Whether you’re a pro athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or a couch potato, your knees play a vital role in keeping you moving. Because of this, knee pain can be an irritating and agonizing condition to live with, especially if it’s a chronic issue affecting everyday life. As experts in this field, we wanted to share our knowledge on everything you need to know about knee pain.

Use this page as your guide through understanding the cause of knee irritation, what treatments are available, and practical tips on how to manage the pain at home. When you’re ready, the orthopedic surgeons at Capital Surgical Associates are here to help you find the best path to recovery from knee pain. It’s time we get you back on your feet with regained mobility and strength.

What Are Common Causes of Knee Pain?

What Are Common Causes of Knee Pain?

Knee pain is a highly common condition, and is not limited by age or differing activity levels.

It can limit a number of physical activities and cause considerable discomfort. The causes of knee issues can range from acute injuries to chronic conditions, but some of the most common culprits include:

Knee Conditions

Arthritis: Arthritis is a prevailing disease that causes swelling, stiffness, and often, excruciating discomfort in the joints. Most commonly, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are the leading culprits of this condition that will afflict the knees.

Bursitis: Within every knee (shoulder and elbow) is a small sac of fluid called the bursa. When overused, this sac can become inflamed and cause great discomfort in the knee. Bursitis is identified by symptoms of swelling, soreness when moving the knee, and tenderness.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome: This condition occurs when there’s inflammation in tight bands of tissue that run along each side of your legs from your hip to your shinbone. The Iliotibial Band can become irritated due to repetitive motion, such as running or walking, which causes aggravation in your outer thigh area that may extend into your knees. Symptoms often start gradually but can worsen over time if left untreated. Common signs are tightness, tenderness, weakness, clicking, or sharp stinging in the knee or thigh during activity.

Patellofemoral Syndrome: Also known as “runner’s knee,” this syndrome occurs when there is excessive pressure placed on your patella (kneecap), creating irritation between it and the femur (thighbone). Symptoms include localized tenderness, difficulty straightening the leg fully without feeling discomfort, an occasional popping sound coming from the back of the knee with flexion/extension movements, hopping gait, or abrupt onset of shooting during physical activities.

Knee Injuries

Torn Meniscus: The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that provides cushioning and stability in the knee joint between the thigh and shin bones. A torn meniscus usually results from sudden twists and force applied through contact sports injuries or playing other physically demanding activities. Symptoms include a locking grinding feeling, a catching sensation felt while extending limbs, instability, swelling, and stiffness around the joint.

Torn ACL, PCL, MCL, or LCL: The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligaments are the ligaments stabilizers of the knee. The ACL and MCL are two common parts of the knee that can become injured. An ACL tear occurs when a force is applied to the ligament, causing it to tear away from the bone. An MCL tear can happen during a fall or while playing sports, and the ligaments are stretched beyond their natural limits, forcing them to strain or tear apart. Symptoms associated with these tears depend on severity but could include intense piercing & swelling, difficulty straightening the leg fully without feeling discomfort, instability, lack of full-range motion, and strength.

Dislocation of Kneecap: When the kneecap (patella) is moved from its ordinary position and cannot return, it has been dislocated. This can be caused by strong muscle contractions, especially after a fall, impact, or blow to the knee joint. Indications of an injury include extreme sensitivity, swelling, visible redness, and a loss of mobility in the knee.

Fracture: A fracture is a type of impact trauma that can occur to the knee joint during sports or after a fall when the bone is cracked or broken. Symptoms vary depending on which bone was fractured but most commonly include severe pain in and around the affected area, both with movement and without movement, swelling and bruising around the injured area, immobility, and deformity around the joint.

A woman clutching her knee

What Are Red Flags of Knee Pain?

Knee pain can be an indication of a variety of different issues. Red flags may include not being able to bear weight on the affected leg, persistent aggravation even when the knee is not in use, clicking, locking, and crunchy sounds, inability to flex or fully straighten the leg, swelling, numbness and tingling, a visible deformity, discoloration of the skin around the knee and continuing tenderness days after trying non-surgical remedies.

If at-home treatments no longer provide satisfactory relief from these symptoms, it is time to speak with a healthcare provider at Capital Surgical Associates.

What Non-Surgical Remedies Can Help Alleviate Knee Pain?

