Pain behind knee: Common causes, symptoms, and treatment (2022)

Pain behind knee: Common causes, symptoms, and treatment (1)Pain behind knee is not unusual, but it can hurt and limit movement. Developing a clear understanding of pain behind knee causes can be important.

When we refer to pain behind knee, we are really talking about discomfort or soreness behind the knee joint. This uncomfortable feeling can happen to a person who still has movement in their knee or it can severely limit movement. Sometimes, pain behind knee is accompanied by inflammation or a burning sensation. In many cases, the soreness is nothing to worry about. There are situations where the pain does not disappear, and there is swelling or even bruising. If this happens to you, it is important to seek medical attention.

Pain behind the knee: Symptoms

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Each case of pain behind the knee is different. However, there are some typical signs and symptoms doctors have identified, including the ones listed below.

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  • Inability to put weight on knee
  • Reduced range of motion in knee joint
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Pain when trying to stretch the leg

There are some symptoms that can be an indication of a life-threatening health problem. For example, bruising on the back of the knee or calf, difficulty breathing, redness behind the knee of one leg, warmth behind the knee of one leg, and painful swelling can be signs of something serious.

Pain behind knee: Common causes, symptoms, and treatment (2)Common causes of pain behind the knee

Sometimes pain behind the knee is simply due to muscle strains. These injuries usually heal in a matter of days. However, this is only one possibility. There can also be pain behind the knee as a result of systemic diseases or some life-threatening conditions. Below we take a look at just what the different potential causes are.

Injury-related causes

Hamstring injury – The hamstrings are one of three posterior thigh muscles. It is a common site of injury in athletes. The most common tendon behind knee pain is the biceps femoris tendon, and it’s commonly injured during activities like kick boxing, downhill running, and sprinting. Injury at this location will produce a dull ache that quickly intensifies with sudden movement. Mild swelling behind the knee may also occur.

Meniscus tear – A sudden twisting of the knee or even long-term overuse can cause a tear of the meniscus, which is two crescent-shaped pieces of cartilage found in the knee. Tears of the meniscus can cause pain in the knee as well as a “locking” sensation, swelling, and difficulty with knee extension. While conservative management with RICE treatment is usually enough, some individuals may require surgery.

Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury – Injury to the PCL, which is one of the longest ligaments in the knee, can lead to pain, swelling, and difficulty standing. Overextension or a forceful blow to the front of a bent knee are common causes of a PCL injury. Due to the PCL being able to heal quickly, non-surgical treatment is all that is usually required. However, surgery may be required if there is a concomitant injury such as knee dislocation.

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Disease-related causes

Osteoarthritis (OA) – This is degeneration of the cartilage that provides cushioning between the bones of the joints. Cartilage between the knee joint is required to cushion forceful impacts that occur on a regular basis. Without this protection, both sets of bones will continually rub against each other, causing knee pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – This occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the synovial lining of joints. It can be a common problem in the knee. Symptoms include pain that is worse in the mornings, swelling, and stiffness. Autoimmune inflammation will eventually lead to the destruction of the joint if disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are not taken.

Gout – This disease is known to build up uric acid in the blood. As a result, crystals can form deposits in joints, leading to pain. Uric acid is a waste product that is usually excreted from the body. When the body is unable to excrete sufficient amounts or is producing too much uric acid, crystals begin to form and deposit in the joints, such as the knee. This can lead to the knee becoming swollen, red, and warm, causing knee pain.

Popliteal cysts – Also known as Baker’s cysts, these can lead to fluid buildup in the knee joint and can be the result of an injury or a disease. While it can be painless for some people, others find it very uncomfortable and report that it impacts their range of motion. The normal course of action is to treat the underlying injury or disease. It is rare for a cyst to be drained or surgically removed, especially if it is large.

Deep vein thrombosis – This is a blood clot that can develop in a vein. Blood clots happen most often in the large veins of the thigh and calf. Prolonged sitting, cardiovascular disease, and a family history of deep vein thrombosis put people at an increased risk for this condition. Since this condition can lead to a clot breaking free and traveling to the lung, it is classified as life-threatening.

