Knee pain is a common symptom in people of all ages. It may start suddenly, often after an injury or exercise. Knee pain also may begin as a mild discomfort, then slowly get worse.
Pain - knee
Knee pain can have different causes. Being overweight puts you at greater risk for knee problems. Overusing your knee can trigger knee problems that cause pain. If you have a history of arthritis, it could also cause knee pain.
Torn cartilage (a meniscus tear) -- pain felt on the inside or outside of the knee joint
Strain or sprain -- minor injuries to the ligaments caused by sudden or unnatural twisting
Simple causes of knee pain often clear up on their own while you take steps to manage your symptoms. If knee pain is caused by an accident or injury, you should contact your health care provider.
If your knee pain has just started and is not severe, you can:
Rest and avoid activities that cause pain. Avoid putting weight on your knee.
Apply ice. First, apply it every hour for up to 15 minutes. After the first day, apply it at least 4 times per day. Cover your knee with a towel before applying ice. Do not fall asleep while using ice. You can leave it on too long and get frostbite.
Keep your knee raised as much as possible to bring down any swelling.
Wear an elastic bandage or elastic sleeve, which you can buy at most pharmacies. This may reduce swelling and provide support.
Take ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxyn (Aleve) for pain and swelling. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help relieve pain, but not swelling. Talk to your provider before taking these medicines if you have medical problems, or if you have taken them for more than a day or two.
Sleep with a pillow underneath or between your knees.
Follow these general tips to help relieve and prevent knee pain:
Always warm up before exercising and cool down after exercising. Stretch the muscles in the front of your thigh (quadriceps) and in the back of your thigh (hamstrings).
Avoid running down hills -- walk down instead.
Bicycle, or better yet, swim instead of run.
Reduce the amount of exercise you do.
Run on a smooth, soft surface, such as a track, instead of on cement or pavement.
Lose weight if you are overweight. Every pound that you are overweight puts about 5 extra pounds of pressure on your kneecap when you go up and down stairs. Ask your provider for help losing weight.
If you have flat feet, try special shoe inserts and arch supports (orthotics).
Make sure your running shoes are well made, fit well, and have good cushioning.
Further steps for you to take may depend on the cause of your knee pain.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
You cannot bear weight on your knee
You have severe pain, even when not bearing weight
Your knee buckles, clicks, or locks
Your knee is deformed or misshapen
You have a fever, redness or warmth around the knee, or a lot of swelling
You have pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, or bluish discoloration in the calf below the sore knee
You still have pain after 3 days of home treatment
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam, and look at your knees, hips, legs, and other joints.
Your provider may do the following tests:
Joint fluid culture (fluid taken from the knee and examined under a microscope)
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.