Non-surgical remedies to help alleviate knee pain can include:

  • Icing the knee to reduce inflammation
  • Taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen (though these should be taken with doctor supervision)
  • Limiting physical activities that trigger the soreness
  • Attending physical therapy to help build strength
  • Implementing a home exercise routine
  • Avoiding bearing weight on the knee for some time
  • Keeping the knee elevated when possible to minimize swelling and discomfort
  • Using a sleeve or bandage to give support and compression to the joint
  • Sleeping with a pillow under or between knees
  • Steroid injections, Hyaluronic injections and Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections

Additionally, lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in vitamins and minerals, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly can help minimize knee pain. Each approach has its own advantages, so it's important to consult with your doctor before attempting any.

Someone bandaging their knee

What Knee Injuries and Conditions Require Orthopedic Surgery?

Surgery will likely be recommended if your knee pain worsens with these symptoms:

  • Chronic throbbing that persists despite non-surgical treatments
  • Soreness that interrupts sleep
  • Unable to perform daily activities or responsibilities
  • Persistent swelling or stiffness in the knee
  • Diagnosis of illness like arthritis or cancer
  • Physical trauma from sports or accident
  • Ligament or meniscus tears
  • Injuries to the knee cartilage
  • Fracture of a knee bone

What Surgical Procedures Can Fix Knee Pain?

ACL Repair and Reconstruction : Surgery can reattach or reconstruct the ligament if your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is torn. This stabilizes the knee and reduces discomfort from instability. Recovery takes months of physical therapy.

Knee Arthroscopy : A minimally invasive surgery using a tiny camera to see inside the knee. Damaged cartilage or meniscus can be trimmed or repaired, and loose fragments removed. Recovery is faster than open surgery but still requires some physical therapy.

Total Knee Replacement : For severe arthritis or joint damage, the knee is replaced with an artificial joint. This significantly reduces aches and improves mobility, but it is a major surgery.

Meniscus Surgery : The meniscus can be repaired or partially removed if torn. While eliminating parts of the meniscus leads to faster recovery, the repair is preferred in certain types and ages as it's more likely to prevent arthritis and keep the knee stable.

Cartilage Surgery of the Knee : Procedures like microfracture or mosaicplasty stimulate cartilage regrowth for small defects. Larger defects may require cartilage transplants or synthetic cartilage replacements to reduce aggravation from damaged cartilage.

Patella Fracture of the Knee : A broken kneecap is stabilized with screws or wires to join the fractured bone pieces back together so they can heal. Physical therapy helps recover range of motion and strength.

Someone applying an ice pack to their knee

What Can Happen if Knee Pain is Left Untreated?

If knee pain is left untreated, it can become a serious problem, both surgically and non-surgically.

One risk is that the knee joint may become unusable due to progressive damage and atrophy. Deformities can develop in the joint, leading to increased discomfort. Additionally, the irritation can worsen or even be unbearable over time if no treatment is sought. In extreme cases, a person may become physically disabled due to not addressing the trauma.

Furthermore, the joints and bones surrounding the knee could be significantly damaged if proper medical care is not taken. As a result, more invasive surgical treatments may be needed to correct any damage caused by prolonged neglect of an underlying injury or condition.

How To Recover From Knee Surgery

  • Try to get in shape before the surgery.
  • Follow all post-op instructions given by your surgeon.
  • You can typically start walking on the operated knee within hours of the surgery.
  • Avoid vigorous activities and putting too much weight on your injured knee; avoid jerking, twisting, pulling, or running.
  • Plan for some form of physical therapy to be recommended by your surgeon.
  • Check for infection, and alert your doctor when there is abnormal swelling, redness, or puss near the incision.

Orthopedic Specialists at Capital Surgical Associates

Boise, Idaho

Our orthopedic specialists, Dr. Hessing, Dr. Applonie, and Dr. Johnson, are here to help if you are in pain from an injury or dealing with a chronic condition.

Dr. Jeffrey Hessing, Shoulder Surgery Surgeon in Boise, Idaho
Dr. Ryan Applonie, Orthopedic Shoulder Surgeon in Boise, Idaho
Dr. Miers Johnson, Orthopedic Surgeon in Boise, Idaho