Knee buckling, a condition in which the knee seems to collapse suddenly from instability, can be caused by any number of medical conditions, from arthritis to an unstable kneecap. After identifying the exact cause of the weakness, a medical professional can prescribe a regimen of physical therapy and medication to help. Though surgery is the only option to correct the problem in some cases, you may be able to get relief by changing your diet and fitness routine. Before getting a diagnosis, you can use a cane and rest more than normal to minimize the chances of making the damage worse. Alternating between hot and cold compresses also can help with any pain and swelling.
Identifying the Cause
The first thing to do when your knees start to buckle is to identify the cause. Healthcare providers can pinpoint the area of weakness using a physical examination and imaging studies, which helps them find out why it's happening. The most common causes of knee buckling are conditions that damage the joints, like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and chondrocalcinosis, which is a condition in which calcium builds up in knee cartilage, causing it to become inflamed. Osteoporosis could also cause degeneration of the bones in the knee, which can also lead to buckling.
An unstable kneecap, is another common cause of knee buckling, particularly in those with no degenerative condition or injuries. This also may cause the kneecap to visibly shift away from its natural groove and the knee itself to feel as if it were creaking or crunching against other bones when moved. Additionally, injuries to the knees can cause them to buckle, particularly if the ligaments or surrounding supportive muscles are damaged.
After determining the location and cause, medical professionals generally prescribe pain medication like acetaminophen, or a stronger Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID). Topical pain-relieving creams can also relieve some of the pain associated with joint damage. If you have arthritis, a healthcare professional might also recommend injections of steroids or hyaluronan. Other medications, called Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs), can help with certain types of arthritis, like the psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis.
Along with medication, you can use physical therapy to strengthen your knees. Therapists recommend certain types of stretches and exercises for knee buckling, especially those that stretch and strengthen the muscles supporting the knees, buttocks, and core muscles. One of the most commonly recommended exercises is to sit in a chair with a light weight on the ankle of the affected leg, lift the lower leg to make it straight with the rest of the leg, hold it there for a few seconds, and release it back to the ground. This strengthens the quadriceps, which help keep the knee stable. Physical therapists also usually recommend exercises that work the cardiovascular system but don't over-stress the knee, like swimming or using an elliptical machine.
Lifestyle Changes and Supplements
Lifestyle changes can also help some people with this condition. People who are overweight are more prone to knee buckling, so if you are overweight then losing weight and taking supplements to promote joint health often helps. You may also benefit from joint-strengthening supplements, such as vitamin C and D if you are elderly, since joints tend to deteriorate with age. Many healthcare professionals also recommend supplementing with glucosamine, an amino sugar derived from the exoskeletons of crustaceans that helps with joint pain.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat knee buckling. This is particularly true if you have loose fragments of bone or tissue in the knee joint that interfere with its functioning. As the fragments float around, they trigger a sudden failure of the joint, causing the knee to buckle when walking or even standing.
During surgery, a surgeon removes fragments from the knee and repairs any damage that may have already occurred to ligaments or other tissue. This can be done as an out-patient arthroscopic surgery, in which two small incisions on either side of the kneecap are the only access the surgeon needs for miniaturized cameras and tools. More invasive surgeries, like a partial or total knee replacement, might be needed, however, when damage is more widespread.