The most common causes of knee pain are:
If you experience knee pain when bending, walking and even resting that lasts longer than a few days, it could be a sign of joint damage. Ageing is a major cause of worn-out knee joints, often due to osteoarthritis. Other factors such as genetics, previous injury and lifestyle can play a part, so speak to your GP if you're experiencing any of these symptoms.
If you have sore knees related to osteoarthritis, you may also experience other symptoms in your knee such as:
Common causes of knee pain after injury
Underlying conditions that cause knee pain
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Knee pain is a common symptom of injuries and conditions related to sports and activity. If your knee pain is the result of a sudden injury, particularly a twist or excessive stretch, then you might have a sprain or strain, or other damage to cartilage or ligaments.
Common injuries resulting from sports or activity include:
Overuse or repetitive movement
If your knee pain appeared gradually and you haven't experienced any obvious or sudden trauma, then you could have tendinopathy. This is often brought on by repeated running or jumping. Alternatively, you could have bursitis (also known as housemaid's knee).
If you experience pain on the outer side of your knee, you may have iliotibial band syndrome — inflammation of the outer side of your knee due to overuse eg caused by long-distance running.
Knee pain can also be caused by joint diseases and conditions unrelated to any injury. If you're aged over 50, there's a chance that knee pain is a sign of osteoarthritis. However, other types of arthritis can also cause knee pain, such as:
Knee pain in teenagers can be caused by Osgood-Schlatter disease, a condition often related to bone growth and overuse.
In rare cases, knee pain may be due to osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that most often occurs in the knee.
If you sustain an injury in or around your knee, you may experience knee pain due to loose bodies. These are small fragments of shattered bone or cartilage that get caught in your knee joint.
Knee pain could also be referred pain — pain you feel in one area despite the source of the pain being elsewhere eg hip or foot pain.
If your knee pain is due to osteoarthritis, you may experience more joint damage, disability or knee pain in the future.
If your knee pain is due to injury, your risk of future knee injuries is higher.
You can reduce your risk of knee pain in different ways, including:
Also, when you are out walking, avoid rough, uneven roads; try to stay on smooth, paved roads.
Mr James Murray, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, walks you through how different parts of the knee can cause pain and how this pain presents in difficulties carrying out certain movements such as squatting and twisting.
Knee pain originating in the meniscus is often diagnosed using X-rays and MRI scans and treated using a combination of physiotherapy and surgery.
You should see your GP about severe or ongoing knee pain as soon as possible, particularly if it's:
If you experience the following symptoms, you should also see your GP:
Your GP will carry out a physical examination of your knee. This may include:
They will also ask you some questions. You may therefore find it useful to think about your answers to the questions below before your appointment:
They may also ask if you:
Your GP may refer you for:
If your GP suspects osteoporosis, they'll recommend a bone density scan.
There are things you can do at home to reduce your knee pain. This includes:
Call 111 now if:
It’s best to speak to your GP if you're experiencing prolonged knee pain. They will recommend treatment depending on the cause and severity of your knee pain. Treatments include:
They may also recommend alternative medicine treatments, such as acupuncture or glucosamine and chondroitin tablets
How do I know if my knee pain is serious?
If your knee pain is preventing you from getting on with your everyday activities or is affecting your mood, sleep and general wellbeing, then it is important to see your GP. You should also see your GP if you can't bear weight on your knee, or fully extend or bend your knee.
You may need more immediate treatment if you have signs of a knee infection ie a fever, feeling shivery, and redness or warmth around your knee. In this case, you should call 111.
You should also call 111 if your knee or leg is deformed, or if your knee is very painful or swollen.
What can cause knee pain without injury?
If you have knee pain without injury, it could be due to an underlying condition or due to overuse. Bursitis is often caused by overuse — this is an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs in your knee (bursae), which causes pain, redness, swelling and warmth. Tendonitis and arthritis can also cause knee pain.
In older people, knee pain is often due to osteoarthritis. Other types of arthritis that can cause knee pain include gout, rheumatoid arthritis and septic arthritis. Septic arthritis is caused by a bacterial infection and needs urgent medical treatment.
How do I relieve knee pain?
There are different things you can do at home to relieve your knee pain. It is important to avoid putting weight on your knee for too long eg standing for long periods of time. When resting your knee, elevate your leg if possible. You can also try ice packs or heat packs, taking over-the-counter painkillers and using compression bandages.
If your knee pain persists and is affecting your quality of life, see your GP for further treatment.
Is walking good for knee pain?
If your knee pain is due to osteoarthritis, walking can help by improving blood supply to your knee and strengthening the muscles in and around it. However, if your knee pain is due to injury, it is usually recommended to rest your knee and put as little weight on it as possible. See your GP for advice on what is best in your particular case.
What does arthritis in the knee feel like?
There are several different types of arthritis that can affect the knee. Osteoarthritis may initially feel like a dull ache, which gets worse over time, becoming painful and stiff. Gout in the knee can also cause pain as well as tenderness and warmth. Septic arthritis in the knee usually develops quickly and causes pain, redness and warmth.
What does a dull ache in the knee mean?
A dull ache in your knee could be a sign of damage to its cartilage, ligaments or tendons due to overuse or wear and tear with age. It may also be a sign of an underlying condition, such as tendonitis or the early stages of osteoarthritis. If your achy knee is affecting your ability to carry out everyday activities or is affecting your mood, sleep or wellbeing, see your GP.
How long should knee pain last?
This depends on the cause. If an underlying medical condition is causing your knee pain eg arthritis and you do not receive treatment for this condition, your knee pain may persist for a long time or may recur frequently. If your knee pain is due to an injury, how long the pain lasts will depend on the severity of the injury and the treatment you receive.
Will knee pain go away?
In many cases, knee pain will go away with rest. However, depending on the cause, you may need joint injections, medications, physiotherapy or surgery before your pain goes away completely.
How can I stop knee pain?
Taking over-the-counter painkillers can reduce your knee pain. However, in most cases, you will need to rest your knee or get treatment for your pain to stop completely.
Elevating your leg, using ice packs or heat packs, and/or compression bandages can help. However, if your knee pain doesn’t stop or gets worse, see your GP for further treatment.