Knee Pain Causes

Common Causes of Knee Pain

Is your knee aching, swollen, tender or throbbing with pain? Knee pain causes many people to give up exercising and other activities. Although it can strike anyone at any age, knee pain is one of the most common complaints among older adults. Here’s a rundown of risk factors, what causes knee pain in most people, and what you can do to treat and prevent it.

Risk Factors for Knee Pain

You’re more likely to suffer from knee pain if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Regularly play sports
  • Previously had a leg or knee injury
  • Are over 50
  • Have weak muscles


What Causes Knee Pain?

Your knee contains several different bones, ligaments, and tendons. Injuries and illnesses can cause these parts to become inflamed or weak.

Treatment of Arthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. A treatment plan can help you manage the pain and other symptoms of the disease.

In most cases, treatment focuses on reducing pain, improving flexibility and improving range of motion. Doctors generally prescribe a combination of the following:

  • Medications to reduce pain
  • Hyaluronic acid Injections to reduce swelling and pain and provide lubrication and cushioning
  • Corticosteroids to reduce swelling
  • Immunosuppressant prescriptions
  • Physical therapy
  • Arthroscopic joint repair
  • Arthrodesis to fuse the ends of the joints together
  • Joint replacement surgery

If you have arthritis, it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations and try to stay active. Many people with arthritis don’t feel like exercising, but exercise is one of the best ways to keep your joints flexible.

Although there is no cure for arthritis, you shouldn’t think you’re stuck with knee pain. There are treatments available to keep your knee flexible, strong and free from pain. Contacting an arthritis specialist can help you get started.

Ligament Damage

Injuries to the many ligaments and tendons in your feet, legs, and knees can cause pain. Overuse, sudden twisting, and the frequent impact can all cause overstretched ligaments and torn cartilage in the knee. Although athletes are at high risk for these injuries, they can happen to anyone. The most common types of ligament damage include:

Achilles tendinitis

The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in your body. It attaches your heel bone to your calf muscles. If it gets overused, it can weaken and even rupture. Achilles tendinitis is one of the most common foot and leg injuries. It can cause severe pain in all parts of your leg including the knee.

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear

The ACL runs diagonally across your knee to connect the upper and lower parts of your knee. If it gets damaged or torn, you will feel a sharp pain and perhaps a popping or cracking sound. A torn ACL will cause severe pain and swelling.

Meniscus tear

This is a strip of cartilage that runs between the thighbone and the shinbone. It helps keep your knee in a stable position. A meniscus tear or meniscal tear is a common knee injury that causes swelling, stiffness, soreness and fluid buildup in the joint.


The bursae are fluid-filled sacs that sit at the front and sides of the knee. They cushion the bones and tendons. If they become inflamed, you will develop a condition called bursitis. This causes swelling, tenderness, pain and stiffness of the knee.

What Can You Do to Treat Ligament Injuries?

Ligament injuries have similar symptoms, so the correct diagnosis is critical. If you’re experiencing intense knee pain, you should see a doctor determine if you have a ligament injury or another type of injury.

Most ligament injuries take several weeks to heal. Because they tend to be recurring, you will have to use preventive measures in the future.

Follow your doctor’s treatment plan carefully. If you’re used to being very active, it might be hard to reduce your level of activity for several weeks, but rest is crucial to healing.

Treatment of ligament injuries generally involves:

  • Complete rest of the injured limb
  • Using ice and compression to reduce swelling
  • Rehabilitative exercises that focus on stretching
  • Physical therapy
  • Use of orthotics and other supportive footwear
  • Gradual return to previous activity levels

Impact Injuries

Did your knee receive a sudden, unexpected blow? An impact injury could result in the following.


The sudden impact can cause your knee cap to move out of place. If your knee injury was accompanied by a popping sound, you can’t straighten your knee and you have severe pain, you might have a dislocated knee cap.

Foot or leg injury

If you hurt your foot or leg, you might change the way you walk to avoid aggravating the pain. Doing so could cause you to put unnatural pressure on your knees.


An impact injury to your knee can cause it to fracture. A knee fracture is an emergency that requires immediate surgery to repair.


Did you know that there are over 100 types of arthritis? You don’t have to know about all of them, but it’s helpful to know which ones are more likely to cause knee pain.


This is the most common form of arthritis. It happens when the joints get worn out after years of use. As the joints continue to rub against each other, they cause further wear and tear. In some cases, the wear can cause the joints to become misshapen.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Unlike osteoarthritis that stays largely on the joints, rheumatoid arthritis can affect your whole body. This is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints. It can also spread to your eyes, lungs, blood vessels and heart.


Sometimes called the “disease of kings” because it’s linked to a diet high in fats, meat, and alcohol, gout is a buildup of uric acid in the joints. It is characterized by a swollen, painful toe. If you have gout, your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce uric acid buildup. You will also need to make dietary changes according to your doctor’s recommendations.

Psoriatic arthritis

This is an autoimmune disorder that causes stiffness and joint pain in people who have psoriasis. It can affect the joints in your fingers, spine, knees and feet.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Since the causes of knee pain are so varied,  it’s important to get a professional diagnosis. Doctors use advanced diagnostic equipment include x-rays, CT scans, blood tests and MRIs to determine knee pain causes and prescribe the right course of treatment.

Call a doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Severe swelling and intense pain
  • Inability to bend or move your knee
  • Obvious twisting, fracture or deformity
  • Fever
  • Inability to bend or move your knee
  • Inability to put weight on your leg

Don’t try to diagnose knee pain yourself. The symptoms of each condition are too similar to allow you to do more than take a wild guess. Getting a professional diagnosis will help you move forward with the right treatment.

Preventing Knee Pain

Now that you know what causes knee pain, how do you prevent it? To keep your knees healthy and flexible, follow these steps.

Maintain a healthy weight

Your weight determines how much pressure your body places on your knees. Losing weight is the best way to reduce stress on your knees. If you’re already at a healthy weight, do your best to maintain it.

Change your exercise or sport

Some physical activities put a lot of strain on your knees and other joints. Switch to low-impact activities like swimming, bicycling, rowing, water aerobics or walking. If you don’t want to make a permanent switch, change to a lower-impact activity part of the time. If you run, avoid running down hills or on uneven ground.

Use the right footwear

Wearing supportive, properly fitting shoes will protect your feet, knees, joints, and ligaments. Ask your doctor if you need orthotics or other supportive inserts.

Be flexible

When you exercise, focus on building the quadriceps and hamstring muscles that protect your knee. Warm-up your muscles before every exercise session. Stretch your joints and muscles thoroughly when you’re finished. If you have balance problems, add balancing exercises to every workout or stretching routine.

Monitor your knee

Once you’ve had a ligament injury, you’re at risk of getting another. Monitor your knee carefully for any signs of strain or swelling. If you have a chronic condition like arthritis, talk to your doctor about any changes in your symptoms.

Keep Moving With Strong, Healthy Knees

If you’re suffering from knee pain, it can affect every part of your life. You should never just live with pain, especially severe knee pain. Contacting a doctor is the first step toward developing a treatment plan that will keep you moving.