Determining the Cause of Your Knee Pain Symptoms

Are You Experiencing One or More of These Symptoms?

  • To understand how to treat your knee pain symptoms, it is crucial first to identify the cause of your knee pain.
  • The mechanics of your knee are very complex, as hundreds of little tendons and ligaments help it move with ease. However, when these tendons and ligaments become damaged, it can prove difficult to complete activities that once came naturally.
  • The location of where your knee pain is occurring is significant. Why? Because it could help identify the causes of knee pain happening to you in the first place.
  • Based on the onset of your pain, your physician will likely suggest different treatment methods, so it is vital to be able to explain what type of pain you are experiencing. The
  • No matter what may be causing your knee pain, it is an excellent idea to talk to your primary physician if you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms outlined in this article.

  Knee injuries and symptoms can leave you feeling weak and defeated. Fortunately, by identifying your symptoms, you can better understand how to treat your discomfort.

  Health Report Live provides you with the health information to treat your knee pain better and live a more comfortable life.

Knee Pain Symptom Checker

If you have been living with knee pain, one of the best things you can do is track your symptoms. Tracking your symptoms will better outline when you experience pain, how frequently your discomfort occurs, and specific actions that may cause symptoms to worsen.

A simple way to do this is to note in a journal to track what symptoms you are experiencing and if they get worse. 

There are also simple symptom checker pages you can view online or apps you can download to help you better track your symptoms and give you a better idea of whether or not your condition is improving or declining.

Identifying What Knee Pain Is

It is essential to identify the cause of your knee pain to understand how to treat your symptoms. When sprinting or jumping, the knee joint has to withstand up to 6 times your body weight, making it one of the most sturdy joints in the body.

Your knee joints can move over a million times every year and over 80 million times in a single lifespan. While this is an incredible feat that the body can accomplish, it is also why certain things can go wrong, resulting in the pain and injury you are currently experiencing.

Symptoms That You Should Not Ignore

When living with knee pain, there are many reasons why you may be experiencing discomfort in that specific area.

You may already know what condition results in your knee pain, but if not, there are specific symptoms you should be keeping in mind, as these could indicate an underlying disease or dysfunction.

No matter what may be causing your knee pain, it is a good idea to consult with your primary physician if you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms below:

You Feel Something Moving in Your Knee

If it feels as if something is “moving” or slipping around within your kneecap, it could be due to something known as loose knee. 

An unstable kneecap or “loose knee” can occur when the connective tissues between the kneecap and the joint loosen up over time.

It can feel like something is moving around in your kneecap since it keeps slipping and sliding. 

If this symptom is happening along with your knee pain, it would be wise to consult with your doctor, as prolonged wear to the kneecap could lead to a need for surgical intervention.

You Hear a Snap, Crackle, or Pop

A snap, crackle, or popping sound in the knee is known as “crepitus.” Crepitus refers to your knee’s sound and generally happens when straightening and bending the knee. 

Common causes of crepitus may include, but are not limited to:

  • Arthritis
  • Gas bubbles
  • Ligaments
  • Patellofemoral instability
  • Injury
  • Post-surgical recovery 

You Have Pain When Climbing Stairs or Walking

The mechanics of your knee are very complex, as there are hundreds of little tendons and ligaments that help it move with ease. 

However, when these tendons and ligaments become damaged, it can prove difficult to complete activities that once came naturally (such as walking down the street or climbing the stairs).

Examine your posture and the position of your feet and legs if ascending stairs is causing you pain. Here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Align your second toe with your knee.
  • Lead with your body rather than your foot. Bend your body forward to move your weight from the knee to the rear of the thigh’s hamstrings.
  • Before you take a step up, place your heel on the step.
  • If these activities are slowing you down or causing you discomfort, it would be good to consult with a physician or physical therapist to discuss balance and gait treatment exercises.

You Had an Injury From a Physical Activity

If you sustained a sports injury, that could be the cause of your knee pain. A sports injury is a widespread cause of knee-related discomfort and conditions. They are typically due to overuse, meaning the area in question was repetitively strained.

  Most sports injuries arise when athletes begin an activity without first building strength, endurance, and flexibility. If you are not conditioned, take your physical ventures slow.

In addition, no matter your level of physical capabilities, make sure you are stretching and warming up (and down!) properly when participating in any physical activity. This can help avoid sustaining a sports injury again in the future.

Pain When You Kneel

A common condition that can be a result of kneeling too much (common in carpenters, gardeners, contractors, and the like) is known as bursitis. 

This develops due to overuse of the bursa but can be prevented by avoiding prolonged periods of kneeling.

If you have a livelihood that does indeed require frequent bending, straightening, kneeling, or squatting (essentially, anything that can lead to overuse pain), it may be a wise decision to make some ergonomic changes to your workspace, such as bringing exercise blocks or risers with you during your job or hobby to bring the work up to you instead of bringing yourself down to the work.

Other Knee Pain Questions

Why Do I Feel Knee Pain When I Exercise?

Knee pain during exercise could also be due to a sports injury (see “You Had an Injury from a Physical Activity” section above). When you notice knee pain during exercise, it is typically due to overuse.

With overuse injuries, rest is the best medicine, but you can also find relief by applying ice, compression, and elevation (otherwise known as the R.I.C.E method).

Why Does My Knee Hurt When I Bend or Straighten My Leg?

Much like pain from kneeling (see “Pain When You Kneel” section above), pain when bending and straightening your leg could also be due to overuse or repetitive motion.

 Runner’s knee is a common condition that can lead to pain when bending or straightening, and it would be wise to take a small break from physical exertion if you begin to notice this symptom.

Why Do I Have Pain Behind My Knee?