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Tumor – Although they rarely cause pain behind the knee, liposarcomas, osteosarcomas, and osteochondroma are tumors that can be found behind the knee. Liposarcomas and osteosarcomas are malignant, while osteochondroma is a benign tumor.

Treatment and prevention tips for pain behind the knee

When you experience knee pain that doesn’t go away within a day or two, you should seriously consider health care. Here are a few tips on protecting your knee in situations where you might have a minor knee injury or experience reoccurring knee problems.

  • Avoid activities that cause pain
  • Apply ice
  • Keep knee raised to bring down any swelling
  • Sleep with a pillow underneath or between your knees
  • Avoid running up and down stairs – walk carefully
  • Don’t forget to warm up before exercising or engaging in sports
  • When you run, do it on smooth, soft surfaces instead of rough pavement
  • Swim instead of running
  • If you are overweight, consider ways to lose a few pounds
  • Make sure you wear well-made running shoes
  • Consider shoe inserts for better arch support (orthotics)

Posterior knee pain exercises

Pain behind the knee can be quite debilitating, as we use our legs to walk every day. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer from knee pain, certain exercises may help.

Prone wall stretches – While standing, lay your back flat on the surface of a wall. Place the heel of your injured knee on to the wall without bending the knee. Increase the stretch by moving your body closer to the wall and hold for 30 seconds. Then slowly move your body away from the wall, decreasing the stretch. Repeat this exercise about eight times.

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Leg to chest maneuver – While sitting upright in a firm chair, place both feet firmly on the floor. Now, slowly lift the leg with the contracted muscles off the floor and bend your knee as you lift your leg toward your chest. You can also place your hand behind your knee to increase the stretch. Hold this position for five seconds. This exercise will help to loosen your contracted hamstrings.

Upright wall stretch – Stand about three feet from the wall as you open your palm and place them on to the wall at shoulder level. Now slowly lean forward, bending at your elbows and keeping the rest of your body straight. It is also important to keep your feet flat on the ground while doing this to stretch the calf muscles.

Depending on the cause of the knee pain, your doctor may suggest other treatment options. It’s important to consult with healthcare providers when pain behind the knee is having an impact on your daily routine. If you can’t bear weight on your knee or if your knee buckles, clicks, locks, looks deformed, or is extremely painful, you should contact a medical professional. The general rule is, if you are experiencing pain and discomfort after three days, it is time to seek help.

FAQs

What causes pain at the back of the leg behind the knee? ›

Two common conditions that cause pain behind the knee are a posterior cruciate ligament injury and a popliteal cyst (Baker's cyst).

Should I be worried about pain behind knee? ›

Pain behind the knee is a common issue that can affect people of all ages. It may result from a physical injury, such as a torn ligament or cartilage. However, arthritis, infections, gout, and other conditions can also cause this type of pain.

How long does a pulled muscle behind the knee take to heal? ›

Recovery from a knee strain or sprain

A mild sprain is healed after six weeks of resting and treating the knee. A severe strain or sprain can take as long as three to four months.

How do u know if u have a Baker's cyst? ›

See your GP if you have a lump behind your knee that's causing problems and does not clear up on its own. They'll usually be able to diagnose a Baker's cyst by examining the back of your knee and asking about your symptoms. Your GP will ask you whether you have any associated health conditions, such as arthritis.

Is walking good for knee pain? ›

Walking builds your muscles so they can take the pressure off your joints and handle more of the weight themselves. That means less pain for your knees.

What is the fastest way to relieve knee pain? ›

Self-care measures for an injured knee include:
  1. Rest. Take a break from your normal activities to reduce repetitive strain on your knee, give the injury time to heal and help prevent further damage. ...
  2. Ice. Ice reduces both pain and inflammation. ...
  3. Heat. ...
  4. Compression. ...
  5. Elevation.
11 May 2021

How do I know if my knee pain is serious? ›

Make an appointment with your doctor if your knee pain was caused by a particularly forceful impact or if it's accompanied by:
  1. Significant swelling.
  2. Redness.
  3. Tenderness and warmth around the joint.
  4. Significant pain.
  5. Fever.

