Wear and tear of your knee over time can cause pain when bending your knee due to damage to the bones, ligaments, muscles and/or tendons in and around your knee joint.
For roughly every 500g of body weight, about 3kg of pressure is applied to your knees when they are bearing weight eg when bending, running, squatting or walking.
Depending on the underlying cause, a knee injury can cause sharp, shooting pain, a dull ache or a burning pain. You may notice swelling and your knee may feel tender to touch. You may also have difficulty bending, straightening or bearing weight on your knee and may find that your knee gets stuck (locks). A knee injury can also make you feel as if your knee is about to give way when you try to walk on it.
The most common causes of knee pain include:
Old knee injuries that weren’t treated correctly can also cause chronic (long-term) knee pain or knee pain that flares up occasionally.
Other common causes of knee pain include:
Iliotibial band syndrome, knee bursitis, runner’s knee, osteoarthritis and patellar tendonitis can also cause knee pain when bending. Other causes of knee pain when bending include:
Pain behind knee when bending
If your knee pain when bending occurs behind your knee, the most likely causes are a Baker’s cyst, hamstring tendonitis or a knee injury.
Sharp pain in knee when bending
If your knee pain when bending is sharp, the most likely causes are a torn ligament or meniscus, fracture of one of the bones of your knee joint, osteoarthritis or patellar tendonitis.
Pain at the top of kneecap when bending
If your knee pain when bending occurs above your knee, the most likely causes are knee bursitis, osteoarthritis and quadriceps tendonitis.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and when they started, as well as your medical history. They will also carry out a physical examination of your knee to check for swelling and instability, as well as to assess the range of movement in your knee.
They may then recommend imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI scan to more closely examine the bones and tissues of your knee. They may also recommend blood tests to check for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and infections.
RICE stands for:
If your knee pain is caused by arthritis or you have a stiff knee, applying heat can help by improving your blood flow.
Over-the-counter painkillers (eg paracetamol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg ibuprofen) can help reduce knee pain and swelling.
Massage can help relieve knee pain. However, you should see a doctor first before trying massage to find out if it is appropriate given the underlying cause of your knee pain.
It is important to keep your knees active so the muscles that support your knee do not become weak — this can place greater strain on your knees. Knee strengthening exercises that target these muscles can, therefore, help reduce knee pain.
It isn’t always possible to prevent a knee injury and subsequent knee pain. However, you can reduce your risk by making sure you always stretch your legs before and after exercising, and stop exercising if you feel any knee pain. You should also avoid suddenly increasing the intensity of your exercise regime and instead gradually work your way up.
Practicing regular strengthening and stretching exercises that target the muscles that support your knees can also reduce your risk of a knee injury.
If you are overweight, losing excess weight will reduce the strain on your knees, making a knee injury less likely.
If your work involves kneeling down a lot, use knee pads to reduce your chances of developing knee bursitis. Finally, make sure you wear well-fitting, supportive shoes.
How do I know if my knee pain is serious?
If you are in extreme pain, or your knee is swollen, bleeding or deformed, then you may have a serious injury and should see a doctor. You will also need to see a doctor if you heard a popping sound when injuring your knee, you can't bear any weight on your knee, can't straighten your knee, or your knee is unstable or buckles when you try walking.
How do I stop my knees from hurting when I squat?
If you have knee pain when squatting, it is important to give your knees a rest so they have time to heal from any damage that has occurred. You can also apply ice packs for up to 20 minutes three to four times a day, wear compression bandages and whenever possible, elevate your knee to above the level of your heart. If these measures don’t improve your knee pain when squatting, see your GP.
Should I squat with knee pain?
If squatting is causing you knee pain, stop. You can try other knee strengthening exercises and work your way back up to squats. If you think you have injured your knee, see your GP.
Is squatting bad for knees?
Squatting done correctly is not bad for your knee and can actually help strengthen the muscles that support your knees, which will reduce your risk of a knee injury. However, if you have knee pain, you should first see your GP to investigate the underlying cause and get treatment if needed, before trying squats.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.
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Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager
Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.
Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor
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Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing
Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.