13 Causes of Knee Pain

Knee pain doesn't discriminate, attacking people of any age or gender. Aging, injury, and serious medical conditions can all causes these important joints to ache.

How is knee pain treated?

Knee pain is treated based on several factors, including what is causing the pain in the first place. That makes identifying the source of knee pain key to treatment.

What are some common causes of knee pain?

It's important to see a doctor whenever someone experiences sharp and sudden pain or pain that doesn't go away.

Those who are wondering just what could be the source of their pain might want to take a look at some of the following common causes of knee pain. The first cause is incredibly common, with hundreds of thousands of cases occurring each year in the United States...

13. ACL Injury

What is an ACL injury?

An ACL injury is an injury, often a tear or sprain, to the anterior cruciate ligament, aka the ACL. This ligament is one of the major stabilizing ligaments in your knee, connecting the thighbone to the shinbone.

How common is this injury?

Incredibly common. It is estimated that over 200,000 cases of ACL injuries occur each year in the United States alone.

How does this injury occur?

This injury is often the result of sports, such as basketball or football. While it can happen with any sport, it tends to happen more with those that involve a lot of jumping, landing, twisting, and changing directions.

How can someone spot this injury?

These injuries are relatively easy to spot. Most people who experience torn ACLs will feel or hear a pop. This pop is often followed by sensations like:

  • Swelling
  • Instability in the knee
  • Not being able to put weight on the knee

How is this injury treated?

Treatment varies depending on the severity of the injury.

  • Rest and physical therapy are often all that is required for minor injuries.
  • Conversely, serious injuries could require surgery followed by extensive physical therapy.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the following common cause of knee pain...

12. Arthritis

What is arthritis?

Arthritis refers to joint inflammation, which can result in tenderness and swelling.

How common is arthritis?

Incredibly common. It is estimated that more than 3 million cases occur in the United States on an annual basis.

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Having this disease can make even simple activities extremely hard and painful. Some common symptoms of arthritis are:

  • Stiff or swollen joints
  • Pain in the knee
  • Pain that causes weakness or buckling
  • Increased pain or discomfort when it rains

How is arthritis treated?

Physical exams, imaging tests, and lab tests are all common methods for diagnosing arthritis.

How is arthritis treated?

Unfortunately, there isn't a cure for arthritis. There are, however, plenty of ways to manage the symptoms. Some management methods include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Physical therapy
  • Mobility-assistant devices
  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Surgery in severe cases

Now, there are many types of arthritis, and the following affects millions of people annually...

11. Osteoarthritis

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a specific type of arthritis that results from wear and tear of tissue at the ends of bones. It usually affects those over the age of 50, although it can happen to anyone of any age.

How common is osteoarthritis?

It is thought that there are roughly 3 million cases of this condition in the United States every year.

What are the symptoms and complications of osteoarthritis?

With this diseases, the cartilage in the knee will wear away over time. The result? After awhile, bone will scrape against bone and can even result in bone spurs in some cases.

Some symptoms include:

  • Pain that worsens with activity but eases up with rest
  • Warmth in the joint and knee
  • Stiffness in the knee
  • Decreased mobility

How is osteoarthritis treated?

Methods for managing this condition include:

  • Weight loss
  • Exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Injections
  • Devices to help keep the knee stable
  • Surgery

The following form of arthritis is slightly less common, although it can be just as debilitating...

10. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune form of arthritis. In other words, it is not the result of wear and tear, but rather from the body attacking itself. Specifically, with this disorder, the body creates an inflammatory response that swells lining of various joints.

How common is rheumatoid arthritis?

RA affects more than 2 million people in the United States each year.

What are the symptoms of RA?

Some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are:

  • Warmness around the joint
  • Instability of the knee
  • Creaking or popping noises
  • Trouble moving or straightening the knee

How is RA diagnosed?

Common diagnostic methods include physical exams, blood tests, and image tests.

How is RA treated?

This condition cannot be cured, only treated. Some common treatment methods include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • Surgery for severe cases
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • NDSAIDs
  • DMARDs
  • Physical therapy

The following common cause of knee pain isn't related to arthritis at all; rather, it is the result of an injury...

9. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)

What is the iliotibial band?

The IT band is a ligament that helps the hips rotate, extend, and abduct (move away from the body); it additionally helps stabilize the knee.

What is iliotibial band syndrome?