Can knee pain be a blood clot? ›

When a blood clot forms in this vein, doctors refer to it as popliteal vein thrombosis. The symptoms include pain, swelling, and inflammation in the leg and knee area. Popliteal vein thrombosis can occur due to poor blood flow, damage to a blood vessel, or an external injury.

How long should knee pain last before seeing a doctor? ›

Generally, athletes should see a healthcare provider for pain lasting more than 48 hours and other adults should see an expert if there seems to be no change for three weeks. Generally, most healthcare providers recommend that you schedule an appointment as soon as you notice that your symptoms impact the way you live.

What is the area behind the knee called? ›

Description. The Popliteal Fossa is a diamond-shaped space behind the knee joint. It is formed between the muscles in the posterior compartments of the thigh and leg. This anatomical landmark is the major route by which structures pass between the thigh and leg.

What does a pulled muscle behind the knee feel like? ›

General symptoms of a knee strain or sprain include: Swelling, pain and tenderness in and around the knee. Buckling of the knee. Trouble bending the leg.

What tendon is behind the knee? ›

The patellar tendon works with the muscles at the front of your thigh to extend your knee so that you can kick, run and jump. Patellar tendinitis, also known as jumper's knee, is most common in athletes whose sports involve frequent jumping — such as basketball and volleyball.

What ligament is behind the knee? ›

Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).

The ligament, located in the back of the knee, that controls backward movement of the tibia (shin bone).

What is the most common cause of a Baker's cyst? ›

A Baker cyst is usually the result of a problem with the knee joint, such as arthritis or a cartilage tear. Both conditions can cause the knee to produce too much fluid. Although a Baker cyst may cause swelling and discomfort, treating the underlying problem that is causing it usually provides relief.

What can be mistaken for a Baker's cyst? ›

A ruptured Baker's cyst may be mistaken for a blood clot in the leg, or deep vein thrombosis, a serious condition that requires immediate medical treatment. It can be hard to tell the two conditions apart based on appearance. If you have swelling associated with pain in your calf, seek medical attention right away.

What happens if you leave a Baker's cyst untreated? ›

These types of popliteal cysts may go away on their own, but if left untreated, they can also worsen. From time to time, a Baker's cyst ruptures, sending fluid down the inside of the calf and presenting as a bruise. Blood clots can also lead to bruising and swelling at the back of the knee and calf.

What are 3 exercises to strengthen your knee? ›

5 Exercises to Help Strengthen Your Knees
  • Exercise 1: Knee Extension.
  • Exercise 2: Knee Flexion (Standing)
  • Exercise 3: Heel and Calf Raises.
  • Exercise 4: Wall Squats.
  • Exercise 5: Swimming.
1 Jun 2022

What exercises should I avoid with knee pain? ›

High-impact exercises can further injure painful knees. Avoid jarring exercises such as running, jumping, and kickboxing. Also avoid doing exercises such as lunges and deep squats that put a lot of stress on your knees. These can worsen pain and, if not done correctly, cause injury.

What exercise is good for knees? ›

Examples of gentle exercise include walking, cycling, and using an elliptical machine, all of which put minimal stress on the knees. This activity will help increase blood flow to the muscles and allow them to be more flexible.

What is a simple home remedy for knee pain? ›

Get off your feet and apply a cold compress or bag of ice to the knee. Frozen vegetables, such as peas, will also work if you have no ice handy. Wrap your knee with a compression bandage to prevent swelling, but not so tightly it cuts off circulation. While you're resting, keep your foot elevated.

What is the best sleeping position for knee pain? ›

Your best bet is to sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs. The pillow will cushion your knees so they don't rub together, says Redish. It'll also reduce pressure on the knee while you sleep.

