Symptoms and Signs of Knee Pain

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 1/11/2022

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 causes the knee to look 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.

Signs and symptoms include knee pain that occurs more often with activity, and 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, swollen, 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 signs and 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

What Are the Treatments for Knee Pain?

Knee pain treatments vary according to causes. Therapy ranges from RICE to exercises to over-the-counter (OTC) medications to knee replacements.

  • RICE treatment (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation)
  • Therapy: exercises to improve flexibility
  • Arch supports to knee braces
  • Medications
  • Surgery
    • Osteotomy is realignment of bones by removing some bony material from the femur or other bones.
    • Arthroscopic surgery can examine/repair the knee joint.
    • Partial knee replacement surgery replaces the damaged portion of the knee with metal and/or plastic parts.
    • Total knee replacement replaces a knee joint with an artificial joint.

You and your orthopedic specialist can determine the best treatments to solve your knee pain problems.

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