What’s causing my knee pain?

Pain as a result of a knee injury can be frustrating and slow to recover.

Symptoms can include more than just pain – swelling, clicking, locking and giving way are features of different types of knee injuries.

Before seeking medical advice, most go searching the web for info.

Is it wear and tear? A torn meniscus? Worse? And what the hell is a Baker’s Cyst?!?

To help get your recovery started while you’re waiting for a medical or physical therapy assessment, we cover the common presentations of knee problems and the best treatment options.


  • Meniscal tear
    • Sudden sharp pain after twisting the knee or
    • Most acute (fresh) tears have some swelling in the knee
    • There is usually a point in range that the knee catches, causes a sharp stabbing pain
    • Knee surgery may be required if the knee locks in position due to obstruction from the tear
  • Patellofemoral pain
    • Pain at the front of the knee under kneecap
    • It’s worse on descending stairs or hills
    • There may be some swelling around the knee, depending on the severity of the condition
    • To avoid the pain, people often adopt a stiff-legged gait pattern
  • Knee osteoarthritis
    • Gradually building knee joint pain without incident,
      more common after 40 years old
    • It typically has some swelling associated with it, although it’s not always visually evident
    • Knee OA often loosens up on activity
    • It feels worse after rest, especially first thing in the morning
knee xray
  • Medial collateral ligament tear
    • Sudden incident with knee forced inwards
    • There is immediate pain, although swelling and bruising are less common
    • The knee will hurt to fully straighten or to bend past 90 degrees
  • Baker’s cyst
    • Caused by ongoing knee swelling, resulting in a bulge at the back of the knee joint
    • Symptoms include an ache at the back of knee
    • There’s a loss of flexion (bending) range of motion
  • ITB syndrome
    • Pain across outside of knee during walking or running
    • Your knee may feel like it gives way as you’re bearing weight on it
    • There is no swelling with ITB syndrome
    • The pain can ease rapidly on short rests but returns soon after
  • ACL injury
    • An ACL rupture requires large amounts of force to dislocated the knee joint
    • The knee joint will swell excessively and rapidly, usually with five minutes of the incident
    • There is a fear of the knee giving way as it straightens

Can’t see your injury listed? Have a look at our guide to the most common types of sports injuries and our full list of knee injuries.


There are a number of risk factors for each type of pathology. Although they can’t cause the injury directly, they will increase your risk of knee injury (as the name suggests).

Many of these factors can be remedied while others wool require you to adapt how you perform certain activities.

To prevent knee pain generally, strength training has been shown to have a positive impact on almost all knee injuries. You can find out more details on Strength training for legs here.