What is better for knee pain heat or cold? ›

Heat helps loosen tight muscles and joints and relieves pain and muscle spasms. If you have swelling, it's best to use ice for 24 hours, then switch to heat. If swelling isn't a problem, it's fine to use heat when you first notice knee pain.

What is the reason of knee pain without injury? ›

Typically, tendonitis is caused by straining your joint and your muscles, either through repetitive use, overuse or overloading. If you spend a day doing an activity you're not used to, like strenuous hiking or lots of bending and lifting, you can develop tendonitis.

When should you not ignore knee pain? ›

Sudden, severe pain in the knee. Pain that persists while walking. The knee abruptly giving out, causing you to fall and feel unstable while walking. Swelling within 24 hours after the initial injury.

What is the best doctor to see for knee pain? ›

Orthopedic doctors have the specialized knowledge and training needed to treat a wide variety of problems affecting the musculoskeletal system — bones, joints, cartilage, muscles, and nerves — including the knees. Orthopedic doctors can treat acute and chronic knee pain and improve your quality of life.

What are the 10 signs of a blood clot? ›

Get medical help right away if you notice any of these symptoms:
  • Swelling. This can happen in the exact spot where the blood clot forms, or your entire leg or arm could puff up.
  • Change in color. ...
  • Pain. ...
  • Warm skin. ...
  • Trouble breathing. ...
  • Lower leg cramp. ...
  • Pitting edema. ...
  • Swollen, painful veins.
17 Jun 2020

What are the first signs of a blood clot? ›

Symptoms of a blood clot include: throbbing or cramping pain, swelling, redness and warmth in a leg or arm. sudden breathlessness, sharp chest pain (may be worse when you breathe in) and a cough or coughing up blood.

What are the warning signs of deep vein thrombosis? ›

DVT (deep vein thrombosis)
  • throbbing or cramping pain in 1 leg (rarely both legs), usually in the calf or thigh.
  • swelling in 1 leg (rarely both legs)
  • warm skin around the painful area.
  • red or darkened skin around the painful area.
  • swollen veins that are hard or sore when you touch them.

Can knee pain resolve on its own? ›

When to see a doctor. Knee pain will usually go away without further medical treatment, using only a few self-help measures.

What are 5 symptoms of a knee injury? ›

Symptoms
  • Swelling and stiffness.
  • Redness and warmth to the touch.
  • Weakness or instability.
  • Popping or crunching noises.
  • Inability to fully straighten the knee.
11 May 2021

How do you stretch the muscles behind your knee? ›

Place your hands behind your thigh, but below the knee, and gently pull your knee toward your chest until you feel a slight stretch. This shouldn't be painful. Hold for 30 seconds. Lower and change legs.

What are the two things behind your knee? ›

Two C-shaped pieces of cartilage called the medial and lateral menisci act as shock absorbers between the femur and tibia. Numerous bursae, or fluid-filled sacs, help the knee move smoothly.

What does tightness behind the knee mean? ›

What Causes Tightness Behind The Knee? Tightness behind the knee is often caused by tightness in the hamstring or calf muscles. The hamstring muscles run down the back of the thigh attaching behind the knee, and one of the calf muscles, gastrocnemius, starting from the back of the knee, travels down to the heel.

What does popliteal tendonitis feel like? ›

Popliteus Strain and/or Tendinopathy Symptoms

People with popliteal issues often have pain in the back and outer areas of the knee. There is often pain when straightening the knee fully, or when bending the knee against resistance. Pain is usually worse when walking downhill, with stairs and when running.

Is pain behind knee a blood clot? ›

The popliteal vein runs behind the knee and transports blood back up to the heart. When a blood clot forms in this vein, doctors refer to it as popliteal vein thrombosis. The symptoms include pain, swelling, and inflammation in the leg and knee area.

