Knee Pain: The Ultimate Guide for Finding Relief

Discover what causes common forms of knee pain, and learn when you should see a knee doctor for help getting back to normal activities.

Life has enough challenges. Don’t let knee pain be one of them.

Patients of all ages can develop acute and chronic knee pain. The best knee doctors use their knowledge and experience to recommend the best treatments and technologies to help patients find knee pain relief so they can regain physical strength, mobility, and confidence.

Keep reading to find out about options for getting relief to help you move better. 

IBJI Knee Pain Guide Cover

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Chronic Knee Pain Symptoms

Your knees take a lot of abuse daily. Because they support most of your weight, every time you walk and run, your knee joint is put through a physical test.

In most cases, your knees hold up very well, but occasionally one or both knees may be damaged by injury, illness, or chronic conditions, making it harder to function as painlessly as it should.

Common symptoms for knee pain include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Weakness
  • Locking

Learn More About Knee Pain Causes

Four Common Knee Injuries

If home remedies such as over-the-counter pain medication, icing, and resting the knee do not improve the pain, it may be time to seek treatment.

FAQ: Signs of Knee Pain


What Causes Knees to Hurt

Knee pain may stem from a variety of reasons. Some common issues that could be causing your pain include:

  • Underlying disease
  • Inflammation
  • Deformity
  • Sprain or strain
  • Injury from sport, accident, or fall
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Carrying excess body weight
  • Wear and tear or overuse

Not all knee pain is caused by an underlying disease. For example, you may have taken a fall or had an accident in which you sustained an injury resulting in knee pain. Not having enough physical activity may also cause some discomfort, as well as overuse without proper rest. Additionally, if you are overweight, the excess weight may put more pressure on your knees as you walk and move, resulting in knee pain.

Underlying conditions such as arthritis are another cause of knee pain. You may also have a knee syndrome, such as runner’s knee that is causing your pain.

Learn About the Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments of 4 of the Most Common Knee Conditions

FAQ: Knee Pain Causes


When You Should See a Knee Pain Doctor

knee pain at the gym

The cause of your knee pain isn’t always easy to self-diagnose. If your pain hasn’t subsided after trying at-home remedies such as rest, ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, it may be time to see a knee doctor.

Consult a knee specialist when you experience:

  • Popping or Crunching
  • Deformity
  • Swelling
  • Instability
  • Weakness
  • Sustained Pain or Discomfort
  • Lessened Range of Motion in Your Knee

An experienced orthopedic knee doctor will pinpoint the cause of your knee pain and apply the best knee pain relief treatment for your diagnosis.

Taking the next step to see a knee doctor can dramatically improve your knee pain. In most cases, surgery and knee replacement are not the immediate answer but rather the last option.

A physician who treats knee pain will first try nonsurgical treatments such as medication, cortisone shots, and physical therapy. These treatments are great for relieving and managing pain.

Over time, if these efforts cease to work, it may be time to consider knee surgery or replacement. Your doctor will discuss the best course of action and the next steps for your knee care.

Read Patient Stories


How Knee Pain Is Diagnosed

man holding knee on the ground

When diagnosing your knee pain, the doctor will perform a physical exam. During this exam, they will examine the knee for swelling, pain, tenderness, and warmth. They will also check your range of motion to see how far you can move your leg and at what point the pain is felt. They may also pull or push on the joint to evaluate the structures within the knee.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose your knee pain without the use of imaging like X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. However, they can be crucial tools for making a diagnosis if your personal history and physical exam are inconclusive.

X-rays provide a look into the condition of the bones that make up your knee (femur, tibia, and patella) and are typically the first type of imaging study to be ordered.
An MRI can show details about soft tissues like cartilage, tendons, muscles, and ligaments in your knee. With an MRI of the knee, doctors can check for any torn ligaments, damaged cartilage, or bone fractures.

A CT Scan will obtain a more detailed cross-sectional image of the body, providing an internal view of the knee without making an incision. Your knee doctor may order one, two, or all three of these imaging tests, depending on the results of other exams.

