Knee pain is a common complaint that affects people of all ages. Knee pain may be the result of an injury, such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. Medical conditions — including arthritis, gout and infections — also can cause knee pain.
Knee pain usually results from overuse, poor form during physical activity, not warming up or cooling down, or inadequate stretching.
Simple causes of knee pain often clear up on their own with self care. Being overweight can put you at greater risk for knee problems.
Common Causes of Knee Pain
- Arthritis — including rheumatoid arthritis, arthritis, and gout
- Baker’s cyst — a fluid-filled swelling behind the knee that may accompany inflammation from other causes, like arthritis
- Bursitis — inflammation from repeated pressure on the knee, such as kneeling for long periods of time, overuse, or injury
- Infection in the joint
- Tendinitis — a pain in the front of your knee that gets worse when going up and down stairs or inclines
- Torn cartilage (a meniscus tear) — pain felt on the inside or outside of the knee joint
- Torn ligament (ACL tear) — leads to pain and instability of the knee
- Strain or sprain — minor injuries to the ligaments caused by sudden or unnatural twisting
Try This at Home
Many causes of knee pain, especially those related to overuse or physical activity, respond well to self-care:
- Rest and avoid activities that aggravate the pain, especially weight bearing activities
- Apply ice every hour for up to 15 minutes (after the first day, apply at least 4 times per day)
- Keep your knee elevated as much as possible to bring down swelling
- Gently compress the knee by wearing an ace bandage or elastic sleeve
- Take acetaminophen for pain or ibuprofen for pain and swelling
- Sleep with a pillow underneath or between your knees
When to Seek Medical Attention
- You cannot bear weight on your knee
- You have severe pain, even when not bearing weight
- Your knee buckles, clicks, or locks
- Your knee is deformed or misshapen
- You have a fever, redness or warmth around the knee, or significant swelling
- You have pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, or bluish discoloration in the calf below the sore knee
- You still have pain after 3 days of home treatment
- Increase your activity level slowly over time. For example, when you begin exercising again, walk rather than run.
- Always warm up before exercising and cool down afterward. Stretch your quadriceps and hamstrings.
- Replace your sports shoes often. Get good advice about proper footwear for your foot shape and mechanics. For example, if you land on the outside of your heel and turn your foot inward when you walk (pronate), consider anti-pronation footwear.