Understanding Knee Pain and Its Potential Causes

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Your knees are vital to movement and can hurt due to various reasons — here are common causes of knee pain

Knee pain is a common complaint that affects people of all ages and lifestyles. Whether you’re an athlete or spend most of your time sitting at a desk, knee pain can interfere with daily activities and reduce quality of life. It can be caused by a wide range of factors, from acute injuries like fractures and dislocations to chronic conditions like arthritis and bursitis.

Understanding the potential causes of knee pain can help you take steps to prevent it or seek necessary treatment. Knee pain is one of the most common complaints that can affect people of all ages. Here are some common causes and treatment options. 

1. Dislocations and Fractures

Knee Dislocation

Dislocations and fractures are two common causes of knee pain. A dislocation occurs when the bones in your knee joint are forced out of position, while a fracture is a break in one of the bones. Both can be caused by traumatic injuries such as falls, car accidents, or sports-related collisions.

Symptoms of dislocations and fractures may include severe pain, swelling, bruising, and limited mobility. Treatment for these conditions typically involves immobilizing the knee joint with a brace or cast, followed by physical therapy to help restore strength and range of motion. Ice and rest are common at-home treatment options after the help of a healthcare professional. 

2. Torn Ligaments

Knee Ligament

Torn ligaments, particularly the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), are another common cause of knee pain. There are an estimated 100,000-200,000 ligament tears yearly. These injuries are often caused by sudden stops or changes in direction, as can occur during sports activities.

Symptoms of a torn ligament may include a popping sound at the time of the injury, severe pain, swelling, and limited mobility. Treatment options for torn ligaments may include rest, physical therapy, and surgery.

3. Osteoarthritis

Knee Pain

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition that can cause knee pain over time and is known as the most common type of arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage in your knee joint breaks down, leading to bone-on-bone contact and inflammation.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis may include pain, stiffness, and swelling, particularly after periods of activity. Treatment options for osteoarthritis may include pain medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications such as weight loss.

4. Inflammatory Arthritis

Knee Arthritis

Inflammatory arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause knee pain. These conditions occur when the body’s immune system attacks the joints, leading to inflammation and damage.

Symptoms of inflammatory arthritis include pain, swelling, stiffness, and warmth in the affected joint. Treatment options for inflammatory arthritis include medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications.

5. Bursitis


Bursitis is a condition that occurs when the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the knee joint, become inflamed. This can happen as a result of overuse or injury. 

Symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness in the knee joint. Treatment may involve rest, ice, compression, and elevation, as well as medication and physical therapy. The pain usually goes away within a couple of weeks with proper care. 

6. Runner’s Knee

Runners Knee

Runner’s knee is a term used to describe a variety of conditions that cause knee pain in runners. This can be caused by overuse or incorrect technique. Symptoms include pain around the kneecap, especially when running or walking down stairs. Treatment may involve rest, physical therapy, and proper stretching and strengthening exercises.

7. Infection

Knee Infection

Infection can also cause knee pain. This can happen as a result of an injury, surgery, or a bacterial or viral infection. Symptoms include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the knee joint, as well as fever and chills. Treatment may involve medication and sometimes surgery.

8. Referred Pain

Referred Pain

Referred pain is a condition where the pain is felt in a different part of the body than where the actual problem is. For example, pain in the hip or lower back can be felt in the knee. Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the referred pain.

When to See Your Doctor

If you experience knee pain that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time, it’s important to see your doctor. They can help diagnose the underlying cause of your knee pain and recommend a treatment plan.

Bottom Line

Knee pain can be caused by a variety of factors, from injuries and overuse to medical conditions like arthritis. Understanding the potential causes of knee pain can help you manage it and get the treatment you need. If you experience knee pain, be sure to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.