Burning Knee Pain
Reviewed By - Sean Byers, MD

Published: Last Updated: Category: Knee Pain

Knee pain is one of the most common physiological issues people experience as they age and exercise more. The knee is perhaps the most complex joint in the human body, and it performs a variety of functions with every step we take, quite literally.

In summary, several studies have discussed how osteoarthritis affects knee pain over time. However, what the research generally indicates as a whole is that knee pain is generally the result of lifestyle issues that can be prevented, reversed, or even resolved with proper lifestyle practices.

Knee pain, just like the knee itself, is complex and multifaceted. It can happen for many reasons, and often has multiple sources and stressors.

In this article, we will give a comprehensive look into burning knee pain, what causes it, how to address it, and more. Health Report Live offers comprehensive learning and information to help guide you as you learn how to manage knee pain.

Burning in Knee

Is It Normal for Your Knee to Burn?

When it comes to knee pain, it is prevalent as people get older for people to experience painful sensations in their knees from time to time. 

The general breakdown of the body’s joints over time, lifestyle choices, and other causative factors make some form of knee pain almost inevitable for most.

However, just because something is familiar does not mean it is normal or ideal. Knee pain is typical, but it should not be tolerated or taken as a natural part of life. 

Many factors create different types of knee pain, and there are ways to help combat these factors over time.

To put it another way, knee pain is so common and so typical that you should expect it to occur at some point in your life, but this does not mean that you should accept it!

Even more to the point, the answer to the question, “Is it normal for your knee to burn?” is a resounding “no.” 

It is not normal for your body to experience a burning sensation in your knees, as burning sensations are your body’s way of letting you know that something is not as it should be.

Anatomy of the Knee

The knee is one of the biggest, most complex, and highest-impact joints in the human body. The knee is the bridge between the thigh bone and the shin bone. 

The fibula bone, which runs along the tibia and the patella, or kneecap, connects to the thigh bone and shin bone to form the bones of the knee.

The knee bones are connected to our leg muscles by tendons that help create motion. The human knee can withstand hundreds of pounds of force, and ligaments and cartilage work together to connect the knee bones and give stabilization as the knee capacitates our movements. 

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) stabilizes the knee by keeping the femur from sliding back against the tibia and, conversely, keeping the tibia from moving forward against the femur.

Working from the other direction, the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) keeps the femur from sliding forward against the tibia and conversely keeps the tibia from sliding backward against the femur.

The ACL and PCL help prevent unnatural motion from front to back. The medial and lateral collateral ligaments (MCL and LCL, respectively) help keep the femur from sliding side to side.

In addition, two horseshoe-shaped pieces of cartilage called the medial meniscus, and lateral meniscus sits between the femur and tibia and absorbs shock. 

Finally, multiple bursae, and sacs filled with fluid strategically placed throughout the knee, help the knee move smoothly.

Symptoms Checker and Types of Burning Knee

As the knee itself is complex, the multiple types of burning knee pain and symptoms behind knee pain are difficult.

Burning Knee Pain in an Athlete

It is very common for athletes to experience knee pain. Constant forward bending, cutting, lateral bending, starting and stopping, and similar motions stress the knee. 

Athletes often experience tendonitis, Osgood-Schlatter disease, bursitis, and even strains and tears of the meniscus, ACL, MCL, and PCL.

Burning Knee Pain in a Runner or Pain After Running

Sometimes runners experience a burning sensation known as Chondromalacia, or “runner’s knee.” This feeling is damage to the cartilage directly under the kneecap. Chondromalacia patellae can develop when the knee is overused during running.

Burning Pain in Non-athletes

For some people, burning knee pain can occur even if they do not engage in an athletic activity like running, jumping, and intense lateral movement. 

Being overweight or experiencing ailments like arthritis or bursitis can create burning joint pain over time. 

Burning in Knee at Night

For many people, activity and motion create burning knee pain. Brothers, prolonged periods of inactivity, such as sleeping, can create stiffness and a burning sensation in the knees. 

Lack of blood flow increases the diameter of the blood vessels, putting pressure on nerves, and other factors can create a burning sensation in the knees at night.

Burning Sensation in Knee When Kneeling

A burning sensation in the knee when kneeling is usually related to the runner’s knee. As mentioned above, it is a breakdown of the cartilage behind the patella. 

