What are the Most Common Causes of Knee Pain?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Individuals of all ages and activity levels can be subject to knee pain for a variety of reasons. In most cases, pain is caused by some type of injury that affects the joints, muscles, tendons, or ligaments in the area. A person may also experience soreness or tendinitis if she overexerts her knees while playing a sport, working, or exercising. Simply getting older is a common cause of knee pain as well; joints are subject to arthritis and generally tend to become less stable in later life. Most types of mild pain can be relieved by enacting classic home remedies, such as resting, applying ice to the joint, and wearing a brace, though more severe knee pain may require prescription medication, rehabilitation therapy, or even surgery to correct problems.

The most common cause of knee pain is direct injury, which can result in a torn or strained ligament, cartilage damage, a dislocated kneecap, or bruising of muscle, bone, and skin. An injury can come from a fall, a direct blow to the knee, or a sudden jerk or twist. Injuries to knee ligaments are usually the most debilitating. They can easily become strained or even torn if an individual bends his or her knee suddenly or beyond its range of motion, which is common in contact sports.


Overexerting the knees can lead to significant pain in athletes, laborers, hikers, and other individuals who engage in constant activity. It is common for tendons to become inflamed and swell from overuse, a condition known as tendinitis. Many young people experience Osgood-Schlatter disease when they engage in frequent activity, leading to chronic knee pain, occasional swelling, and tenderness.

The chances of developing knee pain rise considerably as a person gets older. Individuals above 45 are subject to problems from arthritis, weakened muscles, osteoporosis, and other ailments of an aging body. Rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and osteoarthritis frequently affect the knee joints in older people, causing stiffness, loss of mobility, and pain when standing or walking.

Individuals can usually ease their mild knee pain in as little as one week by resting their legs, applying ice packs to reduce swelling, providing support in the form of a bandage or brace, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and pain medications. Some conditions, such as severe arthritis or torn ligaments, necessitate a trip to the emergency room or a doctor's office to receive immediate treatment. A doctor will conduct a thorough physical exam and possibly take an x-ray to check for internal damage. Depending on the type and severity of an injury or disease, the doctor can prescribe pain medication, custom-fit a brace, schedule physical therapy classes, or recommend surgery.


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