Knees are some of the body’s most hardworking joints, bearing much of the body’s weight. It is very concerning if you can’t bend or straighten your legs. You might feel that your knee or knees have locked into place. This condition is called a “locked knee”.
A locked knee freezes in a straight or bent position producing pain and limiting motion. Dr (Prof) Amite Pankaj Agarwal, director and unit head of Orthopaedics & Joint Fortis Hospital in New Delhi, explains what are the causes and what you can do about it.
There are two types of knee locking: a true knee lock and a pseudo knee lock. A true knee lock occurs when something in your knee joint gets stuck into one position and you cannot move it at all.
True knee locking: It can be caused by a meniscus tear, most common type of knee injury. Two menisci are located in the knee that looks like a bucket handle or the letter ‘C’. These menisci function as shock absorbers for the joint, help distribute body weight, provide joint stability and keep the bones from rubbing together. Besides knee locking, symptoms include a popping sensation, swelling, stiffness, pain, difficulty straightening the knee fully.
A loose body: It occurs when a piece of knee bone breaks off due to a fall, degenerative joint disease, chip fracture, torn cartilage, or foreign object from a past surgery. Symptoms include pain and swelling that comes and goes, feeling the loose body as a small bump or shard when you touch your knee, chronic stiffness of knee.
An ACL tear: ACL or anterior cruciate ligament is a ligament inside your knee joint which keeps the knee stable while walking. Sometimes, sudden deceleration forces can lead to tearing of ACL which in-turn can get stuck in the knee joint leading to a locked knee.
Pseudo knee locking: If you have this, you feel as though you can’t move your knee because you are in so much pain. This is your body causing the muscles around the knee to get a contract triggered by pain in or near your knee. The main symptom is a pain, inability to move the knee, catching sensations, brief locking sensations, free or open sensations in the knee.
An examination can typically determine whether or not your knee locking is due to pain or a mechanical issue. X-rays may help identify the exact cause of a locked knee but meniscal tears and smaller fragments may not be visible on x-ray.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) captures a 3D image of the inside of the knee joint to diagnose the cause of a locked knee. MRI can often pinpoint problems not visible on X-ray.
Treatment of a locked knee is determined by the cause of the problem. Initial treatment of meniscal tears should be aimed at controlling swelling and inflammation. R.I.C.E. therapy, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation, along with anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy.
Arthroscopic knee surgery is a minimally invasive procedure performed through a series of small incisions. After surgery, a period of rest is needed for the knee to heal. Talk to your doctor about various preventative exercises to help keep your knees healthy and strong.