When kneeling, the knee directly contacts the ground or the floor, and if there is cartilage damage or nerve damage, this can create burning sensations.

Burning Pain in Knee After a Fall

If you experience a fall, you are experiencing a kind of impact on your knee that is different from the effects of running, cutting, sliding, or jumping. This impact is considered blunt force trauma to the knee. 

This type of trauma, whether as a blow-impact, twisting, or irregular bending motion, can cause cartilage tears or torn ligaments, which can be very painful and intense.

Burning Sensation Behind Knee

While burning sensations toward the front of the patella and cartilage around the patella, burning sensations behind the knee usually indicate ligament tears or strains that cause nerve endings to fire. 

For some patients who are elderly, this can also be an indication of osteoarthritis. In both cases, overuse is typically to blame for strain sensations.

Burning Knee Pain When Resting

If you experience knee pain when you are at rest, such as sitting down or lying down, this could result from things like osteoarthritis, gout, or other types of knee strain. 

When the knees are overused or under pressure, swelling can occur, and ailments like bursitis and others can continue to produce pain when the knee is bent or in a resting position and not in motion.

Worse With Movement

In some cases, when moving. You might feel an increased burning sensation in your knee if you have tendinitis, a meniscus tear, runner’s knee, or a torn ligament. The pain from a torn ligament will be more severe than mild tendinitis, for example. 

However, if the knee has not had sufficient time for rest and treatment, issues like the above might create more strain and burning sensations.

Constant Burning Pain

If your knee or knees experience a constant burning sensation, your nerve endings are firing due to some damage or irritation that remains whether you’re in motion or at rest. 

This burning sensation usually indicates inflammation, including things like damaged cartilage, tendon strain or ligament strain, overuse that has created soreness, etc. Osteoarthritis is also possible, especially in older patients, behind constant knee pain.

Location of the Pain

Burning pain in the knee can occur in many different locations. Depending on where the knee pain occurs, this can help indicate the nature and source of the pain and help with treatment methods. 

You might experience pain at the front of the knee, at the back of the knee, on both sides of the knee, on one side of the knee, or all around the knee. Or, you may only experience pain in one knee.

One Knee Affected

Sometimes people feel burning knee pain in only one knee. This feeling attributes to various factors, but usually, it means there was an acute injury to that knee that did not occur to the other knee, such as a sprained ligament, a meniscus tear, or something similar. 

Or, it could mean that the affected knee is weaker because that particular leg has less muscular development, balance, etc. Sometimes people develop more strength and balance in one leg than the other, which can lead to knee issues in the weaker leg.

Both Knees Affected

Sometimes both knees experience a burning sensation simultaneously, which might be the case when both knees are under equal pressure or are being used evenly and are overused. 

Suppose a person is performing squatting motions or engaging in activities that use both knees simultaneously. In that case, this can stimulate things like tendonitis or runner’s knee in both knees simultaneously.

Front of the Knee

When there is a burning sensation in the front of the knee, it usually involves the patellar tendon, the patella, and cartilage behind the patella. This sensation is where the runner’s knee originates. 

Some forms of osteoarthritis if this pain is acute or increases when the knee is bent forward. In a stepping forward motion, this is usually an indication of patellar tendinitis.

Side and Outside of the Knee

If you are experiencing burning pain on the side of your knee, it could be due to things like iliotibial (IT) band syndrome or pes-anserine bursitis. It could also be due to a strain of a ligament-like the ACL or MCL. 

Back or Behind the Knee

Suppose you are experiencing a burning sensation behind the knee, and you are an older person. In that case, this pain is likely a result of osteoarthritis or a type of cartilage/meniscus tear. 

If someone is experiencing burning behind the knee and hiking or has played sports, it is plausible that they are experiencing pain from a partial ligament tear or even overuse. 

In some cases, a burning sensation in the back of the knee may be from inflamed tendons that have caused hamstring tendonitis due to overusing the knee. 

Additionally, the burning sensation might be due to a cyst formed from wrong knee usage over time (a Baker’s cyst), which has produced excess lubricating fluid.

Inside of the Knee

A burning sensation along the inside of the knee might indicate a partial MCL tear or strain. Or, it could be an indication of a meniscus tear. 

Sometimes, issues involved with the patella can create some types of pain on the inside portion of the knee. In some situations, a bone bruise might also cause knee pain in this area. 

Nerve Pain Around the Knee

When the nerves around the knee become damaged, symptoms may include noticeable sensations in the thigh, knee, or leg, including a decreased ability to feel, a feeling of being numb, mild or severe tingling or burning, and general feelings of pain. 

Nerve pain around the knee can lead to a sense of weakness in the knee or leg, making things like going up or down a staircase very difficult. This pain can also create a feeling of instability or buckling when utilizing the knee.

Swelling of the Knee

Mainly in situations where there is a sprained or torn ligament, the knee may swell, often accompanied by inflammation and reduced mobility. 

The knee is swelling to help cushion the joint as it heals from its damage, but this swelling can bring on dull burning sensations that can feel irritating or debilitating.

Burning Knee Cap

If the kneecap itself has a burning sensation, this could be a form of runner’s knee or patellar tendinitis, including cartilage damage that may be exposing some nerve endings. In some cases, it could also be a slight bone bruise.

If the patella is not tracking correctly with the rest of the bones in the knee, this misalignment can also create pain and a burning sensation over time if it is not corrected.

What Could Cause Burning in Your Knee?

Knee pain, like the knee, is complex and has many moving parts and causal factors. Understanding exactly what might be causing knee pain requires understanding of any external factors like weather and trauma, internal damage, history with the knee, and so on.

Common Conditions That Cause Burning Sensation in the Knee

Below are a few common culprits behind chronic burning knee pain: 

Trauma

If you fall from a tree, experience a hit by blunt force during an athletic event, or do anything else that applies significant pressure or twisting to any side of your knee, this can result in strains or tears to your ligaments cartilage, and other connective tissues.

These would include situations other than simply running or jumping, although these can cause blood forces in some cases. 

Athletes frequently experience blunt force trauma to their knees, especially in sports like football and basketball.

Knee Cartilage or Meniscus Tear

Knee cartilage or meniscus tear compromises the knee’s cushioning/impact-absorption system. 

More nerve endings and bone surfaces are exposed, leading to more periods of burning sensations as you move or rest. In some cases, the meniscus can heal on its own if a tear is small enough, and cartilage can regrow. 

In other situations, surgery is necessary to repair a torn meniscus or heal damaged cartilage.

Knee Ligament or MCL Tear

Your knee ligaments (MCL, ACL, and PCL) provide stability and healthy tension to your knee to cause the bones to work together correctly. 

When these ligaments are damaged, it can cause bones to contact each other irregularly and create inflammation, leading to a constant burning sensation.

Infection

If a portion of the knee joint becomes infected, on the bones’ surfaces, on a ligament, and so on, this can create significant pain as the body heals. Internal antibiotics and other remedies can help neutralize this pain quickly.

Gout

Gout is a kind of inflammation caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood. It can come and go in waves and can be very painful. It leads to swollen joints, makes them feel warm, and makes movement difficult.

Chondromalacia or Runner’s Knee

Runner’s knee or Chondromalacia is a burning sensation around the kneecap caused by cartilage deteriorating beneath the kneecap, leaving less of a cushion for the knee joint. 

Patellar Tendinitis

Patellar tendonitis results from overuse, causing inflammation or damage to the tendons connecting your kneecaps to your shins. This condition is slightly different from the runner’s knee but can feel similar.

Knee Bursitis

The knee has tiny fluid-filled “bags” between your soft tissues and your bones; each is called a “bursa” (“bursae” is the plural form). These pillows of fluid help minimize heat and friction when moving, allowing the body to glide along smoothly. 

There usually are 15 bursae strategically placed around each of your knees, and when any of them experience inflammation, this results in burning knee pain.

This condition is known as knee bursitis, and the burning pain it brings typically also includes swelling. Although other factors can get on bursitis, overuse, and injury are the usual culprits. 

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) happens when the connective tissue along the thigh, also known as the “iliotibial band,” or the “IT band,” causes friction against the outer portion of the knee during physical movement. 

Whenever the IT band rubs against the knee, it creates a painful sensation.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS)

This condition causes patella pain, damage, and deterioration of the cartilage near and under the kneecap, similar to the runner’s knee. PFPS can occur in either one or both of a person’s knees. In most cases, the pain intensifies with activity or after sitting for extended time with bent knees.

