Common Causes for Knee Pain

Do you suffer from Knee pain and have questions about what could be causing it?. Did you have an x-ray or MRI and now feel more confused than before?

In a previous post I talked about how common knee pain is. In today’s offering, I talk about some things that may cause knee pain .

Muscular sprains and strains

By far the most common cause of short term knee pain is muscle sprains and strains. Usually it’s caused by heavy lifting, sports or doing more activity than you are used to, like joining a gym as part of your New Years resolutions.

Torn Meniscus

The knee is divided in to two compartments medial and lateral.  In each compartment there is a meniscus that is a small floating cushion of cartilage that helps spread the load evenly across the surfaces of the joint. A very common injury in the knee is a meniscus tear. This is when a small piece of the meniscus becomes detached from the main body and floats around in the joint. This causes clicking, popping, swelling and an unstable feeling. In younger people, these tears may heal, in older people, surgery and rehab may be required to resolve the problem.

Ligament Injuries

Physical Therapy for Knee PainThere are four main ligaments in the knee, the medial collateral (MCL), lateral collateral (LCL), anterior cruciate(ACL) and posterior cruciate(PCL) ligaments. The ones that get injured the most often are the MCL and the ACL. Mild sprains of these ligaments will heal with conservative care and light activity. More severe tears and complete ruptures have to be surgically repaired if they are to heal properly and support the knee again.


As joints get older, the structures that make up the joint, cartilage, bone, ligaments and meniscus all tend to deteriorate. Most of the time this does not cause any pain but may result in some stiffness and loss of flexibility. In some cases however it can cause pain, grinding, swelling, tightness, weakness and episodes of the knee giving out without warning.

Inflammatory Diseases

Some diseases can cause inflammation that is not related to an injury. Examples of these are Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis and Crohns Disease. In an acute flare up, conservative care can relieve symptoms but it is also important to stay active as possible to keep the joint healthy
One of the unexpected things about knee pain is that some of these things are visible on x-ray or MRI and some are not. To add to the confusion, sometimes an x-ray can show features like degeneration or or bone spurs that may take years to develop but the patient has only had pain for a very short time.
We rely on our knees for mobility and so addressing the movement component in any kind of knee pain is important. I like to point out that even sedentary people take thousands of steps per day so imagine if the knee is slightly out of alignment or has a muscular imbalance, how much pain and discomfort could that cause over time if its not addressed?

To get a good idea of where the pain is coming from it is important to examine (among other things) movement, strength and postural imbalances. In some cases, this is all that needs to be addressed, meaning that shots, pain pills and surgery may not be required to make a full recovery. Other times, a combination of approaches works best. In Physical Therapy we help people at all stages of knee pain from sprains and strains to pre and post surgical rehab to managing inflammatory conditions such as RA.
If you, or someone you know is frustrated with knee pain and would like to see of Physical Therapy can offer some relief, simply call my office and ask for a Discovery Visit. This free of charge visit allows you consult with a Doctor of Physical Therapy to get some assistance in making the best decision to solve your knee problem.