What are the Most Common Causes of Knee and Ankle Pain?

Sara Pegarella

The knees and the ankles are heavily used and are prone to a number of injuries and strains. These can lead to knee and ankle pain. Common causes of knee and ankle pain include genetic conditions, injuries, and overuse or over-exertion of the knee or ankle.

Both ankle and knee pain are commonly caused by an overuse of the joints or tendons.
Both ankle and knee pain are commonly caused by an overuse of the joints or tendons.

The most common cause of knee pain is an injury caused by overuse or overload. This includes muscle strain, tendinitis, and bursitis. Such knee injuries are often the result of some change in the use of the knee, such as a new and rigorous exercise routine, a sudden increase in the amount of walking being done, or a lot of lifting and carrying of heavy items. High-impact aerobics, such as running or jumping, can also cause stress to the knee joint and cause small tears and sprains in the knee that will get worse with time if the knee is not rested. All of these put a high amount of stress on your knees and can lead to joint injuries.

Frequent running can put stress on legs and feet, sometimes leading to pain.
Frequent running can put stress on legs and feet, sometimes leading to pain.

A genetic cause of knee pain that worsens with age is osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis is the result of damage done when knee cartilage wears down over time. While this cannot be prevented, pain relief comes in the form of physical therapy and pain medications.

A person with a swollen knee.
A person with a swollen knee.

Ankle pain, like knee pain, is most commonly caused by an overuse of the joints or tendons. Most ankle injuries start out as small sprains, strains or ligament tears that get gradually worse as the ankle continues to be used and the tear gets larger and larger. Sprained ankles are the leading type of ankle injury that leads to pain. Sprains result when the ankle joint ligaments are overstretched and a small or complete tear of the ligament results.

A sprained ligament is a common cause of ankle pain.
A sprained ligament is a common cause of ankle pain.

A stress fracture also is a source of ankle pain and is also caused by overusing the joint. A stress fracture is the term used when a tiny crack develops in the ankle bone; it happens when the bone experiences substantial stress, such as heavy running or jumping. This injury tends to happen when muscles are tired and can’t absorb the added shock to the body; the stress is instead rerouted to the bone and causes a small crack that may worsen with time.

A diagram of the knee.
A diagram of the knee.

Knee and ankle pain are usually treated with rest, alternating hot and cold therapy, pain medications and, if all else fails, surgery. Knee and ankle pain can be avoided by starting out slowly when beginning a new, strenuous activity. Avoid placing intense or constant stress on the joints, too. Warm up gradually when exercising, gradually increasing the level of joint stress, and allow adequate and appropriate rest after. This will allow any small tears to heal before they worsen, and will prevent most knee and ankle pain from developing.

High-impact aerobics, like running, can cause small tears and sprains in the knee.
High-impact aerobics, like running, can cause small tears and sprains in the knee.
A man with knee pain.
A man with knee pain.
A person with a broken ankle.
A person with a broken ankle.

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