First Aid to the Knee
Each year millions of people seek medical treatment for conditions of the knee. There are a number of treatment options that may alleviate or lesson knee pain from injuries of other conditions of the knee. While these methods of treatment may be helpful, it is important to have all severe pains and injuries to the knee evaluated by an orthopedic specialist.
Select from the list below to learn more about what you can do to help relieve knee pain.
The initial treatment for almost any knee injury as well as ongoing treatment for recurrent problems can best be described by the acronym “RICE,” which stands for:
- R= rest, meaning to discontinue activity that is causing pain, and rest the knee for a day or two at home. Use pain as a guide to limit activities
- I = ice or the application of a cold pack is the preferred method for reducing swelling at the site of injury. Cold helps to limit swelling and helps to reduce pain and muscle spasm by slowing transmission of pain impulses. Cold should be applied immediately to an injury but for only brief periods of time — 10 to 20 minutes — followed by a “recovery” period. Prolonged exposure to cold can reverse beneficial effects
- C = compression to an injury means wrapping the knee (and ice or cold pack) in a bandage or elastic wrap. The compression should be applied loosely enough to permit normal blood flow, but tightly enough to help to reduce swelling
- E = elevation means placing the leg so the ankle is higher than the knee and the knee is higher than the heart, again to help limit swelling. Pillows and cushions can be used to support the knee in the elevated position
This “RICE” formula can be effective during the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury occurs, however, it should not be substituted for a medical evaluation if there is any suspicion of a serious injury. Also, if pain and swelling persist for more than 24 to 48 hours, or the symptoms worsen during this time, an orthopedic evaluation should be scheduled.
Immobilizing the knee joint can be especially beneficial in giving first aid following an injury. The immobilization can reduce pain and help control the swelling. A variety of supports, splints, and bandages are available commercially, but an effective wrap can be fashioned from a towel, scarf, or other soft, pliable material if an injury occurs away from home.
Be aware that splints and bandages are used for their supportive benefits and never as a tourniquet around an injured joint. To ensure there is adequate blood flow beneath any splint or bandage, press on a toenail on the affected leg — the toenail should first turn to a whitish color and indicate that blood has been squeezed out of the underlying capillaries, then immediately return to the normal pinkish color to indicate that blood is able to return normally to the site. If blood is slow to return, the bandage must be loosened or removed immediately.
While cold therapy is an effective first aid measure that may be used as long as symptoms remain, heat should only be applied, if at all, during the recovery stage of a joint injury. Heat draws blood to the skin under the heat source and will tend to increase swelling. Heat may be recommended later to relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation.
Creams, like those advertised for sports injuries, may not have any role in first aid for the knee. But if they are used, it should be remembered that rubbing the skin over the knee can have the same harmful effects as applying heat. So, if a cream is used, it should be smoothed gently over the skin, not rubbed in, then allowed to soak in over time.