How do you calm down a Baker's cyst? ›

Remedies
  1. Apply ice or cold packs to the cyst to reduce pain and swelling.
  2. Apply heat to the area. ...
  3. Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  4. Avoid any activities that cause pain. ...
  5. Gently massage the area around the cyst to ease any pain and help reduce inflammation.
15 Jan 2020

Can sciatic nerve cause pain behind the knee? ›

Knee pain may be a symptom of sciatica

Common knee symptoms that you may experience when you have sciatica include: A warm sensation, sharp pain, or dull ache in the front, side, and/or back of the knee.

What does a popliteus strain feel like? ›

Popliteus injury symptoms

Pain at the back of your knee joint. Your knee will feel tender when pressing in at the back. It is likely to be painful when trying to bend your knee against resistance, whilst your tibia (shin bone) is rotated outwards.

What does a pulled muscle in the back of the knee feel like? ›

General symptoms of a knee strain or sprain include: Swelling, pain and tenderness in and around the knee. Buckling of the knee. Trouble bending the leg.

How do you stop popliteal pain? ›

The treatment for popliteus tendinopathy includes rest, ice application, elevation, an elastic wrap, physical therapy, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication for pain, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Additional treatment for popliteus tendinopathy may include oral corticosteroids or corticosteroid injections.

What are the 10 signs of a blood clot? ›

Get medical help right away if you notice any of these symptoms:
  • Swelling. This can happen in the exact spot where the blood clot forms, or your entire leg or arm could puff up.
  • Change in color. ...
  • Pain. ...
  • Warm skin. ...
  • Trouble breathing. ...
  • Lower leg cramp. ...
  • Pitting edema. ...
  • Swollen, painful veins.
17 Jun 2020

How do I know if my knee pain is serious? ›

Make an appointment with your doctor if your knee pain was caused by a particularly forceful impact or if it's accompanied by:
  1. Significant swelling.
  2. Redness.
  3. Tenderness and warmth around the joint.
  4. Significant pain.
  5. Fever.

What are the warning signs of deep vein thrombosis? ›

DVT (deep vein thrombosis)
  • throbbing or cramping pain in 1 leg (rarely both legs), usually in the calf or thigh.
  • swelling in 1 leg (rarely both legs)
  • warm skin around the painful area.
  • red or darkened skin around the painful area.
  • swollen veins that are hard or sore when you touch them.

What can be mistaken for a Baker's cyst? ›

A ruptured Baker's cyst may be mistaken for a blood clot in the leg, or deep vein thrombosis, a serious condition that requires immediate medical treatment. It can be hard to tell the two conditions apart based on appearance. If you have swelling associated with pain in your calf, seek medical attention right away.

What is the most common cause of a Baker's cyst? ›

A Baker cyst is usually the result of a problem with the knee joint, such as arthritis or a cartilage tear. Both conditions can cause the knee to produce too much fluid. Although a Baker cyst may cause swelling and discomfort, treating the underlying problem that is causing it usually provides relief.

What happens if you leave a Baker's cyst untreated? ›

These types of popliteal cysts may go away on their own, but if left untreated, they can also worsen. From time to time, a Baker's cyst ruptures, sending fluid down the inside of the calf and presenting as a bruise. Blood clots can also lead to bruising and swelling at the back of the knee and calf.

What is the part behind your knee called? ›

The Popliteal Fossa is a diamond-shaped space behind the knee joint. It is formed between the muscles in the posterior compartments of the thigh and leg.

What does a trapped nerve in the knee feel like? ›

Low-level nerve irritation may not always be felt as back or leg pain, however. The pinched nerves can also cause your muscles to misfire and destroy the protection your knee joints need, triggering discomfort. The pain may also manifest as tingling or numbness in the legs and feet.

What are the symptoms of nerve damage in the knee? ›

Symptoms
  • Sensation changes in the thigh, knee, or leg, such as decreased sensation, numbness, tingling, burning, or pain.
  • Weakness of the knee or leg, including difficulty going up and down stairs -- especially down, with a feeling of the knee giving way or buckling.
9 Nov 2021

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