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Knee Pain: What Causes it and How to Ease the Pain

Updated on June 8, 2012
Your physician may need to do an x-ray to determine the extent of your knee injury.
Your physician may need to do an x-ray to determine the extent of your knee injury.

The knee joint is the most complex joint in the body. It is comprised of three smaller joints, one where the patella (knee cap) meets the femur, one where the patella meets the tibiofibular joint and one where the femur and tibiofibular joint meets. Surrounding these joints is a slew of tendons, ligaments and muscles that aid in supporting the joint. Inside the joints are bursa and a fluid-filled synovial cavity. The knee joint also contains stabilizing cartilage known as menisci.

All of these systems combined allow for the knee joint to flex, bend and even move slightly side-to-side. While it's this variety of movement that makes activities like running and dancing possible, it is also this flexibility that leaves the knee even more prone to injury.

Causes of Knee Pain


Arthritis commonly attacks the knees do to overuse and should not be overlooked at any age. Some arthritis is the cause of a degenerative disease and others are the cause of poor dietary habits. This pain may be felt anywhere in the knee.

ACL Injury

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) runs across the knee and is commonly torn in athletes who make sudden shifts in direction like downhill skiers. This injury is typically accompanied by a loud pop at the time of injury, swelling and joint instability.


The bursa in your knee are filled with small amounts of fluid. These bursa can become inflamed due to injury or overuse causing pain and swelling. If you have bursitis you will likely feel heat at the site of pain and the area will feel squishy.


Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendons surrounding the knee. Typically, this is due to overuse or injury. Since tendons surround the knee it can be felt almost anywhere in the joint.

Torn Meniscus

The meniscus, made of cartilage, acts as a shock absorber between the upper and lower parts of your leg. However, a sudden and violent twisting action can cause this to tear. Unfortunately, cartilage rarely repairs itself so this pain may be persistent and require surgery. This tear may result in swelling and worsening pain while twisting.

Pain Behind the Knee

This can be caused by a variety of conditions. A pulled muscle, a cyst, deep vein thrombosis, tendonitis or bursitis.


As with other joints your knee joint can slip out of place. You should be able to see that your knee cap is off-centered and will find that the patella moves more freely than usual.

Osgood-Schlatter Disease

This condition often occurs in growing children. The pain is felt at the top of the shin bone where the soft area of the knee cap is. The pain typically subsides after several months or when the child is finished growing.

Degenerative Diseases

Rarely, knee pain is related to a degenerative disease. This may cause pieces of cartilage or bone to break off causing pain. This pain may be felt in any area of the knee and may require a knee replacement.

Medical Treatment

It is important to seek medical attention immediately for your pain if:

  • Your knee gives out causing a fall
  • Your knee is swelling
  • You cannot fully bend or extend your knee
  • You cannot bear any weight on the joint
  • See a malformation of the leg
  • Experience a fever with swelling, redness and pain

Depending on the cause of your pain your doctor may offer pain medications, surgery or physical therapy. Some conditions can be treated through corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections directly into the knee.

Home Remedies

Ask your doctor about the option of using OTC pain medications, bracing the joint and using ice on the joint for relief at home. Not all of these techniques will help every type of pain but your doctor should be able to suggest so unique options for you as well.


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