Knee pain in adults and adolescents: The initial evaluation

Christopher W. Bunt*, Christopher E. Jonas, Jennifer G. Chang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Knee pain affects approximately 25% of adults, and its prevalence has increased almost 65% over the past 20 years, accounting for nearly 4 million primary care visits annually. Initial evaluation should emphasize excluding urgent causes while considering the need for referral. Key aspects of the patient history include age; location, onset, duration, and quality of pain; associated mechanical or systemic symptoms; history of swelling; description of precipitating trauma;and pertinent med-ical or surgical history. Patients requiring urgent referral generally have severe pain, swelling, and instability or inability to bear weight in association with acute trauma or have signs of joint infection such as fever, swelling, erythema, and limited range of motion. A systematic approach to examination of the knee includes inspection, palpation, evaluation of range of motion and strength, neu-rovascular testing, and special (provocative) tests. Radiographic imaging should be reserved for chronic knee pain (more than six weeks) or acute traumatic pain in patients who meet specific evidence-based criteria. Musculoskeletal ultrasonography allows for detailed evaluation of effusions, cysts (e.g., Baker cyst), and superficial structures. Magnetic resonance imaging is rarely used for patients with emergent cases and should generally be an option only when surgery is considered or when a patient experiences persistent pain despite adequate conservative treatment. When the initial history and physical examination suggest but do not confirm a specific diagnosis, laboratory tests can be used as a confirmatory or diagnostic tool.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-585
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Family Physician
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


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