Knee pain 

Introduction 

Caring for your knee at home

  • Hold an ice pack to the knee for 15 minutes and repeat every hour (try a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel).
  • Avoid putting weight on the knee.
  • Raise your leg on cushions to reduce swelling in the knee.
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers to relieve pain (ibuprofen is a good choice, as this may also reduce swelling).

Which painkiller?

The drugs you should take to treat pain depend on what type of pain you have

10 surefire ways to beat pain

Practical ways to beat pain, including relaxation tips, breathing exercises and self management courses

Sudden pain in one of the knees is usually the result of overusing the knee or suddenly injuring it. In many cases, you don't need to see your GP.

The knee joint is particularly vulnerable to damage and pain because it takes the full weight of your body and any extra force when you run or jump. This is why you are more susceptible to knee pain if you are overweight.

This page specifically gives information on pain in just one of the knees. It covers the most common and more unusual causes of knee pain, and offers advice on when you should see your GP.

Pain in more than one joint is usually caused by arthritis, which is covered separately.

Common causes of knee pain

Simple strain

If you think your pain is the result of having done more activity than you're used to, you've probably just strained the knee. This means that the knee tissues have stretched, but are not permanently damaged. Read more about sprains and strains.

You should care for your knee at home and the pain should eventually go away.

You can prevent future knee pain by:

You can also try low-impact exercises, such as swimming, to improve your health and fitness without harming your knee joint. Read about easy exercises.

Anterior knee pain syndrome

Knee pain felt at the front of the knee, around the kneecap, is called anterior knee pain syndrome. The cause is not understood, but it is usually made worse by sitting for prolonged periods or by climbing stairs.

You can treat this yourself with anti-inflammatories, an icepack and rest, and you should also do strengthening exercises for the muscles in front of your thigh.

Damage to the menisci or cartilage

Sitting between the upper and lower leg bones at the knee joint are rubbery pads of tissue called menisci. These cushion the bones, acting as shock absorbers.

The menisci can become worn as you get older, and are commonly the reason for knee pain in middle-aged people.

A meniscus can also be torn after suddenly twisting the knee joint, resulting in pain, swelling and, occasionally, locking of the knee. The cartilage covering the bones of the knee joint can also be damaged by injury (read more about cartilage damage).

These symptoms may settle down without treatment, although in the case of menisci damage, an operation is sometimes needed to repair the torn pad of tissue.

Osteoarthritis

In older people, repeated attacks of knee pain are likely to be a sudden worsening of osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis in the UK. Osteoarthritis causes damage to the articular cartilage (protective surface of the knee bone) and mild swelling of the tissues in and around the joints.

A painful fluid-filled swelling may develop at the back of the knee as a result of osteoarthritis – this is known as a Baker’s cyst, or popliteal cyst.

Osteoarthritis can sometimes affect younger people, especially those who are overweight or have had serious injuries to the knee in the past.

You should see your GP if you think the cause of your knee pain is osteoarthritis. 

Less common causes of knee pain

Tendonitis

Overusing or injuring the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shin bone can cause patellar tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon). This condition is sometimes called "jumper's knee", as it can be brought on by jumping activities such as basketball or volleyball. The area may be swollen, red and warm.

Learn more about tendonitis.

You can care for your knee at home as you would with a simple sprain.

Housemaid's knee

Repetitive movement of the knee or kneeling for long periods can cause a build-up of fluid over the knee joint, known as bursitis or "housemaid's knee".

Housemaid's knee tends to affect people with certain jobs that involve kneeling (such as carpet layers), or sports players (such as footballers). Find out more about bursitis.

Torn ligament or tendon

Knee pain may be caused by torn ligaments or tendons. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect the bones at the knee joint; tendons connect the muscles to the bone. You can tear these tissues during running sports such as rugby or football.

Injured tendons or knee ligaments at the side of the knee may cause pain even when the knee is at rest, which may get worse when you bend the knee or put weight on it. There may also be warmth and swelling around the knee.

If you feel that your knee is also unstable or keeps "giving way", you may have torn the anterior cruciate ligament (one of the main knee ligaments). This probably resulted from a sudden change in direction or a twisting movement, and you may have heard a pop when it happened. You should see your GP if this happens, and you may be referred to an orthopaedic specialist for advice and treatment.

Read about surgery to repair a damaged knee ligament.

Bleeding into the joint

An injury that causes significant damage to the knee joint may cause bleeding into the joint spaces, known as haemarthrosis. This can happen if a cruciate ligament is torn or if there is a fracture to one of the bones of the knee.

Signs of haemarthrosis are swelling of the knee, warmth, stiffness and bruising. You should go to hospital immediately to have your knee treated if you have a very swollen knee.

