What’s wrong with my knee?

Knee pain can have many different causes. Here, we explain the most frequent types and how to treat them.

Joint pain of any sort can cause considerable discomfort. In particular, knee pain can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life and ability to exercise. Depending on the type of injury, you may even require surgery. As there are many different causes of knee pain, it’s important to first diagnose the reason for your discomfort before you can resolve it.

Knee pain following an injury

Physiotherapy

Knee pain is often the result of an injury. If you’re experiencing injury-induced knee pain, the first thing to ask is: where is the pain? Charles Willis-Owen, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at BMI The Harbour Hospital, specialises in knee pain and treatment. He explains that knee pain resulting from an injury is often caused by a torn cartilage (also called meniscus). If this is the case, you need to see a knee specialist, who will probably request a scan to find out more information (commonly an MRI scan.) 

The good news is that, according to Willis-Owen, torn cartilage can nearly always be treated. Sometimes physiotherapy is enough to remedy the injury, but other times a very small keyhole operation is needed.

Injury pain at the back of the knee

After an injury, pain at the back of the knee could mean a few different things. Willis-Owen explains that any swelling should be checked by a healthcare professional as it could signal a torn cartilage or damage to the muscles at the back of the knee. If there is no swelling, it may be a minor muscle sprain, which should settle in a couple of weeks. However, if it doesn’t abate you always get it checked.

Injury pain at the front of the knee

This type of pain could relate to an injury of the kneecap itself, the kneecap tendon or even a very sensitive area of fat behind the kneecap tendon. Physiotherapy often helps, but it’s wise to first get a firm diagnosis from a specialist.

Knee pain for no reason

Running

Many people suffer from knee pain without an obvious reason. Often, this is down to wear and tear caused by aging, or else over use of the knee or failing to recover sufficiently from an injury. 

If you think your pain is down to overdoing things, then take two weeks of full rest to allow your knee to recover. If, however, there is a creeping pain in your knee and you haven’t overexerted yourself or done anything differently, see your GP who may want to arrange an X-ray to check if the joint is worn out.

Knee clicking

Knee clicking is caused by one of two things, according to Willis-Owen: either the kneecap joint or a damaged cartilage. If the clicking isn’t painful then it isn’t usually a cause for concern; this is fairly common and won’t require treatment. If the clicking is accompanied by pain, see a specialist who can investigate further with a thorough examination. Treatment for knee clicking can be straightforward, depending on the cause.

Knee giving way

If your knee gives way, the first thing to establish is whether this was caused by an injury or whether it began independently. If your knee keeps giving way after an injury you’ll need to see a specialist, as you may have torn a major ligament like the ACL or cruciate ligament. You should see your GP (who can refer you to a specialist) or a physiotherapist as soon as possible. 

If your knee gives way without you having experienced an injury, the cause is often due to kneecap problems, according to Willis-Owen. A good physiotherapist should be able to solve most issues. When dealing with knee pain of any sort, there is no substitute for a one-on-one assessment with a specialist, enabling you to receive a detailed examination and discuss the best course of treatment.

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