Knee Buckling: Causes, Treatments, and Exercises

Holding knee from pain
Bracing and strengthening exercises can help reduce sudden knee buckling. Learn more from Reflex Knee Specialists.

If your knee unexpectedly gives out with no warning, you may be experiencing a symptom known as knee buckling. This condition, which can be sudden, might be accompanied by popping, catching, or locking sensation in the knee joint. It is most often caused by a degenerative condition called osteoarthritis (OA). It can also be a sign of an acute injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or meniscus. Learn more about why knee buckling occurs and what treatment options are available from Reflex Knee Specialists.

Knee Buckling Causes

Several different conditions can cause knee buckling. These can include an acute injury such as:

  • Torn meniscus: Forceful twisting or rotating (such as while playing basketball) can tear the meniscus, which is the fibrocartilage that acts as a cushion between the leg bones. In the presence of a meniscal tear, a sudden ‘giving way’ can occur while bearing weight or when being active.
  • ACL injury: This is a common injury among athletes. A torn ligament can result in swelling, popping, and knee instability.
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear: An injury to the ligament that is the primary stabilizer of the inner (medial) aspect of the knee. MCL injuries typically occur during contact sports and can lead to swelling, bruising, and knee pain over the inner aspect of the knee.

Knee buckling is most often caused by damaged cartilage in the knee joint, resulting from the most common type of knee arthritis, known as osteoarthritis (OA). Your lifestyle and activity level can affect knee buckling, as well. High-impact sports like skiing and long-distance running can put repetitive stress on the knee joints, leading to torn ligaments. Additionally, people who have weakness in the muscles surrounding the knee may have joint instability, resulting in episodes of buckling.

Why Is Knee Buckling an Issue?

Most often, knee buckling is a symptom of underlying cartilage damage due to knee osteoarthritis. It can sometimes be caused by a more serious problem, such as an ACL tear. Because arthritis is common in older adults, knee buckling may be linked to a higher risk of falling among patients who have OA. One study of individuals with OA found that 13% experienced a fall as a result of knee buckling. Falls can result in ligament injuries or fractures.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If a patient is experiencing recurring knee buckling, their doctor will review their symptoms and medical history, examine the knee joint, and perform a series of mobility tests. They may also use imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI to check the knee joint for injuries.

If knee buckling is the result of a minor acute injury, treatment will usually be conservative and include the RICE method:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

A physician may also recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to provide short-term pain relief and reduce swelling. If a patient is experiencing joint weakness or instability, a supportive knee brace can help. Wearing a knee brace can better align and stabilize the knee joint, helping to reduce joint pain.

Knee Buckling Exercises and Stretches

Some stretches and exercises can often help with minor stability issues:

  • Calf stretchThis uses a band or towel to stretch the calf muscles.
  • Straight leg raisesThis exercise strengthens leg muscles.
  • Hamstring curlsThis exercise works the hamstrings, the group of muscles in the back of the thigh.
  • Double leg squatsThis exercise helps improve balance and strengthens the muscles around the knee joint.

Address and Treat Knee Buckling with Reflex Knee Specialists

You don’t need to live with chronic knee buckling. If your knee joint is locking, popping, or frequently giving out, it’s best to be evaluated by a doctor who can diagnose and treat the underlying cause. With locations in Portland, Oregon; Bellevue, Washington; and Tempe, Arizona, Reflex Knee Specialists treat patients for a variety of knee pathologies. The experienced medical team offers a complete range of non-surgical services and innovative therapies to treat knee pain. To learn more about knee buckling, contact us today.

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