Knee Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Knee pain is a common source of discomfort for persons of all ages, occurring without obvious injury, or becoming a chronic issue over many years.

Knee pain can be localized to one area, or diverse throughout the entire in the region, owing to the fact that it can affect the bone, ligaments, cartilage or your actual kneecap.

Luckily, most persons that experience knee pain only do so for a short period of time, after which it may seemingly resolve on its own.

Causes of Knee Pain

Knee pain can broadly be grouped according to three causes, which encompass the majority of reported cases. These include:


Injury to the knees is a commonly preventable source of knee pain, though it is hard to predict when an injury is likely to occur without warning signs. Injury to the knee can occur as a result of traumatic forces on the actual bones within the knee, falls and fractures or vehicular or sport accidents.

Injuries may also impair normal function of the knee joint, and prevent weight-bearing or free movement.

In addition to this, injuries can also affect the ligaments within the knee – such as ACL injuries athletes commonly experience. Ligament type injuries usually occur in persons that are actively involved in sports.

Other types of injury include knee dislocations which can compromise blood flow throughout the leg, or meniscus injuries that can occur when the knee is twisted abnormally to one side.


Like any other part of the body, overuse of the knees is commonly associated with acute or chronic pain, owing to the repetitive nature of activity performed. Endurance athletes such as long-distance runners are more likely to experience pain as a result of overuse, since repeated high impact stress on the knees promotes degeneration of the kneecap or ligaments.

As you can guess, the result is bone that rubs upon bone when attempting to move.

Medical Conditions

By far, the most common cause of knee pain are various types of arthritic disease. This can occur in the form of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or even gout, which causes accumulation of uric acid within joints.

Obesity, while not technically a medical condition can also contribute significantly to knee pain, as obese individuals possess a higher relative risk of developing arthritis, or premature degeneration of connective tissue within the knees.

Symptoms of Knee Pain

Many persons may experience transient knee pain that occurs and resolves on its own without your intervention, but if the frequency of these painful episodes starts to increase, or occurs with the following additional symptoms, it is important that you visit your specialist to investigate what is amiss. Serious knee pain may also manifest with the following symptoms:

Inability To Raise From A Seated Position

Proper posture dictates that when getting up from a seated position, we should use our leg muscles to propel the body upwards, not allowing the kneecaps to go past the tip of the toes. Often times, people pay no regard to this, and instead place undue stress on the knees when raising, abusing this joint in the process.

Over time, you may find this incorrect technique no longer works for you, as you find it extremely difficult and painful to rise this way. At the first hint of pain you should actively work to improve posture, taking stress off of the joint before irreparable damage occurs.

Knee Locking

If you are unable to bend the knee (either forwards or backwards), this is what is referred to as locking of the knees. Under normal circumstances, you should be able to bend the knee trouble-free, but when structures within the knees are damaged, this functionality may be lost.

Think of it as trying to open a cupboard with a faulty hinge; it may go one way, but then refuse to go the other.

Difficulty Walking

Walking involves a great degree of bending at the knee, since it is a complicated task that requires coordination and stability.

As damage to the structures within the knees occur, bones may not be able to slide smoothly over each other, instead causing immense pain. Compression kneepads may help a little bit, as they reduce the amount of flexion your knee is allowed.

Tenderness Of The Knees

Pain in the knee region almost always occurs with redness and swelling, being very painful if you even attempt to touch the joint. You may not even be able to gently apply pressure to the knees, such as when attempting to get into bed at night.

Weight Shifting

Have you ever noticed that when your legs start to feel fatigued you instinctively shift your weight around from one leg to the other? This helps offer a brief amount of rest to one leg at a time. With knee pain, imagining having your other good knee (or the one with less pain) bearing the weight of your entire body, all day long.

While it may be tolerable for a short period of time, you also risk causing damage to the good knee in the process.

Treatment of Knee Pain

One of the first goals of effective knee pain management is to minimize the discomfort felt, which will improve mobility or at least help the individual to carry on a life that is closer to normal. Treatment approaches do vary, however, based on the specific cause in the first place. Common approaches include:

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is most effective when used in treatment modalities that address injury, and when pain was not a usual accompaniment before. Physical therapy aims to help the muscle and joints regain normal mechanical function, so that loadbearing becomes less painful, or to prevent loss of mobility from atrophy of critical support structures.


This mnemonic refers to rest, ice, compression and elevation, techniques that all help in the management of acute pain, and promote recovery. If your knee pain occurred suddenly, or following a minor injury, this is usually a sufficient treatment approach.

Over-The-Counter Medication

Over-the-counter medication often include NSAID painkillers, which provide short-term analgesia and anti-inflammatory actions. These are not advised for long term use, unless specifically advised by your physician.

Other over-the-counter products may include glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, which show modest potential in helping to support the health of your joints.

Prescription Medication

These may include corticosteroids, narcotic analgesics, immunosuppressants or gout medication to control uric acid levels. Occasionally, these medication may be administered intravenously to reduce dosing frequency and improve compliance.


Knee surgery can vary from simple arthroscopic outpatient procedures, during which your physician is able to repair small injuries and remove tiny fragments of damaged bone with the help of a fiber-optic camera, or knee replacements, where part (or the entirety) of the knee joint is replaced with metal or plastic components.

Knee replacements are usually preferred in persons whose connective tissue within the knee have degraded to such an extent that normal function will never be possible again.

Knee Pain – Summary

Even though knee pain is responsible for loss of thousands of hours of man-hours every year, often times common sense and good practices could reduce this significantly. If you suffered a minor injury, instead of pressing on, be sure to follow RICE principles, which support a good prognosis.

And as always, be sure to consult your physician for specialist advice before things take a turn for the worst.


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