Read below about sharp knee pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your sharp knee pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Sharp Knee Pain Symptoms

The knee is the largest and most stressed joint in the human body. It is utilized in every movement – walking, jumping, running, even standing – and as a result, the knee is extremely vulnerable to injury.

Most people, regardless of age, experience knee pain at some point in their lives. Older individuals may experience knee pain and discomfort due to multiple age-related conditions, and younger individuals may experience similar symptoms due to sports or other physical activities.

However, sharp knee pain symptoms are often a sign of serious knee injury and should be followed-up promptly by a healthcare professional.

Symptoms often associated with sharp knee pain may include:

If you notice any of these sharp knee pain symptoms, get appropriate care immediately.

Sharp Knee Pain Causes Overview

The knee is a complex system of bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscles responsible for weight-bearing and movement.

  • The bones of the knee include the femur (thigh bone), patella (kneecap) and tibia (shin bone). The knee joint works to keep these bones securely in place.
  • The two types of cartilage in the knee are the minuscular cartilage and the articular cartilage. The cartilage act as cushions around the bones of the knee that reduce friction during movement and help the bones move smoothly against each other. There is a medial meniscus on the inner side of the knee and a lateral meniscus on the outer side of the knee.
  • The knee has four ligaments that connect bones to other bones and promote stability: medial collateral, lateral collateral, posterior cruciate and anterior cruciate ligaments. These ligaments prevent the side to side movement of the femur as well as excessive backward and forward movement of the femur and tibia.
  • The tendons are similar to the ligaments and connect bone to muscle. The patellar tendon is the largest and attaches to the quadriceps.
  • The joint capsule and bursa are fluid filled membranes that lubricate the joint and reduce friction.

See this image for a visual representation of these many components and how they connect together.

Any situation or condition that causes stress, inflammation or injury to any of these components can result in sharp knee pain symptoms [1,2].

Musculoskeletal causes:

  • Ligament: Ligament injury in the form of sprains and tears is very common in sports, especially sports that combine running with contact such as soccer, football and rugby. Injury to the ligaments results in loss of stability and severe knee pain symptoms that often require surgery.

  • Cartilage: Tearing of the knee cartilage can occur when the knee is suddenly twisted while weight-bearing. This often occurs in sports as well.

  • Fracture: The various bones of the knee can be broken during car accidents and serious falls. In older people, or individuals with weak bones, fractures can be sustained from less traumatic incidents such as trips or missteps.

  • Mechanical: Problems in the way in which the parts of the knee work together can result in sharp knee pain symptoms. Conditions such as Iliotibial band syndrome or dislocations of the kneecap often result in sharp knee pain upon movement [3].

Inflammatory causes:

  • Arthritis: Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness of the bones and joints. Arthritis can affect the bones and fluid-filled areas of the knee resulting in significant irritation that can cause chronic and debilitating knee pain.

  • Infection: The knee is susceptible to scrapes and cuts that easily allow bacteria to enter into the joint space. These infections can cause serious swelling, pain and redness of the knee that result in sharp knee pain even with the smallest movements.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Sharp Knee Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced sharp knee pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Infrapatellar Bursitis

    Bursae are small fluid-filled sacks located around the body in strategic locations to provide a cushion and help reduce friction. There is a pair of bursae below each kneecap (patella). Infrapatellar bursitis is a condition where these bursae are inflamed. It is a common cause of knee pain in people whose work involves frequent kneeling on hard surfaces.

    Condition goes away on its own in a few weeks.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one knee, spontaneous knee pain, dull, achy knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when going up stairs, knee pain that gets worse when squatting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

    The kneecap (patella) is located directly in front of the thigh bone (femur), and should normally glide freely up and down. In this condition, called patellofemoral pain syndrome, the kneecap may rub against the thigh bone instead of gliding smoothly, causing damage and pain.

    Most people get better within weeks to months of physical therapy.

    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
  3. 3.Knee Bursitis (Pes Anserine Bursitis)

    Pes anserine bursitis is an inflammatory condition of the knee.