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS or IT band syndrome) is an injury of these connective tissues as a result of overuse. Specifically, it can result in painful inflammation and the rubbing of this ligament against the thighbone.

How common is ITBS?

There are more than 200,000 cases of this condition in the United States every year.

What are the symptoms of ITBS?

Symptoms include:

  • Pain between the hip and knee
  • Snapping or popping
  • Swelling
  • Pain that worsens with physical activity

How is this condition treated?

This injury takes a few months to heal. Some common methods for managing this condition include:

  • RICE (Rest, Ice the area, Compress the area, Elevate the affected area)
  • Physical therapy
  • Proper stretching
  • Massages
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery in severe cases

The following condition also commonly occurs in athletes...

8. Chondromalacia Patallae (aka, Runner's Knee)

What is chondromalacia?

Chondromalacia, or chondromalacia patellae, is well-known as runner's knee. With this condition, the cartilage underneath the kneecap (patella) softens and starts to wear away.

Who is at risk for runner's knee?

Most of the time, this conditions occurs in young physically active people. However, anyone can get this condition. For example, it could also start in older people who already have arthritis of the knee.

How common is runner's knee?

This condition is incredibly common, and it is estimated that there are more than 200,000 cases of runner's knee in the United States every single year.

What are the symptoms of chondromalacia?

Some symptoms of runner's knee include:

  • Knee pain
  • Grinding
  • Cracking/crackling sensations
  • Increased pain with movement
  • Swelling

How is runner's knee diagnosed?

Common diagnostic methods include: x-rays, MRIs, and arthroscopic exams (keyhole surgery, where a doctor creates a small incision, inserts a scope, and looks for damage).

How is runner's knee managed?

Treatment options include:

  • RICE (Rest, Ice the area, Compress the area, Elevate the area)
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery in severe cases
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug

How is runner's knee prevented?

A few methods for reducing the risk of runner's knee include:

  • Avoiding activities that repeatedly abuse the knees
  • Strengthening the muscles
  • Increasing flexibility
  • Wearing proper shoe insoles (especially for those with flat feet)

The following condition is closely related to runner's knee...

7. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Anterior Knee Pain Syndrome)

What is patellofemoral pain syndrome?

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, or anterior knee pain syndrome, is a condition where damage occurs to the cartilage under the kneecap. Specifically, the kneecap (patella) may rub against/slide over the thighbone (femur), which can result in inflammation in or around the area.

In some cases, this process can lead to chondromalacia (runner's knee).

How common is patellofemoral pain syndrome?

It is estimated that there are more than 3 million annual cases of this condition in the United States.

What are the symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome?

Symptoms include:

  • Dull aching pain
  • Decreased mobility
  • Reduced strength
  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling

How is this condition treated?

For most cases, the RICE method works very well. For others, doctors might recommend:

  • Medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Modification to activities
  • Surgery
  • Braces

How is this condition prevented?

Ways to reduce the risk of developing this condition include:

  • Keeping muscles balanced
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not overusing the knees
  • Stretching before and after working out

The next condition doesn't affect ligaments or tissues, but rather bones themselves...

6. Fractures

What is a fracture?

Knee fractures happen when a break or crack occurs in one of the bones in the knee. Sometimes, a fracture will poke out, actually breaking through the skin. The kneecap (patella) is the most common bone broken around the knee.

Who is at risk?

Anyone at any age can experience a fracture. Fractures can occur as the result of any kind of injury, including falls, car accidents, or sports. Those who play high-impact sports or who have osteoporosis may be at heightened risk for fractures.

What do fractures feel like?

Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Trouble putting weight on the knee
  • Pain made worse by moving
  • Muscle spasms
  • Changes in the shape or look of the leg or knee

How are fractures treated?

The easiest way to diagnose a fracture is by x-ray. Once confirmed, there are a few different treatment options, which vary based on which bones are broken and how severe the fracture is. However, common treatment methods include:

  • Straightening the bone
  • Stabilizing the bone with braces or casts
  • Surgery to put the bones back into place with pins and plates

The following cause of knee pain doesn't result from a break, but rather a tear...

5. Torn Meniscus

What is a torn meniscus?

The meniscus is cartilage in the knee that provides cushioning and support. When forcefully twisted, it can tear.

How common are meniscus tears?

More than 200,000 cases a year occur in the United States.

What does a torn meniscus feel like?

Symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of mobility

How is a torn meniscus treated?

If the tear isn't too bad, the RICE method, pain relievers, and physical therapy all work well. For severe cases, surgery may be necessary. In these cases, there could be persistent knee issues even after surgery.

Fortunately, the following condition even more rarely requires surgery to fix...

4. Knee Bursitis (Bursa Inflammation)

What is bursitis?

Bursae are fluid-filled pads that cushion the joints. When a bursa (single pad) is inflamed, the person has bursitis.

How common is bursitis?

It is estimated that the United States has over 200,000 annual cases of bursitis.

What does bursitis feel like?

The symptoms of the condition can vary quite a bit from person to person, so it can be hard to diagnose. Some symptoms to look out for, though, include:

  • Warmth
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Increased pressure
  • Increased pain

What are the risk factors for bursitis?

Risk factors for bursitis include:

  • Spine issues
  • Repeated motion and joint overuse
  • Metabolic conditions like diabetes
  • Injury
  • Gout
  • Certain kinds of arthritis

How is bursitis treated?

Most of the time, treatment options include:

  • RICE
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers

How is bursitis prevented?

Prevention methods for bursitis include:

  • Proper warm-ups and cool-downs when exercising
  • Avoiding repetitive motion
  • Using knee pads for kneeling
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Having good posture

These prevention methods may also reduce the risk for developing the following cause of knee pain that's closely related to runner's knee...

3. Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper's Knee)

What is patellar tendonitis?

Patellar tendonitis, or jumper's knee, results from an injury to the patellar tendon. Now, this tendon connects the kneecap to your shin bone, meaning it facilitates activities like kicking, running, and jumping.

How common is this condition?

This condition is quite common, with more than 200,000 cases occurring in the United States each year.

Who is at greater risk?

While this injury can happen to anyone, those that play sports like volleyball or basketball are most affected.

What does jumper's knee feel like?

Symptoms of the condition include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness

How is jumper's knee treated?

The most common treatments for this condition are:

  • RICE
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massages
  • Stretching
  • Braces
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen
  • Analgesics like acetaminophen

How is jumper's knee prevented?

Ways to reduce the risk of jumper's knee include:

  • Proper warm-ups before exercise
  • Proper cool-downs after exercise
  • Proper knee support
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Not jumping on hard surfaces like concrete

While jumper's knee most commonly affects athletes and active individuals, the following condition can have many, many causes and generate intense knee pain...

2. Dislocation

What is dislocation?

Dislocation refers to an injury that literally forces a joint out of its normal location.

What does a dislocated knee feel like?

Dislocation can result in:

  • Intense pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiffness
  • Joint immobilization
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling

How is dislocation diagnosed?

For diagnosis, most doctors will be able to tell that it's dislocated just by looking at it. To be sure, though, many will order x-rays or MRIs.

How is a dislocated knee treated?

Dislocation requires prompt medical attention. Treatment involves lots of painkillers while professionals will put the dislocated knee back into place and secure it. Following this relocation, lots of rest is necessary.

The following cause of knee pain was once known as "the disease of kings," although it truly can affect anyone...

1. Gout

Gout, once known as the "disease of kings," is actually a type of arthritis (gouty arthritis). Gout occurs when there are high levels of uric acid in the blood. With this condition, the excess uric acid crystallizes in joints, causing pain and inflammation.

How common is gout?

Gout is a common condition, with more than 3 million cases occurring in the United States each year.

What does gout feel like?

Some symptoms of the condition include:

  • Swelling or lumps
  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Tenderness
  • Decreased mobility
  • Redness

How is gout treated?

There isn't an actual cure for gout, but there are some options to help alleviate the symptoms and reduce flare-ups. The most common treatment options include medications and lifestyle changes.

Some of medications commonly used for gout include:

  • NSAIDs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Pain relievers specifically made for this condition

Lifestyle changes may include:

  • Eating less red meat
  • Eating less sugar
  • Drinking less alcohol

What's next?

So, what's most important for someone with knee pain to remember?...

Final Thoughts

Knee pain is no fun. When it gets to the point that the pain is so severe and/or persistent that it interferes with daily life, it's time to see a doctor.

How is knee pain treated?

Treatment for knee pain will vary based on several factors, including the type and severity of the injury. That means one of the most important steps in treating knee pain is diagnosing its cause.

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