Symptoms A-Z

Severe Knee Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand severe knee pain symptoms, including 9 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. 9 Possible Severe Knee Pain Causes
  2. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  3. Statistics

9 Possible Severe Knee Pain Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced severe knee pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Meniscal injury

The menisci are the two pieces of cartilage serving as shock absorbers in the knee, between the lower end of the thighbone and the top of the shinbone. A torn meniscus is commonly referred to as "torn cartilage" in the knee.

Damage to a meniscus often happens along with another injury to the knee, especially when there is any forceful, twisting movement or a direct hit such as a tackle.

Older people may tear a meniscus through normal activity if the cartilage has become thin and worn due to aging.

Symptoms include pain, stiffness, and swelling. The knee will simply not work correctly and may catch, lock up, or give way.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, simple motion tests, and imaging such as x-ray or MRI.

Depending on the exact form of the injury, the tear may be allowed to heal on its own with supportive care such as rest, ice, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication. In other cases, arthroscopic surgery followed by rehabilitation may be needed.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one knee, knee stiffness, knee instability, pain in the inside of the knee, swollen knee

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Knee arthritis

Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Any joint in the body may be affected by the disease, but it is particularly common in the knee.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in both knees, knee stiffness, knee instability, swollen knee, morning joint stiffness

Symptoms that always occur with knee arthritis: pain in both knees

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Patellofemoral pain syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is also called runner's knee, jumper's knee, anterior knee pain, chondromalacia patella, and patellofemoral joint syndrome.

Overuse through training for sports is a common cause, especially if there is a misalignment in the knee joint or a previous knee injury. This wears away the cartilage beneath the kneecap and causes pain on exercising.

It is most common in females and in young adults who are active in sports, but can affect anyone.

Symptoms include dull pain at the front of the knee and around the kneecap (patella) while running, squatting, or climbing stairs, or after prolonged sitting with knees bent.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and through x-rays, CT scan, and/or MRI.

Treatment most often involves rest; over-the-counter pain relievers; low-impact exercise such as swimming or bicycling; physical therapy to strengthen and stabilize the knee; and orthotics (shoe inserts) to help correct a misaligned stride.

Surgery is needed only for severe cases, and is done through arthroscopy to remove any fragments of damaged cartilage.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: knee pain, pain in one knee, knee pain that gets worse when going up stairs, dull, achy knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when squatting

Symptoms that always occur with patellofemoral pain syndrome: knee pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Jumper's knee (patellar tendonitis)

Jumper's knee is also called patellar tendinitis or patellar tendinopathy. It is an inflammation of the patellar tendon, which runs from the bottom of the patella – or kneecap – to the top of the shinbone.

It is most often an overuse injury seen in athletes, especially those in sports involving jumping, but it can affect anyone. Strenuous physical activity without warming up first, or tightness and inflexibility in the muscles of the thighs, can put additional strain on the patellar tendon.

Symptoms include pain just below the kneecap. At first it may only appear during exercise, but later becomes chronic as the tendon becomes more damaged and inflamed. Eventually the pain interferes with normal movement.

It is important to get treatment, as the condition will not heal on its own and will only get worse through forced movement.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as ultrasound or x-ray.

Treatment involves rest; pain relievers; physical therapy to return flexibility to the tendon; and sometimes corticosteroid injections or surgery.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: pain in one knee, spontaneous knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when going up stairs, knee stiffness, knee pain that gets worse when squatting

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Iliotibial (it) band syndrome ('runner's knee')

Iliotibial band syndrome is also called ITBS or IT syndrome. The iliotibial band is a long, thick piece of connective tissue that begins at the top of the hip bone, runs down the outside of the leg, and attaches at the side of the knee.

ITBS is an overuse syndrome. Athletes in heavy training are susceptible to it, especially runners and cyclists. Pain and inflammation result if the far end of the iliotibial band constantly rubs against the outside of the knee joint.

Symptoms include pain on the outside of the knee, especially while running or while sitting with the knee flexed.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination, with simple stretching tests to identify the exact location of the pain. An MRI is sometimes ordered.

Treatment involves rest; ice; over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; stretching exercises for the iliotibial band; strengthening of the upper leg muscles; and, if needed, changes in the way the person strides or trains. Corticosteroid injections can be helpful and surgery may be tried in some cases.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: knee pain, pain in one knee, dull, achy knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when going down stairs, sharp knee pain

Symptoms that always occur with iliotibial (it) band syndrome ('runner's knee'): knee pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Acl injury

The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a super-important tendon that connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin), keeping the tibia from flying forward every time a step is taken. Tearing happens in a lot of accidents and sports, unfortunately.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: knee pain, pain in one knee, knee instability, swollen knee, knee pain from an injury

Symptoms that always occur with acl injury: knee pain

Symptoms that never occur with acl injury: mild knee pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Septic arthritis

Septic arthritis is also called infectious arthritis. "Arthritis" simply means inflammation of a joint. In septic arthritis, the inflammation is caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. The most common is Staphylococcus aureus or staph. These agents reach the joints either from another infection in the body or from a traumatic injury that contaminates the wounded joint.

Symptoms include severe pain in the affected joints, along with redness and swelling. The knees are most often affected but septic arthritis can occur in any joint. This condition is common in infants and the elderly, and medical attention should be received promptly.

Treatment involves draining the infected fluid from the joint, either with a needle (arthrocentesis) or surgery in order to prevent or reduce any joint damage caused by swelling, which can occur very quickly. This procedure is often followed by antibiotics in order to fully eradicate the infection.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fever, spontaneous shoulder pain, chills, knee pain, joint pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Dislocated kneecap

A dislocated kneecap is when the bone that covers the knee joint, the kneecap or patella, is moved out of place. The kneecap is normally held in place by tendons that connect it to muscles around the knee joint. Dislocation can be caused by planting the foot and twisting a flexed knee, direct trauma to the knee, or hyperextending the knee.

Symptoms include a feeling of the knee "giving way," severe knee pain, a limited range of motion of the knee, as well as swelling or a dislocation that is a noticeable bulge in the leg.

Treatments include pain medication, manual or surgical reduction of the knee, rest and at-home remedies, and physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: pain in one knee, knee pain from an injury, knee injury, swollen knee, knee instability

Symptoms that always occur with dislocated kneecap: kneecap sliding out to the side, knee pain from an injury

Urgency: In-person visit

Lupus

Lupus is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that happens when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells, tissues, and organs. Lupus is also a systemic disease and can affect multiple body systems including the heart, lungs, joints and even skin.

Since lupus can affect multiple organ systems, symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. However, the most common and distinctive sign of lupus is a(https://www.buoyhealth.com/symptoms-a-z/joint-pain/), skin lesions, chest pain, shortness of breath, dry eyes, hair loss, and headaches.

Treatments focus on alleviating symptoms through medications and other methods based on your specific needs.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, anxiety, depressed mood, joint pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Severe Knee Pain

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Is the knee pain affecting one or both knees?
  • Do you feel like your knee is unstable, weak, or giving out?
  • Do you often feel your knees buckling?
  • What is your body mass?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out why you're having severe knee pain

Severe Knee Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced severe knee pain have also experienced:

  • 5% Knee Locking
  • 4% Lower Back Pain
  • 4% Knee Pain

People who have experienced severe knee pain were most often matched with:

  • 40% Meniscal Injury
  • 30% Knee Arthritis
  • 30% Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

People who have experienced severe knee pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 40% Over a month
  • 20% Less than a day
  • 19% Less than a week

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Severe Knee Pain Symptom Checker

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