Knee Pain - Causes

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What causes knee pain?

Knee pain can be divided into three major categories:

  • Acute injury: such as a broken bone, torn ligament
  • Medical conditions: arthritis, infections
  • Chronic use/overuse conditions: osteoarthritis, patellar syndromes, tendinitis, and bursitis

Below is a list of some of the more frequent causes of knee pain. This is not an all-inclusive list but rather highlights a few causes of knee pain in each of the above categories.

Acute injuries

Fractures: Direct trauma to the bony structure can cause one of the bones in the knee to break. This is usually a very obvious and painful injury. Most knee fractures are not only painful but will also interfere with the proper functioning of the knee (such as kneecap fracture) or make it very painful to bear weight (such as tibial plateau fracture). All fractures need immediate medical attention.

Ligament injuries: The most common injury is the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury. This is often a sports-related injury due to a sudden stop and change in directions.

Meniscus injuries: The menisci (medial and lateral) are made of cartilage and act as shock absorbers between bones in the knee. Twisting the knee can injure the meniscus.

Dislocation: The knee joint can be dislocated, which is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. This injury often occurs during a motor-vehicle accident when the knee hits the dashboard.

Medical conditions

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that can affect any joint in the body. It can cause severe pain and disability.

Gout is a form of arthritis that is most commonly found in the big toe, though it can also affect the knee.

With septic arthritis (infectious arthritis), the knee joint can become infected; this leads to pain, swelling, and fever. This condition requires antibiotics and drainage treatments as soon as possible.

Chronic use/overuse conditions

Patellar tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons connecting the kneecap (patella) to the bone of the lower leg. Patellar tendinitis is a chronic condition often found in individuals repeating the same motion (such as runners and cyclists).

Osteoarthritis: A wearing down of cartilage of the joint due to use and age

Other causes

Children can develop inflammation of the point of bony insertion of the patellar tendon (Osgood-Schlatter disease).

Return to Knee Pain

See what others are saying

Comment from: Rusty4474, 75 or over Female (Patient) Published: December 12

I have had a total knee replacement a couple of years back with no problems. Now I have tremendous pain on the lateral area when I try to walk. I just had a three phase bone scan and waiting for results. No doctor appt for nearly three weeks. I absolutely cannot walk and feel something needs to be done. The other knee which is natural is fine. Any ideas on what is happening.

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Comment from: michelle c, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: May 21

I'm not sure how I hurt my knee, possibly twisted it. It is swollen and I can"t stand or walk. When I walk can feel it cracking pop. I work at McDonalds, I stand all the time.

Was this comment helpful?Yes

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