize in the bones, muscles and tendons of the knee, from treating ACL tears and arthritis to performing knee replacement surgery.

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knee doctor
If you have a knee injury or pain, see an orthopedic doctor. (Photos courtesy of NorthShore University HealthSystem)

Osteoarthritis and other diseases of the knee

Your knee, which is a complex intersection of bones, muscles, joints and tendons, is vulnerable to many syndromes and diseases, including arthritis. It's quite common that orthopedic doctors, or orthopedists, would treat this problem in older patients.

Arthritis comes in three main forms:

Osteoarthritis — also called degenerative arthritis — starts with inflammation in the joints that leads to breakdown and loss of cartilage. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis plagues millions of Americans.

Rheumatoid arthritis involves an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation to the joints and eventual deterioration and deformity.

Post-traumatic arthritis, a type of joint wear and tear, results from physical injury or trauma to the cartilage or bone.

Orthopedic doctors who specialize in knees and hips say common symptoms of arthritis in these joints include pain, stiffness and swelling, which often worsen after activity. Many people experience a locking of the knee or an inability to move the knee at all. They may also experience a buckling effect where their knee joint collapses, putting them at risk of falling.

RELATED: Serious falls put seniors at risk

Patellofemoral pain syndrome affects the kneecap — the patella — and causes the cartilage to weaken and wear thin. The most obvious symptoms of patellofemoral arthritis are pain and an audible cracking in the knee.

Kneecap bursitis, or prepatellar bursitis, cause the fluid-filled sac in the kneecap, the bursa, to become swollen and inflamed. This can occur because of rheumatoid arthritis, gout, kneeling a great deal and landing directly on your knee when falling, as happens in sports. With bursitis, your knee will appear swollen and warm, and you'll often experience pain during activity.

Knee injuries — from ACL tears to bone fractures

Tears, like those generally seen in active patients, often involve one of the four ligaments of the knee: the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL; posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL; lateral collateral ligament, or LCL; and the medial collateral ligament, or MCL.

The cruciate ligaments cross within your knee, and the collateral ligaments help fasten your upper leg bone to your lower leg bones. Sprains or tears most commonly occurring to the ACL or MCL.

Depending on the degree of injury — from a stretched ligament, or slight sprain, to a complete tear — one may experience anything from relatively minor discomfort and little or no instability to the joint to severe pain with the knee "giving out" and surgical reconstruction of the ligament recommended.

MORE: How to get back into action after a torn ACL

Commonly when a person tears a ligament they may also tear cartilage, or connective tissue, at the knee joint. This can occur independent of other injuries as well and can also involve significant pain and swelling.

In addition, patients young and old, active and sedentary, can experience fractures — albeit from a fall or playing sports. As with other knee injuries, this can cause serious pain, swelling and tenderness, in addition to shattered or broken bones. 

Seeing an orthopedic doctor for treatment

Treatment for problems involving the knee vary. Sometimes two people with the same injury will undergo a different treatment, such as surgery versus medication and physical therapy.

In certain cases, orthopedic surgeons who specialize in knees and hips will perform a procedure known arthroscopy, sending a tiny camera through a small incision in the knee to observe damage, such as torn cartilage, before determining how to proceed.

Orthopedic surgeons may, in certain instances, recommend knee replacement surgery where serious knee pain and problems, such as arthritis and mobility limitations, arise. This surgical procedure removes the damaged knee joint and replaces it with an artificial joint, or prosthesis, made of metal, plastic or a combination.

RELATED: Active boomers undergo more hip and knee replacement surgeries

Recovery time from the surgery tends to need six to eight weeks, followed by months of physical therapy. After you recover from knee replacement, you often can move more easily and without pain.

Check the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons orthopedist directory when seeking an orthopedic doctor who specializes in knees or other joints and contact your health insurance provider to determine what your policy covers for the procedure you'll need. Depending on your insurance plan, you may need a referral from your primary care physician in order for your policy to pay for treatment.

Read through the listing of orthopedic doctors in the provider directory available from your health insurance company. Carefully research the orthopedic doctors you are considering. Verify their licensure, qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings.

Hip problems? Start here


My father has been struggling with weakness in both of his legs, one leg is smaller than the other. I have taken him to John Hopkins (Baltimore) and Georgetown University (DC) and know one able to tell me or my dad the problem or diagnosed him with anything. Can someone PLEASE help me. It hurts me so bad to see him struggle with this problem. He a 69 year old black male.

i had surgery and it was done wrong.i have been trying to find a honest doctor to fix my knee no luck.maybe you can help.....

. Left knee needs to be done as well .Lately the right knee I already had done is in allot of pain, getting same kind of pain I had before. It actually falls out on me, I almost fall down from it. Im at a loss. My doctor who did the surgery had me do 2 x rays & says everything looks fine. I am thinking of going to another orthopedic for another opinion.

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