What is knee pain?
Your kneecap (patella) is a thick, round bone that covers and protects the front (anterior)
part of your knee joint. It moves along a groove in your thighbone (femur) as part
of the patellofemoral joint. A layer of cartilage surrounds the underside of your
kneecap. This layer protects it from grinding against your femur.
When this cartilage softens and breaks down, it can cause knee pain. This is partly
due to repetitive stress. The stress irritates the lining of the joint. This causes
pain in the underlying bone.
Knee pain is very common. It's even more likely to occur in highly active people who
put a lot of pressure on their knees, such runners. It affects women more often than
men. You may also hear this type of knee pain called patellofemoral pain, anterior
knee pain, runner's knee, or jumper's knee.
What causes knee pain?
Several different overlapping causes help lead to knee pain. Some of these include:
Overuse of the knee joint
Misalignment of the patella and surrounding structures
Damage to small nerves in the region
Damage to a ligament-like structure (retinaculum) that holds the patella in place
Degeneration of the bone under the cartilage
Inflammation in the soft tissues around the patella
Who is at risk for knee pain?
You might be at greater risk of knee pain if you:
Exercise heavily, or have recently increased the intensity of your workouts
Have a body mass index greater than 25
Have poor alignment of your patella
Walk with your feet turned overly out or in
Have weakness in nearby muscle groups (such as weak inner quad or hip adductor muscles)
Have too much tightness in nearby muscle groups (such as tight hamstrings or iliotibial
Have a recent history of injury to the area
You can’t change many of these risk factors. Losing weight and correcting excess muscle
tightness or muscle weakness may help reduce your risk.
What are the symptoms of knee pain?
This type of knee pain is marked by a dull, aching pain in the front of the knee in
the area under and around the kneecap. This pain may start quickly or slowly. Your
pain might be worse when you squat, run, or sit for a long time. You might also sometimes
feel like your knee is giving out. You might have symptoms in one or both of your
How is knee pain diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will begin with a health history and ask about your other
health problems as well as your current symptoms. Describe any activities that make
your knee pain worse.
You’ll have a thorough knee exam. This will include tests of your range of motion,
strength, and areas of soreness of your knee. Your provider will also assess your
knee alignment. Your provider will need to rule out other possible causes of your
knee pain, such as arthritis or instability.
Often, you won't need any more tests. If your diagnosis is unclear, you might need
additional imaging tests to rule out other possible causes. These tests may include
an X-ray or MRI.
How is knee pain treated?
Your healthcare provider might suggest several different treatment strategies to help
ease your symptoms. These might include:
Not doing activities that make your pain worse for a while, returning to activity
Icing the outside of your knee when it causes you pain.
Taking over-the-counter pain medicines.
Wearing a knee brace or taping your knee to support it.
Wearing special shoe inserts to help keep your feet in the correct alignment.
Practicing special exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles around your hip
and your knee. Your provider or physical therapist can show you how.
These steps help most people manage knee pain. Your healthcare provider might advise
surgery if you still have significant symptoms after 6 months of trying these other
therapies. Depending on the underlying cause of your knee pain, your provider might
suggest one of several surgical options, such as surgically realigning your kneecap.
You can discuss all of your surgical options with your orthopedic surgeon.
How can I prevent knee pain?
In some cases, you can prevent knee pain. To help prevent a flare-up of knee pain,
do the following:
Regularly so all the exercises your healthcare provider or physical therapist advises
Support your knee as advised by your provider or physical therapist
Ease up on your training when needed and increase your training slowly
Have an expert check your running stance or your stance for your sporting activity
Learn how to correctly stretch before and after exercise
Replace your running shoes regularly
When should I call my healthcare provider?
If your symptoms don't start to get better after several weeks of treatment, see your
healthcare provider. You may have a different kind of problem with your knee.
Key points about knee pain
Knee pain is a common health condition. Irritation to the tissue around the kneecap
causes the condition. Too much repetitive stress makes knee pain much more likely
Your healthcare provider will likely be able to diagnose you with a simple health
history and physical exam.
Most people respond to treatment such as pain medicines, ice, stretching and strengthening
exercises, and not doing certain activities for a while.
In rare cases, some people need surgery to treat their condition.
Taking simple steps, such as doing your physical therapy exercises, may help prevent
your symptoms from coming back.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.