Once all the necessary information is collected, your doctor will diagnose your condition and devise an individualized treatment plan just for you. In mild cases, treatment can be performed at home with medication, exercises, or physical therapy visits.

For more severe knee problems or advanced deterioration of the joint, your treatment may require a surgical solution, but this is usually a last resort.

ACL injuries

This injury is a tearing of the ACL ligament in the knee joint. The ACL ligament is one of the bands of tissue that connects the femur to the tibia. An ACL tear can be painful. It can cause the knee to become unstable. Minor tears may heal with non-surgical treatments, but complete tears won’t heal without surgery.

Knee Sprains

Knee sprains occur from overstretching of the ligaments that support the knee joint. A knee sprain may result when the knee ligaments are twisted or turned beyond their normal range of motion causing the ligaments to tear. Knee sprains are typically treated with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).

Knee Overuse Injury

Knee overuse injuries occur when the knee performs a repetitive motion. Some examples of overuse injuries of the knee are runner's knee, IT band syndrome, and patellar tendinitis. The RICE method is typically recommended to help promote healing and flexibility of the knee.

Knee Fractures

A fracture is a condition in which there is a break in the bone. These fractures can be caused by injuries from an impact or fall and happen as a result of weak and fragile bones. In most cases, these fractures can be treated with immobilization with a cast or a brace. In more severe cases, surgery may be required.

Torn Meniscus

A torn meniscus is a common knee injury. The meniscus is cartilage between the shinbone and thigh bone. It can be torn when you suddenly twist or rotate your knee while bearing weight on it. In some cases, the RICE method is enough to relieve the pain and allows the injury time to heal on its own. If conservative treatment does not work, it will require surgery.

Knee Infections

Knee infections can occur from injury, inflammation, surgery, and other reasons. This is when the fluid that lubricates your knee joint becomes infected. Knee infections are diagnosed by testing the fluid in your knee. They can be treated with antibiotics and draining the fluid in the joint.

Knee Tendonitis

Knee tendonitis, also called jumper’s knee, is an injury to the tissue connecting the kneecap to the shin bone. This condition is common in people who frequently jump, such as athletes.

Treatment may include over-the-counter pain relievers, a patellar tendon strap, or cortisone injections. It is recommended to stay off the knee so that it can heal. In some cases, surgery may be required.

Knee Bursitis

Knee bursitis occurs when the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac in the knee, becomes inflamed. Bursae function as the gliding surface in the joint to reduce friction and provide a cushion between the bones, tendons, and muscles.

RICE will be recommended as well as ceasing the activity that is causing the pain and discomfort.

Patellar Instability

Knee instability results from one or more patella dislocations or partial dislocations. The patella is a small piece of bone in front of the knee that slides up and down the femoral groove during certain movements, such as bending and stretching. The ligaments on the inner and outer sides hold the patella in place to avoid dislocation of the patella from the groove.

Treatment includes RICE, knee bracing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy.

Runner’s Knee

Runner’s knee, also called “patellofemoral pain syndrome,” is a pain you feel in the front of your knee. It involves the patella. That’s the bone we commonly call the “kneecap.” The patella slides up and down in a groove on your femur as you bend and extend your knee.

If you have this syndrome, you may have injured the soft tissues that support and cushion your kneecap. Or, you may have some damage to the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. In many cases, the treatment for runner’s knee is relatively simple.

A knee doctor may just advise you to use RICE and refrain from any activities that are exacerbating the knee pain. A knee doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatories or physical therapy.

Learn More About Runner’s Knee

How to Prevent & Treat Runner’s Knee


Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, is a gradual breakdown of cartilage in the joints, known as wear and tear. Cartilage is a tough, flexible connective tissue that protects the ends of bones in the joints. Osteoarthritis is common in the knees because the knees bear the weight of the body. Osteoarthritis of the knee can severely impact a person’s lifestyle.

Treatments include weight loss, exercise, physical therapy, pain relievers, and sometimes surgery.

Osteoarthritis and Other Common Causes of Knee Pain

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic disease of the immune system. In RA, the immune system attacks and damages the lining of the joints resulting in pain, stiffness, and swelling. Treatment includes different medications to help with the pain and inflammation. Regular exercise is also vital to strengthen the muscles that support the joints.