The location of where your knee pain is occurring is essential. Why? Because it could help identify the condition causing your knee pain to happen in the first place.

If you are noticing pain in the back of the knee, especially while bending, it could be an indication of one of the following:

  • Tendonitis of the hamstring
  • Acute or chronic injury
  • Baker’s cyst

What Is My Knee Pain Telling Me?

In most cases, any pain is your body telling you to take it easy. If you begin to notice acute or chronic knee pain (especially if partnered with the aforementioned symptoms above), rest the affected area and consult with your doctor ASAP to make sure the issue does not worsen.

Potential Causes of Having Knee Pain

The most common causes of knee pain include, but are not limited to:

  • Injury
  • Overuse
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sprains and strains
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Ligament tears
  • Bursitis
  • Tendonitis

Different Knee Pain Diagnosis by Location

Front Knee Pain

Medically referred to as anterior knee pain, front knee pain is common to experience discomfort. There are a few different reasons why you may be experiencing front knee pain, such as:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear
  • Anterior meniscus tear
  • Patella arthritis
  • Patella maltracking
  • Patella chondromalacia
  • Tendonitis of the quadriceps
  •  Runner’s knee
  • Lateral compression syndrome

Inner Knee Pain

Pain located on the inside of the knee (also known as medial knee pain) typically occurs due to an acute injury (meaning the injury was a sudden onset). Conditions that can result in inner knee pain may include:

  • Medial cruciate ligament (MCL) tear
  • Medial meniscus injury
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)
  • Synovial plica
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Referred knee pain

Pain Behind the Knee

Also referred to as posterior pain, pain behind the knee can be caused by wear and tear, injury, or other musculoskeletal issues. The most common causes of pain behind the knee include:

  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear
  • Baker’s cyst – lumps or sacs filled with fluid
  • Arthritis 

Outer Knee Pain

One of the most common causes of outer knee pain is iliotibial band syndrome (IT band syndrome). Due to the knee’s constant bending and stretching motion, this is another common ailment among runners. However, any knee overuse might cause this problem.

Iliotibial band syndrome and other types of outer knee pain can be prevented by stretching extensively before engaging in rigorous activity (such as running or other physical feats) to prevent the band from tightening up.

Calf Pain

Calf muscle pain is frequently caused by a minor injury like a strain or leg cramps. However, severe or persistent pain in your calves could indicate that your lower leg muscles are not circulating enough blood.

If this is the case, it could be due to an underlying issue, so it would be smart for you to reach out to a healthcare professional to seek medical advice.

Kneecap Pain

Pain in the kneecap or tibia may be due to patellofemoral pain syndrome. This condition is also referred to as a runner’s knee and is typically a result of overuse. 

Additional symptoms that may indicate that your knee pain is caused by this condition include:

  • An excessively high kneecap in the knee joint
  • Thigh bone/muscles feeling weak.
  • Hamstring strain
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Insufficient foot support
  • Walking or jogging with the kneecap getting pulled outward by the thigh muscles
  • Overuse or excessive training
  • Injury 

Different Knee Diagnosis by Onset

There are different types of sudden onset injuries that could lead to knee pain (see “Inner Knee Pain” section above).

Based on the onset of your pain, your physician will likely suggest different treatment methods, so it is essential to be able to explain what type of pain you are experiencing. Possible causes of sudden onset knee pain include:

  • Twisted knee
  • Hyperextended knee
  • Pain that gradually comes on
  • Sudden knee pain

Why Is Diagnosis So Important?

As mentioned in the section directly above, different diagnoses will require different types of treatments.

It is important that your doctor has the correct diagnosis for you in order to make sure your knee pain is treated accordingly. This will prevent the situation from worsening and from returning again in the future.

How to Beat Knee Pain

The first step you can take in kicking your knee pain to the curb is consulting with a physician or physical therapist. 

Physical therapy or physiotherapy have been known to do wonders for knee pain, but in some cases, it may be necessary to scour orthopaedic surgeons in your area. 

Whatever the case, a healthcare professional will help you identify where your pain is originating and what is causing your knee pain to occur.

In the meantime, there are also home remedies that you can perform on your own to help relieve yourself of your discomfort, such as the R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method (see “Why do I feel pain when I exercise?” section above. 

In addition, there are over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications you could take to ease the swelling in the affected area.

When to Consult a Doctor

Knee problems are something that (unfortunately) affects many of us as we age – but there is a line between natural wear and pangs in the knees and pain that hinders your ability to live comfortably.

Once your knee pain begins to impact your daily activities, if your pain worsens, if you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, or if your pain becomes chronic (meaning it lasts for longer than three months), then it is time to contact your doctor.

A physician will likely examine your range of motion, x-rays, and may prescribe light exercises to try and keep the affected area limber. For severe joint pain, you may also be prescribed a heavier anti-inflammatory medication.

For more health information and answers on musculoskeletal discomfort and how you can find relief, refer to more of our Health Report Live articles.

Photo of author

Stevie Compango, CNSC, CPT

Stevie is Certified Nutrition Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer for the past 10 years. He specializes in mobility and chronic pain management. His methods have helped thousands of clients improve the quality of their life through movement.

Recommended Articles


  1. Knee pain in adults
  2. Knee osteoarthritis prevalence, risk factors, pathogenesis and features: Part 1
  3. Symptoms of an unstable kneecap
  4. Why does my knee hurt when I climb the stairs?
  5. Patellar maltracking: an update on the diagnosis and treatment strategies
  6. What is Anterior Knee Pain?
  7. Medial Knee Pain (Inside)
  8. Pain behind the knee (posterior pain)
  9. Iliotibial Band Syndrome
  10. Calf Muscle Pain
  11. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee)
  12. How to Deal with Kneecap Pain
  13. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee)