Knee pain may result from an injury, such as a tear of a ligament, meniscus or cartilage or from a degenerative condition such as osteoarthritis. Less likely causes of knee pain are gout and infection.
Most active people experience knee pain at some point in their lives, especially as they age. Many relatively minor instances of knee pain respond well to self-care measures such as rest, icing and elevation of the leg. If your knee pain does not improve within 1-2 weeks it is advisable to seek professional care where a diagnosis can be established and a course of physical therapy will likely be recommended.
In addition to physical therapy, specialties such as acupuncture and massage therapy can help resolve knee pain and may also prevent the development of some knee problems. Although every knee problem cannot be prevented, certain steps can be taken to reduce the risk of knee injuries.
Signs & Symptoms
Some of the more common knee injuries and their signs and symptoms include the following:
A tear in any of the 4 ligaments of the knee may be caused by a fall or contact trauma, is likely to cause:
- Immediate pain that worsens when you try to walk or bend your knee
- A popping sound
- An inability to bear weight on the injured knee
- A feeling that the knee might buckle or give way
Tendon injuries (tendinitis)
If your knee pain is caused by tendinitis, some of the signs and symptoms include:
- Pain in one or both knees
- Swelling in the front of the knee or just below the kneecap
- Worsening pain when you jump, run, squat or climb stairs
- An inability to completely extend or straighten your knee
Meniscus injuries involve tears in the cartilage, which can occur in various places and configurations. Signs and symptoms of this type of injury include:
- Mild to moderate swelling that occurs slowly, as long as 24 to 36 hours after the injury
- An inability to straighten the knee completely; the knee may feel locked in place
Some knee injuries cause inflammation in the bursae, the small sacs of fluid that cushion the outside of your knee joint so that tendons and ligaments glide smoothly over the joint. Bursitis can lead to:
- Pain, even at rest
- Aching or stiffness when you walk
- Considerable pain when you kneel or go up and down stairs
- Fever, pain and swelling if the bursa located over your kneecap bone (prepatellar bursa) becomes infected
Sometimes called degenerative arthritis, this is the most common type of arthritis. It's a wear-and-tear condition that occurs when the cartilage in your knee deteriorates with use and age. Osteoarthritis usually develops gradually and tends to cause:
- Varying degrees of pain, especially when you stand or walk
- Stiffness, especially in the morning and after you've been active
- Creaking or popping sounds
- A loss of flexibility in your knee joints
- Severe inflammation
- Intermittent attacks of sudden pain and swelling in large joints, especially the knees
- Pain and tenderness in the front of your knee that's worse when you sit for long periods, when you get up from a chair, and when you climb or descend stairs.
- A grating or grinding sensation may be present when you extend your knee.
You have four types of joints: fixed, pivot, ball-and-socket and hinge. Your knees are hinge joints, which, as the name suggests, work much like the hinge of a door, allowing the joint to move backward and forward. Your knees are the largest and heaviest hinge joints in your body. They're also the most complex. In addition to bending and straightening, they twist and rotate. This makes them especially vulnerable to damage, which is why they sustain more injuries on average than do other joints.
Some common causes of knee pain and injuries include:
- A blow to the knee, either from contact during sports, a fall or a car accident
- Repeated stress or overuse, which may occur from playing sports or if your work or hobby requires doing the same activity over and over again
- Sudden turning, pivoting, stopping, cutting from side to side, which happens frequently during certain sports
- Awkward landings from a fall or from jumping during sports, such as basketball
- Rapidly growing bones, which are especially prone to injury during sports
- Degeneration from aging