Sharp Stabbing Pain in the Knee that Comes and Goes

Shooting pain in the knee is a complaint affecting patients of all ages and is often the result of a knee injury or chronic medical condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that over 15 million Americans suffer from some form of arthritis that can cause knee pain.

The National Library of Medicine tells us that sharp shooting pain in the knee at rest is common for people of all ages and lifestyles. Some people experience a sharp stabbing pain in the knee that comes and goes. Others continue to experience sharp pains while at rest.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends treatments including at-home physical therapy, exercise, and surgeries, depending on the cause of this pain.

Health Report Live is dedicated to giving seniors the information they need to have healthy, happy knees. This guide covers everything from knee pain basics to treatments that you and your doctor can start today.

What Is Knee Pain?

Sharp stabbing pain in the knee comes and goes and can be the result of an injury, such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. Knee pain can also result from getting older or medical conditions, such as gout, infections, and arthritis.

Knee pain is also caused by damage to the anterior cruciate ligament, thigh bone alignment issues, and conditions like sacs or bursa.

Many seniors experience knee pain that quickly goes away. However, some have chronic conditions and other trauma-related causes. These can lead to more intense pain and be a sign of injury to the femur, shinbone, or a medical condition such as a baker’s cyst or tendinitis.

Most types of minor knee pain get resolved with self-care, physical therapy, and at-home treatment and remedies. However, in some cases, especially when sharp stabbing pain in the knee comes and goes, more intensive treatment options, including surgery, may be needed.

Why Does Knee Pain Come and Go?

According to the National Library of Medicine, shooting pain in the knee can come and go. Some people experience discomfort around the patella for a few hours to a few days, while others experience it long-term. 

It is possible to wake up one day feeling fine and then wake up the next day to discover you have sharp shooting knee pain, which drastically affects your daily routine.

Knee pain can come and go. This can happen when overdoing exercise or from medical conditions like damage to the collateral ligament or chondromalacia. 

Mild irritation to the bottom of the knee, called the tibial tubercle, is a common cause of knee pain, which goes away once the knee heals.

Knee pain can come and go due to physical injuries being aggravated or medical conditions flailing up.

Why Does an Individual Have Sharp Stabbing Pain in the Knee?

There are several causes of severe pain, and it is possible to experience sharp shooting pain in the knee at rest. Sharp, shooting pain may point to specific injuries, while dull, aching pain can signal an underlying medical condition.


Osteoarthritis is a common cause of sharp shooting pain in the knee at rest. Seniors experience knee arthritis more than others. However, injury or extensive overuse through athletics may cause early onset of osteoarthritis.

Knee Bursitis

Knee bursitis is another common cause of sharp, shooting knee pain, which results from wear and tear within the cushioning of the knee joint. When bursitis flares up, you can experience sharp shooting pain in the musculoskeletal system, which subsides when inflammation settles back down.

Anterior Knee Pain or Runners Knee

Other common causes of sharp shooting pain in the knee include the runner’s knee and a meniscus injury which can be caused by an overuse injury from sports or work-related damage.

Meniscal Injury or Torn Meniscus

A torn meniscus is a prevalent knee injury often caused by forceful knee twisting or rotation. Meniscal injury can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and difficulty extending the knee.

Kneecap Arthritis

Also called patellofemoral arthritis, kneecap arthritis causes pain in front of the knee wherein the cartilage behind the kneecap wears out. This condition causes the bone to rub against the femur (lower leg bone), leading to pain.

Patellar Tendonitis (Tendinopathy)

Patellar tendonitis, also called jumper’s knee, is an inflammation of the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap (patella) to the shin bone (tibia). If left untreated, this condition can cause tears to the tendon.

Chondromalacia Patella

This condition is characterized by the breakdown and softening of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap, causing the knee and thigh bone to rub together, leading to pain or a grinding sensation when flexing the knee.

Knee Fracture

A knee fracture involves a broken kneecap or a crack in the upper (femur) or lower (tibia) bones near the knee joint. Causes of knee fractures include falls, sports injuries, or car accidents.

