The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Top 10 Causes of Knee Pain

Posted by on Tuesday, May 7th, 2013


About one-third of all doctor’s visits for muscle and bone pain pertain to the knee. Over half of all athletes suffer from knee pain — to some degree — each year. The knee is a complex joint and there are many different parts that can fail. Sometimes it’s minor irritation from overuse that will mend itself with rest and ice. Other times, you may need surgery or physical therapy to find relief. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common causes of knee pain.

1. Worn Cartilage – “Runner’s Knee”

Overuse causes the smooth layer of cartilage between the femur and the knee cap to wear down, causing a painful irritation. This condition is usually treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation. However, there is some evidence that custom orthotics can help.

2. Sac of Fluid – “Bursitis”

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac designed to protect the joints. Overuse or injury can irritate these sacs in the knee, causing pain and swelling. Some people get what is called a “Baker’s cyst” in the back of the knee, which causes arthritis-like symptoms. According to MedicineNet, treatment usually requires draining of fluid using a sterile needle. Anti-inflammatory / pain medication and the usual rest, ice, compression, elevation treatments are also helpful.

3. Bone Chips or Loose Bodies

A sports injury may cause pieces of bone or cartilage to break off and float into the joint space, causing the joint to lock up, in addition to pain and swelling. Sometimes this doesn’t cause a problem, but other times, the fragments get stuck like a pencil in a door jamb. Surgery may be required to remove and/or repair the wayward piece.

4. Torn ACL or Torn Meniscus

ACL stands for the “anterior cruciate ligament” — which connects your shinbone to your thighbone. This injury is very common among basketball stars and soccer players — not to mention, people who are crazy enough to “run with the bulls.” The meniscus is a tough, rubbery piece of cartilage that absorbs shock between the shin and thigh bones. The tears usually occur when someone changes direction suddenly, while bearing weight. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends surgical intervention for people who live active lifestyles. However, some data suggests that up to 60 percent of people who delay surgery may not require knee reconstruction at all.

5. Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Long distance runners may suffer from irritation in the iliotibial band, a piece of tissue running from the hip to the shin. Overuse often leads to pain on the outer side of the knee, as well as a “clicking” sound. Massage, physical therapy, and pain relievers are recommended courses of treatment, according to Running Times.

6. Patellar Tendinitis

This condition is caused when tendons — thick tissues that attach muscle to bone — become inflamed. Runners, skiiers, cyclists and jumpers often suffer from inflammation in the patellar tendon. Treatment traditionally includes pain relievers and physical therapy.

7. Arthritis

As we age, the cartilage in the knee naturally deteriorates, causing pain and stiffness. Normal degenerative arthritis is often referred to as “osteoarthritis,” whereas the autoimmune form of arthritis is called “rheumatoid arthritis.” Lifestyle modification, exercises, supportive devices, and heat therapy work well initially. Many people take glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, says the AAOS. Severe pain can be treated with cortocosteroid shots. Magnetic pulse therapy and surgery are other options for arthritis sufferers.

8. Obesity

“Obesity is the number one preventable risk factor for osteoarthritis of the knee,” according to Arthritis Today. Carrying excessive weight strains the knees, wears away cartilage, and leads to the production of inflammatory cytokines that contribute to arthritis. “If you are overweight, even modest weight loss can reduce the risk of osteoarthritis and its progression,” the magazine reports.

9. Gout or Pseudogout

Gout occurs when uric acid crystals accumulate in the joint. Pseudogout is caused by calcium crystals that develop in the joint fluid. These two conditions cause a burning sensation in the knee that is extremely painful. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends lifestyle modification and following a new diet, drinking cranberry juice daily, and taking medication to treat the acute symptoms.

10. Dislocated Knee Cap

Sometimes the kneecap slides out of position, causing pain and swelling. This is usually caused by a defect in the legs, rather than an injury. We see this in teenage girls a lot. Knee strengthening and physical therapy are required to prevent this issue from arising again.



If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.