Does Arthritis in Knee Cause Burning Pain?

The short answer is, “Yes.” 

Arthritis is inflammation of the knee, which can cause pain and stiffness that increases as you get older.

There are different kinds of arthritis, each with varying roots issues, including ongoing pressure on the joints, an infection of the joint, and even diseases. 

Arthritis of the knee does not always cause burning pain, as some people experience more stiffness or lack of flexibility. However, for many people, burning pain is a common symptom of arthritis.

What are two major types of arthritis that can affect the knee?

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage cushions the bones’ ends in your joints and gradually deteriorates. Cartilage is a firm, slippery tissue that enables nearly frictionless joint motion. 

Eventually, if the cartilage wears down completely, the bone will rub on the bone. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a kind of chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the knees. It is an autoimmune disorder characterized by one’s immune system attacking its own body’s joint tissues. 

It specifically affects the lining of one’s joints, causing swelling that can lead to bone erosion and deformed knee joints.

Other Causes of Burning Knee Pain

Nerve Damage

Superficial nerve damage in the bones, ligaments, and tendons around the knee joint can cause pain while they heal, as the nerves signal pain in the body.

Peripheral Artery Disease

The body needs blood to function, including in the knees. Peripheral artery disease is a circulation disorder in which blood vessels have become narrow and are thus less able to produce blood flow to the knees, causing pain and inflammation.

Internal Bleeding

Hemarthrosis, or internal articular bleeding, means that the body is depositing blood irregularly to the knee joint. This can be the result of an internal injury or hemophilia. As the body bleeds internally on the knee joints, this can cause burning pain.

Warning Signs to Watch for

A few warning signs that may indicate a knee issue include swelling and stiffness, red coloration, heat/warmth to the touch, weakness or buckling in the knee, popping or crunching sounds, slight loss of sensation, or inability to fully straighten, flex, or achieve a full range of motion.

How Is Burning Knee Pain Diagnosed?

Your health provider will evaluate your knee to help determine the cause of burning knee pain. They will ask about your medical history related to your knees and your lifestyle and activities utilizing the knee. 

They may use internal image tests like an MRI test or an X-ray to see what the knee joint looks inside. Blood testing may also be necessary in some cases.

Treatments

How Do I Stop My Knee From Burning and Hurting?

Preventing knee pain can be accomplished by several means. Maintaining a healthy weight is the first step to preventing long-term knee pain, as extra weight constantly bearing down on your knees creates a significant risk for joint damage over time.

Strengthening your ankle muscles, lower leg muscles, and upper leg muscles like the quadriceps can go a long way in helping to reduce tension and shock on your knees as your muscles absorb more of the shock of motion during athletic activities and everyday life, and help contribute to pain relief.

Pacing yourself in terms of athletic activity is vital for preventing overuse which can cause long-term knee pain and prevent things like having to have a knee replacement.

How to Help Ease Burning Knee Pain

Compression sleeves can help alleviate burning knee pain by assisting the knee in feeling stable, increasing its proprioception, and helping it move and stay aligned for athletic motions. 

A knee brace and ibuprofen can go a long way in helping to relieve pain and allow you to resume athletic activities.

Rest, ice pack therapy, and keeping the knee elevated as much as possible can also help to reduce burning knee pain over time.

Compression Sleeves for Burning Knee Pain

Compression sleeves help add a constant layer of pressure and stability around the knee, helping to prevent unnecessary motion that can aggravate tears or cartilage issues. Many people utilize compression sleeves when playing in order to help minimize pain.

When to Seek Medical Attention and See a Doctor

Most knee pain can be managed on your own. However, there are some instances in which it is necessary to see a medical professional for care and to understand the possible causes of your pain.

If your knee is becoming deformed, if you have difficulty walking, if you have knee pain that is so intense that you are unable to sleep, if you feel severe instability when trying to navigate stairs, if you have a severely reduced range of motion, and if you have painful redness and swelling, these are all reasons to talk to a medical professional instead of trying to remedy your pain on your own. 

It is best to seek medical advice for any knee injury you experience, as self-diagnosis can be risky. 

A physician may identify the cause of knee pain more quickly and recommend things like over-the-counter treatments, cortisone injections, or physical therapy to significantly accelerate the healing process.

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