Sports, Pain​ & ​

Regenerative Institute

Knee Pain Q & A

Knee pain can be caused by a sudden injury, an overuse injury, or by an underlying condition, such as arthritis. The knee is the joint between the bones of the upper and lower leg. It allows the leg to bend and provides stability to support the weight of the body. The knee supports motions such as walking, running, crouching, jumping, and turning.

Several parts help the knee to do its job, including:

  • bones
  • cartilage
  • muscles
  • ligaments
  • tendons

Any of these parts are susceptible to disease and injury, which can lead to severe knee pain.


Causes of Knee Pain

Any activity that could injure the knee is a risk factor for developing knee pain. Doing strenuous athletic activity without proper warm-up can increase risk for knee pain. Obesity is a risk factor for osteoarthritis of the knee. Smoking is a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis.


Symptoms of Knee Pain

The location of the knee pain can vary depending on which structure is involved. With infection or an inflammatory process, the whole knee might be swollen and painful, while a torn meniscus or fracture of a bone gives symptoms only in one specific location. A Baker cyst will usually cause pain in the back of the knee. The severity of the joint pain can vary, from a minor ache to a severe and disabling pain. Some of the other signs and symptoms that accompany knee pain are:

  • difficulty weight bearing or walking due to instability of the knee,
  • limping due to discomfort,
  • difficulty walking up or down steps due to ligament damage (sprain),
  • locking of the knee (unable to bend the knee),
  • redness and swelling,
  • inability to extend the knee, and
  • shifting weight to the opposite knee and foot.


Treatment of Knee Pain

The nature of your injury will guide the treatment. So will your preferences. It is best to consider the full menu of options available. These include:


RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). This can work for acute pain, but treatment is different for chronic pain. For chronic pain, rest may weaken muscles that need strengthening to reduce or eliminate the pain.


Exercise and physical therapy. Some exercises help build or stretch muscles and ease pain. You also need to know which exercises should be avoided because they could cause further damage to your knee.


Lifestyle changes. There are changes you can make to reduce your pain. For example, maintaining a healthy weight lessens stress on your knees. You may also need to avoid activities, such as running, that exert too much force on the knees.


Medication. This includes over-the-counter remedies, such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and more powerful drugs like opioids. Other medications can help too, including steroids. Because opioids can be addictive, it’s important to have a qualified pain management specialist oversee your medication plan. Some caution is also required with antiinflammatory medications and steroids, which can weaken cartilage and knee joints.


Regenerative therapies. Researchers continue to explore options such as plasma injections and stem cell treatments. The research is still in its early stages and is not yet conclusive.