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Knee pain: symptoms, treatment, and prevention tips

Knee pain is a common discomfort experienced in the knee joint area. It can manifest in various forms, depending on the underlying cause and severity. Individuals may describe knee pain as aching, dull, sharp, or throbbing. Some may experience a sensation of stiffness or tightness in the knee joint, limiting movement and flexibility.

Others may feel tenderness or soreness around the knee, particularly when pressure is applied or during physical activities like walking, running, or climbing stairs. Swelling and inflammation are often associated with knee pain, leading to a sensation of warmth or even redness in the affected area.

In more severe cases, knee pain can be debilitating, causing difficulty in bearing weight on the affected leg or performing daily activities. It's essential to pay attention to any persistent knee pain and seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment to alleviate discomfort and prevent further complications.

Knee pain symptoms

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Stiffness

  • Redness and warmth

  • Tenderness

  • Instability

  • Crunching or popping sensation


What can cause knee pain?

  • Injuries: Traumatic injuries such as sprains, strains, ligament tears (like ACL or MCL tears), meniscus tears, or fractures can lead to knee pain.

  • Overuse: Repetitive movements or overuse of the knee joint, common in activities like running, jumping, or squatting, can cause strain and inflammation, resulting in pain.

  • Degenerative conditions: Conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout can cause gradual deterioration of the knee joint, leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling.

  • Tendonitis: Inflammation of the tendons around the knee, such as patellar tendonitis (jumper's knee) or iliotibial band syndrome, can cause pain and discomfort.

  • Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursae (fluid-filled sacs) around the knee joint, often due to repetitive pressure or trauma, can result in pain, swelling, and limited mobility.

  • Alignment issues: Poor biomechanics or alignment abnormalities, such as knock knees (valgus) or bow legs (varus), can place excessive stress on the knee joint, leading to pain and discomfort.


Knee pain treatment options

Treatment options for knee pain depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Common treatment approaches include:

  • Medications:

    • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation.

    • Topical treatments: Creams, ointments, or patches containing ingredients like menthol, capsaicin, or NSAIDs can provide localized relief.

  • Physical therapy:

    • Exercise: Targeted exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee, improve flexibility, and enhance joint stability.

    • Manual therapy: Techniques such as massage, mobilization, or manipulation to reduce pain, improve range of motion, and restore function.

    • Modalities: Therapeutic modalities like ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or heat and cold therapy to alleviate pain and promote healing.

  • Bracing or supportive devices:

    • Knee braces: Customized or off-the-shelf knee braces to provide support, stability, and alignment correction.

    • Orthotics: Shoe inserts or orthotic devices to correct biomechanical issues and reduce stress on the knee joint.

  • Injections:

    • Corticosteroids: Injections of corticosteroid medications into the knee joint to reduce inflammation and relieve pain, particularly for conditions like arthritis.

    • Hyaluronic acid: Injections of hyaluronic acid derivatives to lubricate the knee joint and improve mobility, primarily for osteoarthritis.

  • Surgical interventions:

    • Arthroscopic surgery: Minimally invasive procedures to repair or remove damaged cartilage, ligaments, or menisci.

    • Partial or total knee replacement: Surgical replacement of damaged knee joint surfaces with artificial implants, typically for severe osteoarthritis or irreparable joint damage.

  • Lifestyle modifications:

    • Weight management: Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight to reduce pressure on the knee joint and decrease pain.

    • Activity modification: Avoiding or modifying activities that exacerbate knee pain, such as high-impact sports or repetitive motions.


It's essential for individuals experiencing knee pain to consult with a St. Joseph Health orthopedic specialist for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan tailored to their specific needs and goals.

Relieve knee pain at home

  • Rest and elevation:

    • Resting the knee and avoiding activities that aggravate the pain can help reduce inflammation and promote healing.

    • Elevating the leg when sitting or lying down can help reduce swelling and alleviate pressure on the knee joint.

  • Ice therapy:

    • Applying ice packs or cold compresses to the affected knee for 15-20 minutes several times a day can help numb the area, reduce swelling, and alleviate pain.

    • Be sure to wrap the ice pack in a cloth to prevent frostbite and avoid applying ice directly to the skin.

  • Heat therapy:

    • Alternating between cold therapy and heat therapy can help improve blood flow, relax muscles, and alleviate stiffness.

    • Using a heating pad, warm towel, or taking a warm bath can help soothe sore muscles and joints.

  • Compression:

    • Applying a compression bandage or elastic knee sleeve can help reduce swelling, provide support, and stabilize the knee joint.

    • Ensure that the compression is snug but not too tight to avoid restricting circulation.

  • Epsom salt soak:

    • Soaking the knee in a warm bath with Epsom salt can help relax muscles, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain.

    • Add 1-2 cups of Epsom salt to warm water and soak the affected knee for 15-20 minutes.

  • Gentle exercise:

    • Performing gentle exercises to improve knee strength, flexibility, and range of motion can help alleviate pain and prevent stiffness.

    • Low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling, or walking can be beneficial.

  • Anti-inflammatory foods:

    • Consuming foods rich in anti-inflammatory properties, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and herbs/spices like turmeric and ginger, can help reduce inflammation and alleviate knee pain.


Prevent knee pain with these stretches

Performing regular stretches can help prevent knee pain by improving flexibility, strengthening muscles, and enhancing joint stability. Here are some effective stretches to incorporate into your routine:

  • Quadriceps Stretch:

    • Stand tall and bend one knee, bringing your heel toward your buttocks.

    • Grab your ankle or foot with the hand on the same side and gently pull your heel closer to your buttocks.

    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then switch sides.

    • You should feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.

  • Hamstring Stretch:

    • Sit on the floor with one leg extended and the other leg bent with the sole of your foot against the inner thigh of the extended leg.

    • Lean forward from your hips, reaching towards your toes on the extended leg.

    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then switch legs.

    • You should feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.

  • Calf Stretch:

    • Stand facing a wall with your hands placed on the wall at shoulder height.

    • Step one foot back and keep it straight, with the heel firmly on the ground.

    • Bend the front knee and lean forward, keeping the back leg straight and heel on the ground.

    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then switch legs.

    • You should feel a stretch in the calf muscle of the back leg.

  • IT Band Stretch:

    • Stand tall with feet hip-width apart.

    • Cross one leg behind the other and reach the arm on the same side overhead.

    • Lean towards the opposite side until you feel a stretch along the outer thigh and hip.

    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then switch sides.

    • You should feel a stretch along the outer side of your thigh.

  • Inner Thigh Stretch:

    • Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together and knees bent out to the sides.

    • Gently press your knees towards the ground using your elbows or hands.

    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute, keeping your back straight.

    • You should feel a stretch along the inner thighs.

  • Hip Flexor Stretch:

    • Kneel on one knee with the other foot planted flat on the floor in front of you, forming a 90-degree angle with the knee.

    • Lean forward slightly, keeping your back straight, until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip and thigh of the kneeling leg.

    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then switch sides.


Perform these stretches regularly, ideally as part of a warm-up or cool-down routine before and after exercise, to help prevent knee pain and improve overall flexibility and mobility.

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