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Knee Instability


What Is Knee Instability?

Knee instability is the sensation of the knee twisting or moving from side to side when doing basic activities. It can result from a range of causes – most often a ligament injury.

Our orthopedic specialists can usually treat an unstable knee with nonsurgical solutions like physical therapy and medication. If knee surgery does become necessary, we offer the most advanced, minimally invasive surgical options available today.

The Aurora Difference

Treatments for Knee Instability

What makes our approach to knee instability stand out from the rest? Our commitment to excellence at every stage of care. At Aurora, our orthopedic specialists offer:

  • Emphasis on prevention: If you have ongoing knee pain, an Aurora doctor will show you ways to avoid further injury. You can often prevent knee instability altogether with simple stretches and moderate exercise.
  • Seamless chain of care: We provide everything you need in a single, integrated health system. Our orthopedic specialists work closely with primary care doctors, integrative (holistic) medicine providers and physical therapists to offer personalized treatment options and a comprehensive approach to care.
  • Top-tier specialists: Our expert team includes over 70 orthopedic surgeons, many of whom are specially trained in specific areas of the body. For example, if your knee instability is serious, we have knee specialists who are experienced in the latest surgical techniques. Learn more about knee replacement surgery.


When Should You See a Doctor for Knee Instability?

If you experience any of these symptoms, see an Aurora orthopedist for a complete evaluation:

  • Mechanical symptoms such as locking, catching or clicking as you move or bend your knee
  • Twisting movements with a popping sensation
  • Frequent pain and an inability to straighten the knee

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, we can help. Start by taking this free knee joint pain assessment to see how much your knee instability affects your life. Then we’ll help you find an orthopedic specialist near you. You can use the results of your assessment to help guide your conversation with them, and they’ll help you create a plan relief.


What Causes Knee Instability?

Injuries and other conditions affecting the knee can cause instability. Some common causes include:

Injuries to Ligaments in the Knee

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, which can happen while playing sports
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury, also called a dashboard injury because it often occurs in car accidents
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury

Knee Osteoarthrosis

In knee osteoarthrosis, knee cartilage gradually wears down, causing pain, swelling and reduced mobility. This cause of knee instability is more common in older people.

Patellar Instability

Patellar instability can lead to kneecap dislocation.

Diagnosis & Treatment

What to Expect at Your Doctor's Appointment

Our orthopedists may suspect knee instability if your knee joint or the ligaments supporting it feel loose. The next step is to determine whether an injury or another knee condition is causing the shakiness.

During your visit, your Aurora doctor may:

  • Perform a physical exam to evaluate your knee movement and check for popping or other sounds
  • Discuss your medical history with you, including past injuries
  • Order X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan if they suspect a fracture or ligament or cartilage injury

Treatments for Knee Instability

Your treatment options depend on how severe the knee instability is. If you have a partial ligament tear, we can usually treat it without surgery. Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Rest, ice and elevation to reduce pain and swelling
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can also reduce pain and swelling
  • A knee brace to support the knee as it heals
  • Physical therapy to improve strength and mobility

If the ligament injury is more severe, you may need surgery. Learn more about knee surgery such as ACL surgery.

Other Causes of Knee Instability

Our specialists offer a range of treatments for knee instability that's caused by other conditions. Some of these conditions include:

  • Knee osteoarthritis: Knee osteoarthritis can often be treated with pain management options.
  • Patellar instability: Patellar instability can be treated by applying pressure to maneuver the kneecap back into position. This is often done with a knee brace and/or physical therapy.

Risk Factors

Who Is at Risk for Knee Instability?

Knee instability often affects active people who use their knees strenuously, including:

  • Dancers
  • Athletes
  • Manual laborers


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