The knee joint is the largest and widest of the four joints of your lower body. It connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. The thigh bone is called the femur. The tibia (shin bone) is also known as the shin bone.
The knee joint allows your legs to bend, straighten, and rotate forward and backward.
The knee joint is made up of three bones:
- Femur The thigh bone.
- Tibia The shin bone.
- Knee cap A piece of tissue called the cruciate ligament attaches the femur and tibia to the knee joint.
Knee pain can be due to a number of different factors. The most common types of knee pain include arthritis, ligament injuries, and tendinitis.
Acute knee pain
Knee pain can be acute or chronic.
Acute knee pain is a short-term pain that develops suddenly and typically subsides within a few days. Acute pain can be caused by a sudden injury, an impact, or a dislocation or misalignment of the knee.
Chronic knee pain
Chronic knee pain is pain that lasts more than three months. Chronic pain can be caused by wear and tear of the knee joint, such as from arthritis, and by poor alignment of the knee joint, such as from osteoarthritis (a type of arthritis).
In addition to the knee joint, chronic knee pain may be caused by:
- Joint injuries, such as a dislocated kneecap
- Nerve damage, such as from a pinched nerve
- Muscle or tendon injury
- Muscle weakness
What are the causes of knee pain?
Knee pain can be caused by a number of different factors, including:
- Injury to the knee
- Ligament conditions
Some causes of knee pain may be temporary. Others may be caused by a more serious problem that requires medical attention.
Ligament injuries can cause temporary knee pain. These injuries can happen when you:
- Twist your knee
- Fall on your knee
- Tear a ligament, especially a ligament in the front of the knee
Other common causes of ligament injuries include:
- Activities that require kneeling or squatting for long periods, such as playing tennis or gymnastics.
- Repetitive motions, such as playing a musical instrument, using a computer, or typing.
- Physical injuries, such as a bone fractures or a dislocated kneecap.
- Repetitive stress, such as sitting for long periods.
Acute and chronic knee injuries usually require medical attention.
Arthritis is a common condition in older adults. It can cause pain and stiffness in the knee. It’s usually caused by wear and tear from arthritis and can be very painful.
The knee is a very flexible joint, so it can become very painful if the cartilage becomes worn or damaged.
Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendon. Tendons connect muscle to bone. Tendinitis can cause severe pain in the knee.
It can be caused by overuse or injury of the knee joint, as well as by other problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
How is knee pain diagnosed?
Your doctor will diagnose your knee pain by asking you about your symptoms and performing a physical examination. They may also order an X-ray or a blood test to determine the cause of your knee pain.
If your symptoms are consistent with arthritis, your doctor will also recommend an X-ray of your knee to check for arthritis.
Your doctor will also check for the presence of other problems that can cause knee pain.
For example, they may order an MRI or a CT scan to check the alignment of the knee joint. If you have a ligament injury or a pinched nerve, your doctor may order an electromyography or nerve conduction study.
When should I see a doctor?
If you experience knee pain that is severe and that doesn’t get better with at-home treatments, you should see your doctor.
Seek medical attention if you experience:
- Redness, swelling, or heat around the knee, especially if it doesn’t go away with at-home treatment.
- Pain that gets worse with walking or activity.
- A change in the way your knee looks, feels, or functions.
- A change in the way your knee feels when you bend or straighten your leg.
- A change in the way your knee feels when you kneel.
What treatments are available?
Treatment depends on the cause of your knee pain.
- Acute knee pain. Acute knee pain usually goes away within a few days or weeks.
- Chronic knee pain. Chronic knee pain may last for months or years.
- Arthritis. Arthritis can cause severe pain and stiffness in the knee.
- Tendinitis. Tendinitis can cause severe pain and swelling.
- Ligament injury.
- Nerve injury.
- Muscle weakness.
If you have acute or chronic knee pain, you may be able to treat your pain at home using the following treatments:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil). You can also try acetaminophen (Tylenol) to treat your pain.
- Corticosteroids such as prednisone.
- An exercise and stretching program.
- Physical therapy.
If you have arthritis, you may be able to treat your pain at home with the following treatments:
- Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).
If you have knee pain that is caused by a ligament injury, a pinched nerve, or muscle or tendon injury, your doctor may recommend:
- Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Corticosteroids such as prednisone
- An exercise and stretching program
- A muscle or tendon strengthener
Is it arthritis or a pinched nerve?
If you experience knee pain that is severe and doesn’t get better after at-home treatments, you should see your doctor.
You may have a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve is a nerve that gets compressed or pinched. A pinched nerve can be caused by:
- A bone fracture.
- A dislocated knee joint.
- A torn or pulled muscle.
If you also have knee stiffness, a change in the way your knee looks, feels, or functions, you may have a pinched nerve.
It may be a little easier to tell the difference between a pinched nerve and joint inflammation.
If you notice a knee that looks different or has a different texture, look for:
- Arcing pain
A reduced range of motion
A reduced ability to straighten your knee
A loss of muscle strength
How is a pinched nerve treated?
If you are experiencing a pinched nerve, you may be able to treat your pain at home using the following treatments:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve).
- Exercise and stretching program.
- A muscle or tendon strengthener.
If you see a doctor, they may recommend:
- Steroid injections.
- Surgery to break up the nerve.
If you are experiencing knee stiffness, a change in your knee’s appearance, or a loss of muscle strength, you may be experiencing a pinched nerve.
If you experience severe pain or a loss of function below the knee, you may need surgery to repair the damaged nerve.
If you experience severe knee pain that doesn’t improve with at-home treatments, you should see your doctor.
What is the outlook for a pinched nerve?
For pinched nerves, the pain usually goes away with rest and ice or heat. In severe cases, you may need to use a steroid shot to break up the nerve.
For knee pain that is caused by osteoarthrosis, the pain may get better if you do exercises, take a pain-relief medication, or take a NSAID.
If you get corticosteroids, the pain may get better after the steroid wears off.
You may also need to adjust your activity level.
If you get a corticosteroid injection, your doctor may recommend that you take it for up to six weeks, then once a month for six months.
If you take prednisone, you may need to take it for up to three months.
If you get surgery to fix the pinched nerve, the pain should go away within a few months.
See your doctor if you get corticosteroids and don’t see improvement in pain or function.
If surgery is needed, it can take one to two years to heal completely.
How to prevent a pinched nerve?
If you are at risk for pinched nerves or pain in your knee, you should take these steps to help prevent the pinched nerve from occurring:
- Do not bend or twist your knee past 90 degrees.
- Do not put weight on your leg that is bent.
Knee pain can have many different causes.
You may experience knee pain due to:
- Joint inflammation.
- A ligament or tendon injury.
- A pinched nerve.
- Arthritic changes to the knee.
You should see your doctor if you are experiencing knee pain that does not get better with at-home treatments.
If you are at risk for a pinched nerve or have a knee injury, you should take these steps to help prevent the pinched nerve from occurring:
If you do see your doctor, they may prescribe you anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections, and a muscle or tendon strengthener to help you prevent or treat the knee pain
Images by Freepik
Generated by AI