Find where it hurts

Locations of knee joint pain can include:

  • Front of knee pain:
  • Back of knee pain or pain behind knee
  • Side of knee pain
  • Inside knee pain

Chronic (long term) diffuse (spread out) knee joint pain can be a symptom of osteoarthritis, but a sudden onset of diffuse knee joint pain without injury may suggest other inflammatory causes.

What are common knee pain causes and symptoms?

Knee pain is often caused by a knee injury. Common knee injuries include sprains and strains(overstretching of the ligaments, muscles, or tendons) and cartilage (meniscus) tears. Ligament sprains are often caused by sudden twisting of the knee joint, too much force on the knee joint from repeated jumping or sudden stopping while running, or direct impact to either side of the knee. Meniscus tears can result from forceful impact or twisting of the knee, especially during weight-bearing exercise, and from wear and tear in older people. Common symptoms of ligament and meniscus damage include knee pain(usually at its worst during the first 2 to 3 days after knee injury) and swelling (occurs within minutes to days of a knee injury, depending on the underlying damage).

Knee pain can also be caused by overuse of the knee joint and can occur during activities such as walking and running. Knee pain from running or sports that involve a lot of jumping can result from overuse and gradual damage of the tendons attached to the kneecap. Side of knee pain from running, cycling, or other activities that involve repeated knee bending often stems from tightness in the ligaments running from your knee up your thigh.

A common cause of knee pain, particularly in older people, is osteoarthritis —a condition where the cartilage between bones breaks down and causes pain, stiffness and swelling in the knee joint. Knee pain often worsens with activity and eases with rest. Being overweight or obese, previous knee injuries, and doing repetitive or heavy physical activities can increase your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Pain and swelling localised to the kneecap or the inner side of the knee can suggest inflammation of the cushioning fluid-filled sacs called bursa, known as bursitis. This can occur with a forceful impact or repetitive use. Sudden onset of diffuse knee pain that is not caused by injury, as well as swelling that is red and warm, can suggest inflammation or infection in the knee.

How to find knee pain relief

Medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can provide short-term relief from knee pain associated with ligament, tendon, and meniscal damage. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can also help to reduce inflammation and swelling associated with knee pain after injury. Oral and topical NSAIDs, as well as paracetamol, are recommended for reducing pain and symptoms in people with knee osteoarthritis.

Knee pain remedies and management

If you injure your knee, you should stop your activity immediately. Apply general first aid measures for the first 48 to 72 hours that include rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE principles) and avoid heat, alcohol, reinjury, and massage(HARM principles). As your pain improves after the first few days, it is important to start walking and performing gentle exercises to maintain knee strength and flexibility as you recover.

Exercise-based therapy is essential to reduce knee pain and improve knee function in people with knee osteoarthritis. For knee osteoarthritis, weight management and an exercise program that incorporates aerobic, strength, balance, and range of motion training are recommended.

Preventing knee pain

To help prevent knee pain and knee injury, you can:

  • Perform gentle stretches and warm-up or cool-down exercises before and after physical activities
  • Ease into new exercise programs or activities over time
  • Wear appropriate and supportive footwear
  • Avoid sudden forceful or twisting movements that place too much stress on your knee

When should I be concerned about knee pain?

After a knee injury, knee pain should improve after a few days. See your doctor or physiotherapist if your knee pain worsens or does not improve, or if you are concerned about your knee pain for any reason.