    Days to weeks (up to 8 weeks)

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one knee, knee pain that gets worse when going up stairs, spontaneous knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when going down stairs, knee pain that gets worse when standing up
    Symptoms that always occur with knee bursitis (pes anserine bursitis):
    pain in one knee
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.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.

    Knee arthritis is a chronic problem once it develops.

    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
  5. 5.Jumper's Knee (Patellar Tendonitis)

    Patellar tendonitis (Jumper's knee) is the inflammation of the patellar tendon, which attaches the knee cap to the shin bone (tibia). This condition is caused by frequently from sports and jumping.

    1 month with rest

    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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  6. 6.Meniscal Injury

    A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. Any activity that causes forceful twisting of the knee, especially when putting the pressure of one's full weight on it, can lead to a torn meniscus.

    6 to 8 weeks

    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
  7. 7.Iliotibial (It) Band Syndrome ('Runner's Knee')

    Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome is the lateral knee pain that results from overuse that occurs after repetitive motion. It is the most common cause of lateral knee pain in runners and cyclists.

    Within 6 to 8 weeks with conservative nonsurgical treatment

    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
  8. 8.Prepatellar Bursitis

    Prepatellar bursitis occurs when the bursa, a fluid-filled sac, around the knee becomes inflamed and painful.

    Recovery depends on extent of inflammation.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in the front of the knee, swollen knee, knee redness
    Symptoms that always occur with prepatellar bursitis:
    pain in the front of the knee
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Dislocated Kneecap

    The kneecap connects the muscles in the front of the thigh to the shinbone (tibia). When the kneecap slips out of the groove, problems and pain often result.

    Resolves upon reduction of dislocation.

    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

Sharp Knee Pain Treatments and Relief

Severe knee pain requires professional medical attention [4].

Treatment depends on the specific diagnosis and may include one or all of the following:

  • Physical therapy: After many knee injuries, your doctor will suggest physical therapy in order to restore range of motion, strength and stability to your knee.
  • Medication: If your severe knee pain is due to inflammatory conditions, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat an infection or anti-inflammatory medications to treat arthritic conditions.
  • Surgery: Fractures and tears of the ligaments and cartilage of the knee often require surgical intervention but often have great success [5].

There are many measures you can take in your daily life to prevent knee injury and severe pain:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: The knees bear all of the body's weight, so extra pounds can cause unnecessary stress and strain, increasing risk of injury.
  • Be strong and flexible: The quadriceps and hamstring muscles provide support to the knee joint, so keeping them strong, conditioned and flexible will benefit the functioning of the knee as a whole.
  • Practice technique: If you participate in competitive sports and practice often, ensure that your techniques and movements are not putting unnecessary stress on your knees. Work with a coach to ensure that when your run, jump or move side-to-side, your knee is in the best position to prevent injury.
  • Listen to your body: If you find yourself experiencing mild or transient knee pain after certain activities, listen to your body and take a break! Rest, ice and elevate your knee once you first notice sharp knee pain symptoms and make an appointment with your doctor promptly.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Sharp Knee Pain

  • Q.Is the knee pain affecting one or both knees?
  • Q.Where is your knee pain?
  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your knee pain?
  • Q.Do you often feel your knees buckling?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our sharp knee pain symptom checker to find out more.

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Sharp Knee Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced sharp knee pain have also experienced:

    • 18% Knee Pain
    • 7% Knee Stiffness
    • 6% Knee That Clicks During Movement
  • People who have experienced sharp knee pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 40% Over a Month
    • 20% Less Than a Day
    • 19% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced sharp knee pain were most often matched with:

    • 60% Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
    • 20% Infrapatellar Bursitis
    • 20% Knee Bursitis (Pes Anserine Bursitis)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Knee Pain. NHS. Updated December 12, 2017. NHS Link.
  2. Knee Injury. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Link.
  3. Ma CB. Anterior Knee Pain. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 3, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  4. Anzilotti AW, eds. Knee Injuries. Nemours: TeensHealth. Updated December 2018. TeensHealth Link.
  5. Zarins B, Adams M. Knee Injuries in Sports. The New England Journal of Medicine. 1988;318(15):950-961. NCBI Link.