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Knee Pain: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 5 minutes read
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If you’re dealing with knee pain, you’re not alone. It’s a very common problem that many people experience every day and it can be brought on by lots of different things. The likely cause of your knee pain will depend on how or when it started, its location and if there are any other associated symptoms.

Causes of knee pain

Knee pain can be caused by a variety of different things. As you get older, the chances of feeling discomfort in your knee unfortunately become more common. This can be due to normal wear and tear and can lead to osteoarthritis.

A sudden onset of knee pain can be the result of an injury, it can include a ligament sprain or strains, ligament rupture, damage to the cartilage or meniscus, or a fracture or dislocation of your kneecap (patella).

Here are some of the causes of knee pain:

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis and is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the joints begins to wear down. This can result in the bones in your knee joint rubbing against each other which can cause pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Osteoarthritis can be treated with medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Ligament injuries

Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect the bones in the knee joint. A sudden twist or impact to the knee can cause a ligament to stretch or tear. This can lead to pain, and swelling in your knee. Treatment for a ligament injury often involves plenty of rest, using ice, compression, and also physical therapy. In some cases, surgery may be required to repair a torn ligament.

Meniscus tear

The meniscus is a rubbery piece of cartilage that has an important role in creating a cushion between the thigh bone and the shinbone. A tear in the meniscus can occur due to a sudden twist or impact to the knee or from wear and tear over time. Symptoms of a meniscus tear include pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the knee. A meniscus tear can potentially be treated by rest, ice, compression, and physical therapy. Surgery may also be needed to repair or remove the damaged tissue depending on the severity of the tear.

Patellar tendonitis

The patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the shinbone. Overusing the patellar tendon can cause it to become inflamed resulting in a condition known as patellar tendonitis which can be quite painful. Repeated sprinting and jumping motions are common ways to aggravate it. Symptoms of patellar tendonitis include pain and tenderness around the kneecap, especially when bending your knee or climbing stairs. Initial treatment may include rest, ice and medicines. Further treatment includes stretching and strengthening exercises with physiotherapy. Surgery may be required if these treatments fail to help.

Bursitis

Bursae are small fluid-filled sacs that cushion to the bones, muscles and tendons. Bursitis occurs when one of these sacs becomes inflamed. Symptoms of bursitis include pain, swelling, stiffness and tenderness around the knee joint. Treatment for bursitis may include rest, ice, compression, and medication to reduce inflammation.

Gout

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that causes swelling of the joints. It makes them appear bright red and swollen and usually affects the base of the big toe (the ball of the foot), Diet, lifestyle advice, and in some cases, medication can help with gout. Although gout on the knee is rare, it is still seen in some cases.

Runner's knee

Runner’s knee is a condition characterised by a dull, aching pain felt around or under the knee cap at the front of the knee. It is often exacerbated during or after physical activities such as running or jumping. Icing the area can help reduce pain, while stretching and strengthening exercises can help reduce the issue moving forward.

Baker's cyst

A Baker's cyst is a fluid-filled swelling that develops at the back of the knee. These often cause no problems at all but the larger the cyst, the more likely it is that you may have symptoms from it. Have a read through our article here

How to treat knee pain

Depending on the severity of the knee pain and associated symptoms you may be able to treat it at home. If you are able to put some weight on the affected leg and without feeling excruciating pain it can be classed as minor knee pain. In this case, it's best to try managing this with some simple measures at home, to see if you can get it better. Here are some ways you can help treat it:

  • Try to put as little weight as possible on your knee. You should avoid standing for extended periods.
  • Applying ice can help reduce swelling. An ice pack or a bag of peas wrapped in a towel can be applied to your knee for up to 20 minutes every couple of hours.
  • Painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen can help ease pain. Anti-inflammatories can also help.
  • Joint pain relief products like Flexiseq Osteoarthritis Gel and Voltarol 12 Hour Joint Pain Relief can help ease discomfort.
  • A knee support may help if you are concerned about twisting the knee, as this can help you to keep the knee straight or just bending forwards, not from side to side.

Am I fit for work?

Depending on the severity of your knee pain and your type of job, you will still likely be able to work. If your job involves lots of heavy lifting you should check with your doctor for advice on working.

When should I see my doctor?

If you’ve recently started feeling knee pain, you may want to try some of the measures we’ve suggested such as allowing the knee to rest, avoiding putting weight on it for extended periods, using painkillers, and applying ice. If the pain does not go away within 6 weeks, you should arrange to see your doctor.

You should seek urgent medical attention if you:

  • Have sustained a significant knee injury.
  • Are unable to place weight on the affected leg.
  • Have noticed significant knee swelling.
  • Notice something out of shape
  • Pain is worsening over time

If you have not sustained an injury but you are experiencing severe pain associated with feeling generally unwell, feverish or, again, weight-bearing is impossible, you should also seek urgent medical attention.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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