What Should I Expect from a Knee Exam?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2018
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A knee exam is a series of tests a doctor performs to determine the source of knee discomfort or stiffness. If you’re getting a knee exam, your doctor will generally inspect both of your knees, even if only one is hurting, in order to evaluate the differences between the two. Knee exams can be performed for anything from slight pain to difficulty moving, in order to determine the proper treatment.

When your doctor begins the knee exam, he or she will usually look at the physical appearance of your knee to see if there are any obvious signs of damage, such as puffiness, redness, or any other abnormality. Your doctor may also feel your knees to find out if they have any difference in temperature. If one or both of your knees are hotter or colder than normal, it may mean they are inflamed or not getting proper blood flow.

Your doctor may also perform tests to discover if your knee joints are experiencing difficulty moving. You may have to lay down and bend your knees or move them in various motions while your doctor feels for any stiffness. While you continue to move your knees, your doctor will listen for any noises which may indicate your joints are grinding against each other.


One of the most common sources of knee pain is tearing of the ligaments, which are durable bands located between bones in order to attach them together. Knee ligaments hold your upper and lower legs together, so your knee may not move correctly if the ligaments are damaged. During a knee exam, your doctor will typically feel your knee as you move your leg sideways, bend your leg towards you, or move your leg in an up and down motion. If you feel pain during any of the different movements, your doctor can diagnose which ligaments are damaged.

Another possible cause of knee pain is an injured meniscus cartilage, the tough elastic that acts as support between your joints. If you have an injured meniscus, you may have pain while you walk or run because the cartilage does not cushion your bones when your feet hit the ground. Your doctor may have you bend your knee, then he or she will slightly rotate your leg and see if you feel any pain.

During a knee exam, your doctor may also assess your knees for fluid, especially if they appear puffy or discolored. He or she can insert a syringe into your knee area and take out the excess fluid, then examine a sample under a microscope. If the fluid has any bacteria or blood, it could be a sign of infection or bleeding due to trauma.

Once your doctor has found out the cause of your knee pain, he or she will recommend a treatment option. For an injured ligament or meniscus, surgery may be required to correct it. In serious cases, a surgeon may have to replace parts of your knee with a prosthesis. If inflammation or bacteria is the cause of your knee pain, your doctor will typically prescribe medication to remedy the problem.



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