Knee Pain: What you need to know


Overview of knee pain

Knee pain is something that can occur at any stage of life; from adolescents with growing pains and overuse injuries to adults with constant knee pain, right through to the elderly with arthritic conditions. Knee pain is prevalent in almost 47% of the population, with half of them experiencing it in both knees!

Symptoms of knee pain

The severity and location of knee pain can vary depending on the underlying cause. You may experience a variety of other symptoms like clicking and grinding of the knee, a feeling of the knee giving way, or even knee pain that extends lower into the calf. The severity and location of knee pain can vary depending on the underlying cause.

There are a range of possible symptoms with knee pain including;

Common causes of knee pain

There are many causes of knee pain, varying in severity and location. The main drivers of knee pain are injuries, arthritis, overload issues and sometimes infections. Knee pain can be quite limiting, reducing your capacity to play sport, exercise and enjoy life.

Several influential factors may trigger knee pain;

There are some commonalities with the list above, these issues are not only treatable, but they are also preventable. If you are suffering from any of the above issues, contact your local physiotherapist for advice. If you can address the problems quickly, it will give you the best chance to resolve them.

In a more traumatic case, knee pain can develop from;

Knee injuries, as a result of trauma, can lead to severe complications. You must seek advice from a medical professional immediately who may send you for an XRAY or scan to assess the knee. Physiotherapists are experts in knee pain and can advise you on the appropriate course of action following an acute injury.

Top 5 knee injuries

As physiotherapists, there are a variety of knee injuries that we see regularly, here is a list of the top 5 knee injuries that we see.

  1. ACL tear

  2. Meniscus tear

  3. Chronic knee pain and arthritis

  4. Knee bursitis

  5. Patella tendonitis

Several sports and activities have a higher incidence of knee pain and injury.

Gym / Weightlifting

Lifting weights at the gym is a wonderful activity that can promote good bone health, strengthen joints and muscles. Unfortunately, without the proper technique and guidance, you could end up doing yourself more harm than good. Knees are particularly vulnerable to injury at the gym with heavy weighted exercises such as deadlifts and squats, if not performed properly. Seek the advice of a trainer to assist you.


Running, changing direction and stopping on a dime are all essential skills required for netball. They can also be mechanisms for a knee injury. Adequate warming up and skill practice can help minimise the chances of knee pain in netball.


In rugby, contact to the knee in tackling is probably the most common source of injury. The combination of load and force can result in ACL tears, meniscus tears and other ligament tears.


The most controversial sport regarding knee injuries is running. Many people suggest that running is a primary source of knee pain. We should have a look at the research and identify whether or not this is true. The evidence suggests that running can increase the density and strength of the cartilage in the knee as well as increasing bone density. The nuance comes in when people either advance their training program too quickly, i.e. go from running 10km per week to 100km per week with minimal transition time. Alternatively, knee issues arise when people begin running for the first time later in life. Their technique may be poor, their endurance is minimal, and it is a recipe for problems. If you are in this category, don’t write off running just yet. Get the advice of your local physio or running coach and assess your running style.

Knee pain treatment


There are several things you can do when suffering from mild knee pain to help resolve it.

Gentle exercises knee bending exercises can provide relief in acute knee pain; you can do these exercises lying down or sitting in a chair. It is essential to relax your leg muscles and swing the leg back and forth repeatedly.

Use heat and or cold

In acute pain, ice therapy can be useful in pain and swelling reduction. If the pain is more chronic, then heat packs can provide pain relief and comfort.

Avoid painful movements and exercises

Certain activities and actions are bound to be painful when you are experiencing knee pain. In the acute phase, it is best to avoid these movements until your pain has eased. If pain persists, see your local physiotherapist for advice.


Stretching is a simple yet effective way to reduce muscle stiffness and pain. Focus on stretching your hamstrings, calves and quadriceps muscles as they all attach into the knee joint.

Pain medication

Occasionally, you may require some additional pain medication to help reduce the symptoms. Speak to your local pharmacist or GP about which medication is right for you.

Seeking medical care

Int the event of an accident or if you have severe knee pain, you must visit your GP immediately. They have the proper tools to assess your problem and can help direct you to the best place for treatment if need be.

Make an appointment with a physio if

For the most part, knee injuries can be managed by your local physiotherapist. They have the expertise and knowledge to assess, diagnose and treat most knee pain.

Knee injuries can be frustrating and can limit your function. They can prevent you from doing some of the activities you love the most. Your local physiotherapist will begin with an assessment of your knee pain to determine the underlying cause. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the history of your injury, as this will help the physiotherapist in making an accurate diagnosis. Following subjective examination, your physiotherapist will assess your function - they will test a range of movements and activities to further assist in the assessment process.

Following assessment, your physiotherapist should have a good idea of what is causing your pain and can then create a treatment plan specific to your needs. Treatment will focus on restoration of normal movement, reduction of pain and a return to regular activity.

Treatment for knee pain will include;

Frequently asked questions

What can cause knee pain without injury?

Most knee pain that we see in physiotherapy clinics is a result of an injury; however, there are other causes.

These are the most common causes of knee pain outside of an injury.

How do I know if my knee pain is serious?

If you have been in a major accident or have severe pain, you should contact your local doctor immediately.

Signs that knee pain is serious can be;

Is walking good for knee pain?

The answer truly is, sometimes yes, sometimes no. If the pain is mild then usually activities such as walking will help ease muscle tension and promote healing. When there is severe pain or injury, walking may exacerbate symptoms. Listen to your body, and do what you think is most sensible.

Anatomy of the knee

The knee joint is described as a hinge joint and is the largest of its kind in the body. The knee joint is made up of 3 bones, the femur (leg bone) and then the two shin bones - the tibia and fibula. The knee joint is responsible for taking a load of the load of the lower limb (along with the hip) and plays a vital role in movement and ambulation.

The knee joint is stabilised mainly by a key group of ligaments;

These stabilise the knee from shearing forces (i.e. front to back movements)

These stabilise the knee laterally on either side of the knee.

There are some large muscles of the knee joint that further help stabilise the knee joint.

The posterior chain includes:

These muscles are better known collectively as the hamstrings muscles.

The anterior chain includes:

These muscles are better known as the quadriceps muscles.

The other notable structure in the knee joint is the meniscus. There is a lateral and medial meniscus. They provide shock absorption and stability for the knee, as well as protecting the cartilage of the bones. They do this by producing a lubricating fluid to allow for smoother movement and bending.

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