Treatment begins with avoiding activity that causes pain. Use crutches to offload the affected knee. Keep the knee moving to avoid stiffness and locking. To help relieve pain, use ice.
You can take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Try ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Corticosteroid injections are not commonly given because they haven’t been shown to be effective long term in the treatment of cartilage damage.
Try the following:
- Rest. Take rest and limit activities that aggravate the complaints. Try to unload or only partially load the knee until the pain is gone. If you have mechanical locking that prohibits normal motion of the knee joint, see a doctor.
- Ice the affected area. Apply ice packs to your knee for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, three to four times a day for several days. To protect your skin, wrap the ice packs in a thin towel.
- Use a brace. The use of a brace for meniscus damage is not often necessary, but sometimes it can be indicated if there is severe bow leggedness and pain on the inside due to overloading
- Stretch and strengthen the affected area. Your doctor might suggest exercises for stretching and strengthening. Other physical or occupational therapy practices can be helpful, too.
Gradually return to your usual activities. When the above-mentioned therapy and medication alleviates your pain, there is no further need for treatment or additional diagnostic means. If complaints do not improve or mechanical symptoms occur, this can be a reason for another diagnosis or possibly surgical intervention.
Surgery can be a recommended option. If you are young and have an acute painful knee with mechanical obstruction that started with acute swelling after a rotation or valgus injury, this can be a reason to urgently see an orthopedic surgeon because either a meniscus tear, cartilage damage, or ligament instability can be the cause of these complaints. You may have a better outcome if diagnosed and treated earlier rather than later.