Ouch! Why do your knees hurt?

By Physiotherapist Jacky Balfour

Knee pain is common. The wear and tear of daily life can take its toll. And if you play sport, then injury can be a contributor.

The symptoms of knee pain can vary but common signs are pain when bending or straightening the knee, or when kneeling, walking or running. Or you may notice swelling.

How does the knee work?

knee illustrationThe knee joint actually consists of two distinct joints; the joint between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) and the joint between the patella (knee cap) and femur. It is an unusual joint because it has two menisci or cartilages between the femur and tibia that act as shock absorbers and offer stability to the joint.

The knee joint is the most heavily loaded joint in the body. When walking two and a half times the body weight acts on it and this goes up to eight times the body weight when running.

Rotational or twisting movements during sport and exercise produce strong forces that act on the knee joint, these can lead to injury and pain.

Causes of knee pain

Pain in the knee area can be due to problems with the joint surfaces and the surrounding soft tissues:

  • Osteoarthrosis or degenerative change causes damage to the articular cartilage or joint surface and is characterised by pain, stiffness and swelling
  • Tendons and ligaments can be injured by a sudden stressful injury or repetitive strain
  • The menisci (cartilage) can be damaged by a twisting injury or degeneration, this causes pain on one side of the joint and may cause ‘locking’ and pain when trying to straighten the knee
  • The quadriceps at the front and the hamstrings at the back may be strained or torn when pain is felt in the muscles around the knee
  • Inflammation can also occur in the several bursae around the knee – the small sacs of fluid that offer protection to the knee joint.
  • Biomechanics, muscle imbalance, obesity, poor technique in sport and inappropriate running shoes can all contribute to knee problems.
Less common causes of knee pain
  • Infection, gout and inflammatory arthritis are not such common causes, but are still very unpleasant. In these cases the knee will be hot, red, swollen and acutely painful.
  • Children and teenagers can suffer knee pain, usually if they play sport – see aches and pains in sporty children explained
What to do when your knees hurt

Initially you can try the usual first-aid measures that can be used at home; icepacks, compression, elevation, rest and the use of pain-killers or where indicated perhaps anti-inflammatory drugs.

If your knee pain persists then it is wise to seek the advice of a Physiotherapist. Physiotherapy will get to the cause of why your knee hurts, and help to relieve pain and improve mobility. You will also be shown the right exercises to do at home to help your particular knee pain problem.

Are you suffering knee pain?

The physiotherapy team at the Waldegrave Clinic in Teddington can help – call reception 020 8943 2424.

If you have children who suffer with knee pain, you may also be interested in this post Aches and pains in sporty children explained



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