Always consult with your doctor first. Your knee doctor will discuss the best course of treatment for you if you have any of the above conditions.


Knee Pain Treatments & Remedies

focus on knee - woman enjoying coffee

In most cases, your orthopedic physician will initially recommend nonsurgical treatments for treating your knee pain. Nonsurgical treatments will help relieve and manage knee pain so you can get back to everyday activities. Only in severe cases, surgery or knee replacement may be required. For many knee injuries, using RICE and refraining from activities will allow your knee time to heal and will significantly reduce pain.

Common nonsurgical treatments include:

  • RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
  • Exercise
  • Stretching & Strengthening
  • Refraining from Activity that Causes Knee Pain
  • Over-the-counter Pain Relievers
  • Weight Loss

Benefits of Losing Weight to Treat Knee Pain

Being overweight can burden your knee joints, causing you to experience pain or inflammation. Weight loss may be recommended to help treat your knee pain. Extra weight increases the pressure and stress put on your knees with each step you take.

Losing the excess weight can directly impact the pain you feel in your knees as it reduces the amount of pressure and stress that your knee is under.

Continuous pressure on the knees can cause damage to your joints, resulting in arthritis. You may experience decreased range of motion, stiffness, pain, swelling, or warmth. Inflammation from weight gain may also cause conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Losing weight is often more manageable when you have an experienced, trusted partner to help you. For the greatest chance at success, find someone to work with who offers a collaborative approach for improving your health and wellness.

IBJI’s OrthoHealth program is led by certified weight management doctors. Our program is specially designed to help you manage all of the different factors impacting your weight and put you on track to optimize your health even when your ability to exercise is limited by joint pain.

Learn More About OrthoHealth and How to Enroll

Don't Live with Knee Pain

How to Know if It’s Time for Knee Replacement Surgery

It may be time to consider seeing a knee replacement surgeon when all other non-surgical options cease to relieve your pain. For some patients, knee replacement may be delayed by the use of other treatments such as cortisone shots.

We recommend trying nonsurgical treatments before deciding on a knee replacement, as many knee conditions can be resolved without a replacement. Knee replacements are most commonly seen in older patients.

A replacement becomes necessary when:

  • Over-the-Counter Medicine Stops
  • Relieving the Pain
  • Your Knee Hurts When at Rest
  • Severe Pain Limits Everyday Activities
  • Limited Range of Motion

Learn About the Basics of Knee Replacement Surgery

If you and your knee doctor decide that it is time to consider a knee replacement, they will inform you of all your options and surgery details. Some things they may cover in this conversation are the differences in total and partial knee replacement and outpatient vs. inpatient procedures.

FAQ: Knee Surgery

Meet IBJI’s Knee Pain Specialists

Don’t let knee pain slow you down. You can get back to action with the right help. While some instances of knee pain may resolve with home remedies, it is crucial to get proper knee treatment if your pain affects your mobility. That’s where Illinois Bone & Joint Institute’s knee specialists come in!

Seek treatment from a doctor–especially if your chronic knee pain is altering your day-to-day activities. IBJI’s highly skilled knee doctors will diagnose and treat your pain. They will examine your knee to determine the cause and make the correct diagnosis.

From there, they will make treatment recommendations, and your doctor will include you in deciding which treatments are fit for your specific needs.

Our doctors are eager to answer your questions and see you through every step of your treatment and recovery process. We will exhaust all options to get you back to pain-free activity.

Learn more about IBJI's knee pain care, knee replacement, and joint replacement.

Cutting-edge Treatments & Services

As the premier orthopedic institute in the Midwest, IBJI is the best choice for knee treatment and surgery. Our experienced, compassionate physicians are among the most highly-trained orthopedists in the region.

Our knee doctors will help you move better, so you can live better. If you or someone you love is suffering from knee pain, contact IBJI today.

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Find a knee specialist, make your appointment today, and get on the path to recovery.

Don't Live with Knee Pain
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