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Symptoms and Signs of Knee Pain

Doctor's Notes on Knee Pain

Knee pain is any type of pain (sharp, dull, aching, recurrent, for example) that occurs in the knee either at rest or during use. There are two main types, acute and chronic. Signs and symptoms of acute knee pain include sharp and intense pain; the knee cannot support weight and the patient usually can’t walk. In addition, the knee can swell and be very tender to touch. If ligaments are torn, the person may hear a popping sound. If tendons are involved, the patient may not be able to extend the knee while meniscal injuries may cause the knee to lock. Dislocation of the knee result in limb – threatening emergencies where the knee looks out of place and the patient has severe pain. A dislocated kneecap is visibly out of place, painful, and the patient may not be able to flex or extend the knee. Chronic knee pain has many causes; signs and symptoms include knee pain that occurs more often with activity, the knee may be stiff; some patients may have swelling and pain in other joints. Other symptoms and signs depend on the underlying cause of chronic knee pain and include painful, swelling and warm to the touch knee joints – they also may be unable to have full range of knee motion. Infection of the knee joint can produce symptoms of fever, chills, knee swelling and joint warmth. Other less frequent causes usually result in intermittent pain in the joint and/or tendons that worsen when the knee joint is moved.

There are many causes of acute and chronic knee pain. Causes of acute knee pain include trauma, fractures, strained and/or torn collateral and cruciate ligaments, tendon ruptures, meniscal injuries, knee dislocation and kneecap dislocation. Causes of chronic knee pain include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bursitis, infection, chondromalacia patella (mistracking by the kneecap), tendinitis (jumpers’ knee), Osgood – Schlatter disease (quadriceps tendon inflammation) and iliotibial band syndrome (lateral knee pain due to ligament stress).

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.