Why Is My Knee Buckling? The Causes & How to Treat It

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Knee Buckling

Knee buckling occurs when the knee fails to support the weight of the body and collapses or does not remain straight. It may be the result of internal damage to the cartilage, joints, or knee tissue. Such damage can be caused by injury or an underlying health condition.

Learn the causes of knee buckling, as well as the treatments that may help to heal or prevent this incident.

When the knee feels unstable, the risk for falls or further damage of the inner attachments will result. This is commonly seen in athletes and the elderly.

A clinical study published in Arthritis Care & Research reports that knee instability could lead to fractures and injuries in those with osteoarthritis.

Specialized exercises and medical support may help to increase knee strength and prevent further accidents.

Top 5 Causes of Knee Buckling

Let’s explore the five most common causes of your knee giving out on you.

1. A Tear in Your Cartilage

One of the most common reasons for knee buckling is a tear in the cartilage rings surrounding your knee called the menisci. When your cartilage tears, you may find that your knee is unstable, especially when going down the stairs or squatting down to pick something up.

2. A Tear in Your Cruciate Ligaments

As the knee joint relies on the stability of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and other ligaments, an injury or damage can cause a situation where the knee gives out when walking.

Your cruciate ligaments run down the center of your knee. This tear tends to be sudden and is usually the result of an injury to the knee. Often the knee “pops” and immediately begins to swell after it has buckled.

Injuries to the cruciate ligament are called ACL tears. They often occur when pivoting or turning sharply. And for this reason, they often occur during sporting activities.

3. A Tear in Your Collateral Ligaments

You have two major ligaments running down the side of your knees—the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL).

The LCL runs along the outside of your knee joint, whereas the MCL stretches down the inside and is the one that is most likely to tear. Also, your ACL and MCL can tear at the same time. This is another common reason for knee buckling.

4. Your Kneecap Becomes Displaced

Your kneecap itself can be the cause of knee buckling. It is attached to your femur but can slide out of its “grooves.” The kneecap often pops back into place on its own.

Patellar instability refers to knee buckling that occurs when the kneecap changes locations.

5. Arthritis

An unstable knee may be attributed to joint conditions like osteoarthritis, the wear and tear of cartilage, or chondrocalcinosis, which is the calcification of the cartilage. This damage may lead to knee support failure.

Arthritis in your knee can cause dips and grooves to form in the knee joint. These uneven surfaces cause the joint to “catch” instead of rotating smoothly. For example, you might find yourself rising from a chair when the joint gets stuck and triggers an episode of knee buckling.

Sometimes, a loose piece of cartilage floats about and gets caught in your joint. When this happens, you may feel as if your knee is giving way or as if the joint has become locked.

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Knee Buckling Treatment

As with any injury, it’s crucial to get a diagnosis from a trained medical professional. And as you can see, there are several causes of knee buckling, so treatment will depend on which one has caused your knee to malfunction.

You can reduce swelling and pain by applying ice. For stiffness and soreness, heat may work best.

1. Medications

With a proper diagnosis, the doctor can prescribe the correct course of medical treatment such as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, a topical medical cream, or possible steroid injections.

Severe painful cases may require disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs also known as DMARDs.

3. Lifestyle Changes

Buckling knee treatment may include making certain lifestyle changes such as losing weight. By maintaining a healthy weight in accordance with your body frame, the knees may become more stable with better-controlled movements.

In addition to lifestyle changes, adding supplements that help support and strengthen the knee joints could prevent occurrences if your knees buckle. These may include vitamins C and D, as well as glucosamine, which is an amino sugar that targets joint pain.

4. Surgery

Any damage to the knee joints may cause tissues and bones to break into fragments and prevent the knee from bending without excruciating pain.

Persistent knee buckling may be remedied with surgical removal of these fragments or with the replacement of the knee.

Exercises for Knee Buckling: Knee Strengthening Workout

One way to help avoid the pain and inconvenience associated with knee buckling is to strengthen your leg muscles.

Do a little weight training at home or the gym and target your quad muscles. These muscles act as shock absorbers for the knee, which can help to reduce the amount of strain and pressure the knee joint is exposed to. The stronger your quads, the less weight your knees carry.

  • Lie on your back with your legs straightened out. Tighten the thigh muscles for a three-minute hold as the knees touch the floor. You can place a foam roller or rolled towel under the knees for support if needed.
  • Lie on your back with legs straightened out. Tighten the buttocks for a three-minute hold before releasing.
  • Lie on your back with one leg straightened out. Tilt the foot of the straightened leg so that your toes point towards the body to stretch the calf muscles. Then repeat with the other leg.
  • Lie on your back with both legs straightened out. Raise one leg, keeping the knee straight and hold the position for three seconds before releasing. Then repeat with the other leg.
  • Using a pillow under the knees, lie on your back with both legs straightened out. Raise one leg to straighten the knee while it remains on the pillow. Hold this pose for three seconds. Then repeat with the other leg.
  • Lie on your stomach with your legs straightened out. Bend your knees as the heels move towards your hips. Hold for three seconds.
  • Using a chair, sit with your feet flat on the floor. Raise one leg to straighten the knee and hold for three seconds before releasing. Gradually build up strength so that you can use ankle weights.
  • Stand up straight with your legs in equal width to your shoulders. Hold onto the chair as you bend your knees to the point where they do not overshadow the toes. Keep your back straight and return to the starting position.

Knee buckling may heal best with the help of a physiotherapist who can assign specific exercises to help prevent future problems with the knee joint.

Knee buckling can be a concerning issue for those who have suffered a previous knee injury, have damaged cartilage, or are dealing with osteoarthritis. The associated pain with any cause can range from mild to severe.

An unstable knee may raise the risk of falls, which can lead to dangerous fractures or complete bone breakage. As a result, buckling of the knee may also cause the sufferer to have a fear of falling and lose confidence in independent walking.

Depending on the underlying cause of knee buckling, there are natural treatments and lifestyle changes that could prevent occurrences, such as performing knee strengthening exercises.

Walking with a medical device like a knee brace or walker may help alleviate pressure from the weight of the body during strengthening.

Frequent knee buckling with excruciating pain may indicate serious damage where surgical treatment is required. This may be in the form of removing bone and tissue fragments or a complete knee replacement.


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Sources
Nevitt, M.C., et al., “Symptoms of Knee Instability as Risk Factors for Recurrent Falls,” Arthritis Care & Research, July 22, 2016; 68(8): 1089-1097. DOI: 10.1002/acr.22811; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acr.22811/full, last accessed September 29, 2017.

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