Osgood-Schlatter's disease

Swelling and tenderness over the bony bump just below the kneecap is known as Osgood-Schlatter's disease. 

This is a common cause of knee pain and swelling in teenagers, particularly teenage boys who sprain or overuse their thigh muscles when playing football or other sports.

Mild cases usually settle with rest and taking anti-inflammatory medication. Severe cases may need referral to a specialist.

Gout and pseudogout

If the knee joint is also hot and red, the cause is likely to be gout or pseudogout, which are types of arthritis.

Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the body. Uric acid is a waste product that is produced during the process of metabolism (when the body breaks down food to use as energy). Usually, uric acid is excreted by the kidneys.

People whose kidneys do not excrete uric acid properly, or those who produce too much, can have high levels of uric acid in their blood. If the level becomes very high, crystals form in the joints. The crystals cause the joints to become inflamed and painful.

Gout will cause severe pain in the knee, limit movement of the joint and may cause a slight fever.

Usually, gout affects the joint of the big toe first, before it affects the knee joint or any other joint.

Pseudogout is a similar condition to gout in that crystals of calcium are deposited in and around the joint. But unlike gout, pseudogout can affect the knee joint first.

You should see your GP if you think the cause of your knee pain is gout or pseudogout.

Septic arthritis (infected knee)

Septic arthritis is a serious condition that causes a very painful, hot, swollen knee. You may also have a fever and any movement of the knee will be very painful.

It can be mistaken for gout or pseudogout (see above). You should see your GP urgently, or go to accident and emergency (A&E) if you suspect you have septic arthritis.

Septic arthritis is treated with antibiotics and surgery is often needed to clean out the infection.

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if:

  • you cannot put weight on your knee at all
  • you have severe pain even when you're not putting weight on it
  • your knee locks or painfully clicks (painless clicking is OK)
  • your knee keeps giving way
  • your knee looks deformed
  • you have fever, redness or heat around the knee, or it is very swollen
  • you have pain, swelling, numbness or tingling of the calf beneath your affected knee
  • the pain is still severe after three days of caring for your knee at home

Your GP will do a careful examination of the knee and take your medical history.

Investigations may include blood tests, an X-ray (if a fracture is suspected) or an MRI scan. Treatment may involve physiotherapy, painkillers and sometimes an arthroscopy – a form of keyhole surgery that is used to look inside a joint and repair any damage that has occurred.

Page last reviewed: 09/05/2013

Next review due: 09/05/2015

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 825 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 22 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

SteveBasuras said on 06 October 2014

Hello everyone. I'd like to share my experience with you. About three years ago, out of the blue, I started getting shin splints. I used to box and run a lot, so you can imagine how frustrating it was for me! I went to several so-called specialists and they said they couldnt find anything wrong with me. I got orthopedic insoles, and they really didnt do anything for me either. Things went on like this for years. I started reading about barefoot running and other barefoot activities, and going barefoot (or almost) has dramatically improved my life. I now wear flat shoes that allow the foot, and more importantly, at least in my case, my upper leg to move and bend in a more natural way. I've found that I need to extend my leg fully to be pain free. I can now walk miles and miles, and i feel no pain almost. I know I'm finally getting better. There are many types of minimalist shoes out there. Remember that your leg has to extend fully when you walk. I too considered having my legs cut off at one point! The went from my shins to me knees, and then all the way up to my hips. Now i feel almost no pain. I know what youre going through! Youre not alone.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Knees_troubles said on 12 August 2014

I have had troubles with my knees for at least 10 years....seen GPs, physios had MRIs had X-rays and always been left with no answers. Then the inevitable happened I badly hyperextended the knee and was taken to hospital in an ambulance. Given a thigh to ankle brace, crutches and pain killers and told to come back in 2 weeks to see specialist. Turned up they hadn't booked me an app, specialist is off on hols in next few days so now have to wait a whole month!I cannot weight bare, in constant pain and will not know what I have actually done and whether surgery is needed etc for 6 weeks after A&E visit! Absolute joke!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

delboykdy said on 31 July 2014

Right, i am a 31 y/o man and i have had very bad knee pain for over 10 years now,, ive had mri scans on both knees, everything came back fine, iv had numerous physio and still the same if not worse,,,ive been on various strong pain killers for years and been told just to accept it but with no answers!! IM finally getting a lumbar spine mri tomorrow, im kind of hoping this is the cause so i finally have answers,,,however what if it all comes back fine?? IM seriously at a loss as to dealing with this, i cant stand for too long and i cant sit for too long without getting strong pain in both knees,,,im a grown man and shouldn't be finding myself crying at times with this pain, have even (as daft as it ma sound) contemplated seeking a doctor to cut the dam things off, may sound drastic but you know when your like enough is enough,, is anyone else like this? I feel im fighting a loosing battle just to find answers,,,no one in ten years has told me why i have chronic knee pain,,, help and advice is more than welcome

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Katkitty24 said on 20 July 2014

Well after finally going back to my doctors twice (changed to a much closer doctors in Cardiff) I was originally on naproxen once again but noticed I was struggling to breathe so was taken off them. Next visit, I basically requested a to have an arthroscopy done - to which my doctor understood and referred me to the trauma department (sadly to this date haven't had an appointment yet due to me not being urgent). I'm just hoping something can be found since having X-Rays, MRIs and physiotherapy, nothing has worked or been found. My friend had an issue with her ankle that wasn't showing up on x-rays or MRIs , so she had the camera done and they found what was wrong. I'd just keep going back to your doctors, they'll eventually suggest something else - mine listened to me and understood I had been having this problem for years and I'm only 23 so it isn't down to wear and tear since I'm quite young.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Annieagentmg said on 13 June 2014

I have mild osteoarthritis in my right knee but would like to start running. I am 51 and female, couple of stone overweight. Would this be possible? Thank you.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

hellomrspowell said on 29 May 2014

Hello. Any recommendations please for a great knee specialist in the Yeovil area?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

sdh1720 said on 13 May 2014

Now on month 8 with constant knee pain in both knees. Been to see 2 physios @ 40 quid a visit and no improvement. Decided to see GP who to be fair is usually good. Got prescribed a tube of Votarol and referred to practice physio. Physio does a little check of range of movement and suggests chemical imbalance causing inflamation & pain and take paracetemol along with the Voltarol. Now approaching end of week 6 with this popping 8 paracetemol per day like Smarties and spreading Voltarol on both knees as if it was butter....very slight improvement but pain with me 24 - 7 !!! At the end of my tether and can`t take much more of this......help !!!!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Trickers67 said on 29 December 2013

Having spent time with NHS Directs websites symptons checker it eventually concluded that the best thing to do was call 111. Four phone calls and 2 and 1/2 hours later my wife is still immobile. How many times must they ask the same questions to arrive at the conclusion that nobody is willing or available to do anything. Welcome to the Third World NHS.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

john239 said on 29 September 2013

Please someone help! For a few months now every time I walk up steep stairs such as at home or on the bus, my right knee makes a "clicking" sound as I walk up each step. It sounds higher pitched and slightly louder than the normal joint clicks I get on other body parts such as my arms or legs. When I first noticed the clicking sound, there was noticeable pain and stiffness when I bent down on my knee. However, after a few weeks the pain and stiffness disappeared, but the clicking keeps happening up until now. The pain appears sometimes if I don't rest my knee, but this doesn't cause me to stop doing my everyday activity. I can only think this started due to lifting a heavy weight object using my knees to push myself up. Does anyone know the technical name of what I have? There is nothing else wrong with my knee. Thank you!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

watneys said on 06 September 2013

I have had an ache behind my right knee on and off for about eight yeays .It sometimes occurs in bed or if I have been working in the garden for a few hours. I had a NHS MRI about six years ago at the General Hospital [ Leicester] but no reason for the ache was found. Have you any tests that that could identify the problem possibably not know about when i had the MRI? I train and compete in Masters Athletics.
Watneysz

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Katkitty24 said on 05 July 2013

So after seeing my doc two more times, I've been on Naproxen to ease the pain (which helped somewhat), had another referral to the hospital. Just waiting for the letter to appear with an appointment, so looks like some more x-rays and mris are in my future until this mysterious pain is solved!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Katkitty24 said on 17 April 2013

hoylecard, I forgot to mention I had a year of physiotherapy where they thought that it was down to trying to build my leg muscle up (don't see how that would effect my knee pain) and that didn't work, hence why I went to my new doctor who referred me straight away. I should point out that the physio I had done was at uni where I study at, and they didn't help at all. Going to pester my doctor next month when I'm home, see if he can suggest other options (I've read that a knee arthroscopy might be a good idea to find the cause of the pain)

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Border Dancer said on 16 April 2013

I fell directly on my right kneecap in 2009 and did the RICE thing and later took prescribed anti-inflammatories for ongoing clicking and crunching, swelling and pain, alongside physiotherapy. I had 2 MRI scans which showed deterioration of the menisci & was told that I had arthritis and patellofemoral syndrome and there was nothing to do but keep doing the physio and swimming. At the same time I had torn my other ankle ligaments through and had to have them rebuilt completely. I have had increasing pain, even louder crunching, I can no longer swim, it now hurts to drive, and walk. I used to swim 3 times a week and 30miles a week!! It's not that I want to sit still. GP continues to prescribe steriod injections into my knee and anti-inflammatories. I am just being told to live with the pain, and exercise through the pain. There are times where I have had to crawl upstairs becasue I am in so much pain. Thanks caring NHS!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

600rr said on 15 April 2013

well i had knee pain for one year after swimming would you belive MRI showed of then i complained that much whent in and found medial ball grade 3 grade 4 is the worst patela grade 1 acl severly stretched
so much for mris now i dont know what they are going to do with it made my toes go blue also and ancle hurts cos got no cartlidge on the inside
was better befor i let them inspect it now its realy bad

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

hoylecard said on 05 April 2013

Katkitty24, you might want to try seeing a physio therapist. I've had a knee problem for around the same time and had no luck with doctors and was told to try a sports physio. I found mine at the local uni's sports campus which may also help. What she told me was that I have iliotibial band syndrome. If that is the case it can be treated by with exercising with a foam roller and the odd deep tissue massage to relax and stech the band. It has done wonders for me so I just though I'd mention it. I hope this helps or at least gives you another avenue to look at.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Katkitty24 said on 05 March 2013

I've had knee pain since I was in my early teens, and probably before that. I'm now in my early 20s and I still suffer from this knee pain. My doctor referred me to a knee specialist last year, and when I went to that appointment, I had two x-rays done. Speaking to the specialist, he explained that my x-ray was clear and that sometimes back pain was the cause of knee pain so I had an x-ray on my lumbar spine within half an hour of him telling me so. Came back clear so he said he wanted MRI's done. Had them done three weeks ago and the results have just come back. Turns out there is nothing structurally wrong with my knee or back and that they can't help. As I am away from my doctors (I'm a university student living away from home being in my final year), I can't find the time to travel back home to speak to my doctor about other possible investigations into what is causing my knee pain. Can they request an arthroscopy as I have heard that can reveal the cause of the problem. Any help would be grateful :)

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

gezatholme1942 said on 17 August 2012

As usual I find the information on this site to be excellent as have been the other parts of the site that I have visited. Thank you.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Rosie73 said on 05 July 2012

So what's it called when the pain is in the muscle above the kneecap in one leg (left) only? X-ray was clear.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Flat four said on 28 May 2012

MR Muggins. What u describe is similar to my problem. It might be worth the keyhole cleanup. I had my right knee done and still getting physio treatment for it but the pain is loads less and movement is a bit better. Keyhole is a one day in hospital and out. All the best and hope it works for you.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Flat four said on 28 May 2012

Had the key hole on me right knee about 2 months ago. Now the left knee giving the same symptoms. Phoned GP only to be told " no appointments for 2 weeks" as helpful as a bucket of 1" holes, phoned NHS Direct who advised me to phone GP again so armed with fact of calling NHS direct called GP Result appointment @ 4-20 today yay.oh also went to hospital where knee operation was done told " go see GP" cannot book u in here need referal from GP. Finding it very hard to walk ATM I find the attitude of staff very "I don't care how you are " follow the set path and in 8 months time u may be seen. A joke I feel ATM. Still we british are good at waiting in line and suffering along with it. The biggest joke is at hospital they see u at reception "good day MR XXX how are u today" I reply "oh no problem just thought I would pop in see how the old place is " limping around reception area grimacing in pain. Still could be worse and properly will get there. Speaking to another couple today at hospital who had appointment booked for over three months. They turned up only to be told " sorry he's gone on holiday nothing we can do about that" patient care !!!!! Gone out the window for ever

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

User676081 said on 14 May 2012

Very informative page!

This page: http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/knee-pain contains free useful information about the symptoms, causes and treatment for knee pain and many other injuries

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

mr muggins said on 01 January 2012

i have had knee pain for a long time and have been referred and examined etc etc, arthritis has been mentioned. the pain goes like this. stairs slopes and walking a certain way. it gets worse after exercise can be stiff at times. no swelling no redness and sometimes the pain is behind the knee and then in the front, and then inside leg and so on.painkillers work but it comes back after. sometimes weeks go by and sometimes the cold weather or damp seems to be associated with it but not always. after years of pain my knee pain is simply down to red wine white wine any product with sulphites which is 80% of dried fruit. after eliminating these i can have one glass of wine and feel the pain the following days. a week and it is gone. about ten or so dried fruit does the same but the pain is inside the knee rather than central with the wine. any feedback would be appreciated

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Shin splints

What to do if you have exercise-induced leg pain

Life with osteoarthritis

Kathleen Smith describes life with osteoarthritis and how swimming helps with the pain

Knee exercises for runners

Knee exercises to help you run better, run pain-free and avoid knee pain