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Why do my knees feel like they cannot straighten fully?

I am 23 years old and injured my knee while in the military. For the entire time in the military, my knee would often lock up and I'd be unable to fully flex or straighten my leg. Since getting out of the military, I don't get the lock-ups during the day due to not exercising as much. However, my knee still gets sore when I walk and I would like to be able to exercise more. I've tried stretching as well as over the counter pain medication and neither has done anything to resolve the issue. I was seen by Navy medical services for this problem once when it began and once before leaving the military. Originally I was told it was ITBS, and when leaving, I was told it was "runner's knee". Treatment for neither condition has had any positive impact (stretches assigned for ITBS actually CAUSED my knee to lock up more than once).
Depending on the type of injury you suffered, you may have torn one of the ligaments or a piece of cartilage within the knee. Given the specific details of your particular knee complaints, you may have torn a piece of meniscus, which is the cartilage that lines the bone in the knee and usually provides a nice smooth surface to protect against one bone from rubbing on another. When a piece of cartilage is torn it can jut outwards into the joint space, and it can occasionally get stuck between the bones when the knee is moved. When this happens, the knee often "locks up" or "catches" and full range of motion is impeded. To help better determine what is wrong with your knee, you should see your primary care physician or an orthopedic surgeon. Evaluation with an MRI is the best way to visualize the structures within the knee to figure out if you did tear some cartilage. In some cases, small tears can be managed conservatively, particularly if they don't cause symptoms. However, in your case, if a tear is diagnosed, you would likely require arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem given your level of activity and the degree of your symptoms.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under ZocDoc’s Terms of Service.

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