Why A Twisted Knee Is So Painful & How to Fix It (For Over 50’s)

So you’ve decided to go for a walk in the woods and choose to take the rough path…

You’re enjoying yourself while the sun is out and the sunlight filters through the trees, when suddenly, your foot slips off a branch and you suffer a twisted knee…

There’s instant pain all along the edge of the joint on the inside of your knee, and it feels like it might give way at any time. You hobble back to the car and hope that this pain goes away quickly…

Does this sound familiar??

We hear this story of a twisted knee, or very similar, all the time at HT Physio by the people of Farnham!

It always seems to happen when you least expect it, and can bring a whole world of discomfort.

So what’s happened to your knee?

A lot of people come to us thinking they have “sprained a ligament” in their knee.

However, the truth is: suffering a ligament sprain from a twisted knee during day-to-day life is actually quite a RARE occurrence. 

Ligament sprains are more common in sports-people – so if you injured your knee in sport, it’s quite possible it is a ligament… But for most people there is a more likely explanation:

9 times out of 10, when this type of thing happens in someone over 50, we suspect that you may have torn the cartilage inside your knee joint.

Cartilage is a substance inside all the joints in your body that helps to lubricate a joint and make movement easier.

There are 2 types of cartilage in your knee.

The first type sits on top of the two bones in your knee, providing lubrication. This is called the hyaline cartilage and is the cartilage that is affected with arthritis.

The second type of cartilage, called the meniscus, sits like a cushion between the knee joint, and acts as a very effective shock absorber.

Over time, as we age, this meniscus dries out, which is a normal and painless process.

However, when it dries out so much that it becomes brittle, it is more prone to tearing during twisting movements.

The meniscus is very tightly bound down – meaning it doesn’t have much room for manoeuvre when the knee twists.

When your knee twists, often the meniscus takes the brunt of the twist and can develop tears, which are extremely painful and can cause the knee to feel like it wants to “lock” or “give way”.

So the meniscus may well be the thing that was damaged when you twisted your knee!


Is There Likely to Be Swelling?

Often, a twisted knee can lead to an injury WITHOUT any swelling. This is often a sign of a meniscal tear. 

It is possible to have a meniscal injury with or without swelling, but the swelling is usually subtle if present at all.

If there is significant swelling that hasn’t subsided within a few days, it could be the sign of a different problem. Contact your local healthcare professional. 


Knee Pain When Twisting

Sometimes, a meniscal injury starts SLOWLY, rather than as a result of a specific twist or injury. 

This is called a “degenerative meniscal tear” – and may be the reason why you are suffering from knee pain when twisting. In fact, knee pain when twisting is the most common sign of this problem. 

The most common area for a meniscal problem to produce pain is on the inside of the knee. 

To check if it is likely that you are suffering from a meniscal tear from a twisted knee, you can try the following test from one of my latest videos:

One of the main questions we get asked when it comes to a twisted knee goes something like this:

“It’s been 2 months now, why isn’t my knee better?”

Well, the reason for this is that the meniscus sits deep within the knee joint, where there isn’t a very good blood supply. In order for healing to take place, you need a good blood supply; where we don’t have this, repair becomes difficult.

There’s a good chance that the knee WILL eventually get better; it can just take a long time, and you need to be doing all the right things and avoiding the wrong things in order for this process to take place.

One of the other questions we commonly get asked is this:

“Can’t a surgeon just go into my knee and clean it up/repair the tear?”

This used to be a very common operation that was done through “keyhole” surgery.

However, new guidelines have shown that this operation has the potential to actually make the wear and tear within the knee WORSE over time, so the NHS is moving away from offering this as an available service.

However, there’s still hope!

Although we can’t directly fix the tear, the people we treat at HT Physio with this problem usually see extremely positive results over a few months. 

One of our clients earlier this year was experiencing some knee pain after he twisted when pushing a wheelie bin – he felt an instant “pop” in his knee and it felt as if it wanted to give way.

With hands-on treatment and guided strengthening (as well as some manipulation to “free up” the loose cartilage) he was on the mend within 2 months!

We are often called the “go-to knee pain experts” in Farnham and our methods often reduce the likelihood of someone needing risky surgery!

What’s more, we fully understand the frustration that can come with this condition, so will never take knee pain lightly (you might find a different perspective in the NHS!)

Although nothing beats face-to-face treatment, there are a few things you can do at home to help – let’s cover those today:

Strategies to Fix a Twisted Knee at Home

#1 – Use the Old-Fashioned RICE Method!

If you’ve just twisted your knee, don’t panic! There is a tried and tested method to relieving the pain in the early stages of the injury.

RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. It has been used effectively by sports-people for decades to control the early stages of an injury.

First, be sure to rest it as much as you can for the first 3-4 days.

This means offloading it where you can – even using a crutch or walking stick in this very early stage.

By doing this, you limit the damage to the knee and prevent excess swelling.

Next, apply ice to the knee for 15 minutes at a time. This will help to shut down the blood vessels around the area to bring down swelling. Ice is also nature’s pain killer, so can take away some of the miseries too.

The third step is compression – use a tight bandage to fix the ice bag in place. The compression will act with the ice to flush out swelling and keep it away.

The final stage is elevation – keep your entire leg up as much as you can. Your leg should ideally be higher than the level of your heart if possible.

Repeat these 4 steps every few hours for 3-4 days after the original injury.

#2 – Gentle Movement can FREE the Cartilage!

Try the following technique to release any loose parts of the cartilage in the knee that are getting caught within the joint.

If you ever feel like something is “trapped” in the knee and wants to get dislodged – this is for you.

First, start off by sitting comfortably in a chair. Use your hands to lift your leg up by holding it behind the knee.

Then, slowly bend and straighten your knee with small movements. As you do this, move your ankle from left to right slowly and rhythmically.

Sometimes, this technique can release trapped cartilage and bring down the pain associated with a torn knee cartilage.

#3 – Try to Avoid any Twisting Movements

When you have a twisted knee, any further twisting is likely to aggravate the problem and delay healing.

The key to ensuring a quick recovery is to try to keep all of your knee movements in a straight line, as much as you possibly can. This will prevent any further strain on the meniscus.

The other thing you should certainly avoid is swimming with breast stroke legs.

Many people will tell you that swimming is good for injury recovery. They aren’t necessarily wrong… but swimming with breast stroke legs after a twisted knee will just twist your knee further!

This is because the frog-leg motion in breast stroke involves rotation of the knee joint and will strain the meniscus.

How to Get More Help:

If you’re in Farnham and reading this post, thinking “this sounds like me!” then why not reach out to one of our expert physiotherapists and request a 100% free telephone consultation for some friendly advice?

At HT Physio, we use a unique method to promote the natural healing powers of your body, helping you to return to a life without the need for painkillers or risky surgery.

Remember, usually problems like this CAN be fixed, even if you’ve reached a plateau where you feel like absolutely nothing is working!

The other option is to try some of the healing strategies in our FREE knee pain guide: “5 Expert Tips to Stop Knee Pain that Hurts in the Morning and Limits Your Walking”. You can download it by clicking below:

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So, in summary, what have we covered today?

  • When you twist your knee, the meniscus may become torn, which can cause pain, locking and giving way of the knee.
  • A great test to give you an idea of if you’ve damaged your meniscus.
  • You are unlikely to get referred for keyhole surgery on the NHS anymore.
  • This problem CAN get better, but the right things need to be done over a period of time.
  • An expert assessment and bespoke, tailored treatment can help.
  • If you’re not sure, it’s always best to ask a qualified specialist for advice!

As always, thanks for reading. Look out for more posts on knee pain soon!