Locked Knee: Causes, Treatments and When to Seek Help

What Causes a Knee to Lock?

The causes of a locked knee can vary, but the most common reason that this occurs is a torn or partially torn meniscus or damage to other cartilage in the knee. This feeling of the knee being locked often occurs in standing or walking. This strange knee symptom will often start as a ‘clicking’ sensation in the knee every time you take a step.

If a traumatic injury is the cause of damaged knee cartilage, you may not go through the initial stages of noticing a clicking sensation of the knee. When a traumatic injury occurs to knee as a result of falling or a sports injury, the knee may immediately feel as though it is ‘locked’ in a certain position and you are unable to either bend or straighten the knee. Most commonly the knee will become ‘locked’ in extension meaning that trying to bend the knee will either cause great pain or be impossible. This is the reason that it is common to feel this sensation when standing.

A locked knee is the result of mechanical damage in the knee causing something to block free movement of the joint. As said before, this is usually the result of damage to a meniscus. The menisci in the knee are pads of cartilage that are located in the middle of the knee joint (two are in each knee) and act as cushioning, or a shock absorber, that helps to lessen the impact of and blows to the knee or regular pounding of the knee from walking and running. When the menisci are damaged, they cannot perform this job and may be torn in a way that a piece of it is blocking the knee from normal movement.

A piece of cartilage may also be completely torn off and floating freely in the knee, what is referred to as a loose body, and may also be in the way of allowing complete knee range of motion.

What to do for Locked Knee

The severity of injury must be determined to ‘unlock’ a ‘locked’ knee. Sometimes, the injury is not severe enough to require orthopedic intervention, and you will be able to ‘free up’ your knee just by wiggling it a little bit and moving things around. Over time, hopefully the damage will heal naturally and the locking sensation will disappear.

In the case of more severe injuries, more involved orthopedic treatment may be necessary for your locked knee. Often, a course of physical therapy will be attempted in order to maximize strength and flexibility of the surrounding musculature in order to increase range of motion of the knee joint and lessen the locking sensation.

If physical therapy fails, or upon initial diagnosis by your orthopedist the damage to your knee cartilage is severe enough, surgery will most likely be recommended for a torn meniscus or other causes of a locked knee. Surgery will ‘clean up’ the damaged cartilage, or perhaps repair the tear to the meniscus if salvageable.

Dr. Burke Orthopedics - Treatments for Locked Knee and Knee Injuries

The orthopedic specialists at Dr. Burke Orthopedics will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis as to the reason for your locked knee and recommend the optimal course of treatment in order to cure it.

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