Several months ago I was in the gym doing some back squats and felt a twinge in my right knee. I figured it was my form (which is horrible). I racked the bar, readjusted, and plowed through the rest of my work out like a manly man (always a bad idea).
The next day my knee was swollen and painful to walk on. I gave it a couple days and it got a little better but I still wanted to get checked out. I asked around and found a reputable local orthopedic doctor. He performed a brief clinical exam then stated I probably have a meniscal tear. He gave me a script for an MRI and said we would discuss options from there.
Since I'm an MRI technologist getting an appointment was pretty easy. The test took about 30 minutes and, long story short, it revealed I do, in fact, have a medial meniscal tear.
When I went back to the orthopedic he said I have a couple options: physical therapy, a steroid injection, surgery, or do nothing and wait and see. Being that I am a typical busy working class individual and have no time to take off, I chose the do nothing approach. Luckily, in my situation, it worked out. After a couple weeks my knee was close to 100% and I was back at the gym.
Unfortunately, for many patients, knee injuries require more than a "wait and see approach". This is especially true to individuals whose career depends on their physical abilities. Athletes and manual labor jobs are the best examples. A knee injury for these patients can be a game changer.
Take the example of Robert Griffin III; pro football player for the Washington Redskins on the fast track to the hall of fame.
Unfortunately he sustained an ACL tear (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) during a game that some think was poorly diagnosed and managed. Even in the best of circumstances the knee will never be the same. In his case it ended his career as he knew it.
Figure 1A is an MRI example of a normal intact ACL. 1B shows a full ACL tear. Ligaments attach bone to bone so when one is injured it creates substantial pain and instability. A partial ACL tear or stretched ACL may heal with time, physical therapy, and little TLC. For full tears surgical intervention is usually the only path to full recovery.