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Common Causes of Knee Pain

person with knee pain

Knee pain can be a frustrating and limiting condition that affects people of all ages and activity levels. Whether you're an athlete, a weekend warrior, or simply going about your daily activities, knee pain can significantly impact your quality of life. In this blog post, we will explore the various causes of knee pain, shedding light on the culprits behind your discomfort. Understanding these causes can help you better communicate with your healthcare provider and seek appropriate treatment to get back on track.

knee anatomy including bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments

Knee Anatomy

The knee joint is an incredible hinge joint that allows us to perform various activities, such as walking, running, and bending. To better understand the common causes of knee pain, let's explore the anatomy of the knee.

  1. Bones: The knee joint is formed by three bones: the femur (thigh bone), the tibia (shinbone), and the patella (kneecap). These bones come together to create the knee joint, which is surrounded by strong ligaments and supported by muscles.

  2. Ligaments: Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to other bones and provide stability to the joint. In the knee, there are four main ligaments: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). These ligaments help prevent excessive movement and maintain the alignment of the knee.

  3. Meniscus: The knee joint contains two menisci, which are C-shaped pieces of cartilage located between the femur and the tibia. The menisci act as shock absorbers, cushioning the knee and distributing the forces during movement.

  4. Muscles and Tendons: The muscles around the knee, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, provide strength and support to the joint. Tendons connect these muscles to the bones, allowing for movement and stability.

Common Causes of Knee Pain

1. Osteoarthritis

One of the most common causes of knee pain is osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by the degeneration of the cartilage in the knee joint. Over time, this can lead to pain, stiffness, and swelling in the knee. Osteoarthritis can occur due to age-related wear and tear, previous knee injuries, or genetic factors.

2. Knee Injuries

Acute injuries to the knee, such as ligament tears (like the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL) or meniscus tears, can cause sudden and severe knee pain. These injuries often occur during sports activities or accidents and may require medical intervention, including physical therapy and possibly surgery, depending on the severity.

3. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as "runner's knee," is a condition that causes pain around the front of the knee. It is commonly seen in athletes and individuals who engage in activities involving repetitive knee movements. Weakness or imbalance in the muscles supporting the knee joint, improper tracking of the kneecap, and overuse can contribute to this condition.

4. Bursitis

Bursitis refers to the inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the knee joint. Overuse, repetitive kneeling, or direct trauma to the knee can lead to bursitis and result in localized pain, swelling, and tenderness.

5. Tendinitis

Tendinitis occurs when the tendons around the knee become inflamed, usually due to repetitive motions or overuse. Common types of knee tendinitis include patellar tendinitis (jumper's knee) and quadriceps tendinitis. These conditions often cause pain and discomfort during activities involving jumping, running, or squatting.

6. Other Factors

Other factors that can contribute to knee pain include obesity, improper biomechanics, muscle imbalances, and certain medical conditions such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

When to Seek Help

If you're experiencing persistent or worsening knee pain, it's essential to seek professional help. A qualified healthcare provider, such as a physical therapist, can evaluate your condition, identify the underlying cause, and develop a personalized treatment plan.

Treatment Options

Treatment for knee pain will depend on the specific cause and severity of the condition. Physical therapy is often a key component of knee pain management. It may include exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve flexibility, and correct movement patterns. Additionally, modalities like ice, heat, and manual therapy techniques may be used to alleviate pain and promote healing.

Understanding the various causes of knee pain is the first step towards finding relief and getting back to the activities you enjoy. If you're experiencing knee pain, don't let it hold you back. Reach out to our team at Nashville Physical Therapy & Performance to schedule an evaluation and get started on your journey towards pain-free knees. Remember, early intervention and proper treatment can make all the difference in your recovery.


- Crossley, K. M., et al. (2016). 2016 Patellofemoral pain consensus statement from the 4th International Patellofemoral Pain Research Retreat, Manchester. Part 1: Terminology, definitions, clinical examination, natural history, patellofemoral osteoarthritis and patient-reported outcome measures. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(14), 839-843.

- Knoop, J., et al. (2013). Knee joint arthroscopy and exercise versus exercise only for chronic patellofemoral pain syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Medicine, 11(1), 63.

- Richmond, J., et al. (2013). The treatment of anterior knee pain in recreational runners: A systematic review. Sports Medicine, 43(6), 395-416.

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