Torn Ligaments

Damaged ligaments can cause the knee to become unstable and limit its movement. This condition typically appears in sports injuries and can result in the inability to turn, pivot, or twist the leg.


A gout is a form of arthritis that causes pain due to the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints, including the knee.

Individuals at risk of developing gout include those with obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, or a family history of gout.

Consuming high amounts of alcohol or animal proteins can also increase gout risk.

Infectious Arthritis

This condition, also called septic arthritis, is caused by an infection from another body part that spreads to the joint, such as the knee. Symptoms include swelling, pain, chills, and fever.

Can an Individual Experience Knee Pain While Standing Still?

While many people experience sharp shooting knee pain when conducting a physical activity, they can continue experiencing knee pain when standing still.

These injuries and chronic conditions can intensify, especially if not treated. Treatments for sharp stabbing pain in the knee that comes and goes can include anti-inflammatory medicines, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

According to an article published in the medical journal American Family Physician, the pain experienced when standing can range from mild to moderate and sharp shooting to being completely unbearable. Pain levels can often interfere with daily activities and continue when standing still or sitting down.

Causes of Knee Pain

Those who suffer from sharp shooting pain in the knee at rest could benefit from identifying the causes of their pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, knee pain is commonly caused by overuse, including repetitive movements.

Common conditions developed through regular use of the knees include patellofemoral pain, Osgood-Schlatter disease, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and acute injury. 

Sudden trauma, such as an anterior cruciate ligament injury, injury to the side of the knee, kneecap dislocation, or damage to the tibia can also develop sharp shooting pains.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, those experiencing knee pain may have arthritis. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and common arthritis conditions include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, pseudogout, and septic arthritis.

Activities That Cause Knee Pain

Knee pain is a condition typically associated with general wear and tear of the joints due to common daily activities like walking, standing, bending, and lifting.

However, sports involving quick pivoting or jumping can also cause knee pain among participants.

Whether knee pain occurs due to aging or injury, this condition can be debilitating and a nuisance to an individual’s everyday activities.

Anatomy of the Knee

The knee is the largest and most complicated joint in the human body. Understanding its anatomy is the key to figuring out the source of your knee pain.

There are four major bones of the knee. The patella is the kneecap on the front of the knee, while the femur is the upper leg bone. The lower leg is composed of the tibia and fibula bones.

Knee ligaments are very important for knee health. The menisci are cartilage cushions that project the joint inside the knee. If these cushions wear down, you can experience chronic knee pain while standing or walking.

There are also ligaments on the sides, front, and back of the knee. These ligaments provide stability and support for the knee. Damage to these ligaments can lead to chronic pain and often requires surgery and rehabilitation exercises to repair.

4 Questions That Help Solve Your Knee Pain Mystery

There are four quick questions that you can ask yourself or a doctor who can help you figure out what is causing your knee pain.

1. Where Is Your Pain?

The location of your knee pain can tell you a lot about what the underlying causes are. Pain on the sides of the knee can often be associated with damage to your ligaments. Pain on the surface of the knee could be a sign of a fracture in your patella.

Pain from inside the knee could be caused by anything from arthritis to a wearing down of the pads that protect and cushion the knee.

2. When Do You Feel Better or Worse?

The timing of knee pain is very important. Arthritis, for example, can be triggered by everything from overuse of the joint to changes in your diet. Knee pain that flares up during exercise, while at rest, or after an injury like a sprain, can all point to potential causes for the pain.

3. How Do You Describe Your Pain?

The description of your knee pain is also very important. Sharp, stabbing pain tends to be a sign of an injury such as a meniscus tear. Dull and persistent pain can often signal arthritis or any other underlying medical condition like osteoarthritis of the knee.

4. Is Anything Strange Happening?

The last thing to ask yourself is about anything strange happening with your knee or with your health in general.

This situation can include things that you might not have associated with your knee pain, like a recent illness or a recent change in your overall fitness or stamina.

Knee Pain Symptoms and When to See a Doctor

Most people should see a doctor when they experience shooting and debilitating pain throughout the knee and down the shin. Common knee pain symptoms include swelling, stiffness, redness, weakness, instability, and crunching noises, including popping sensations.

If your knee pain worsens or continues for several days, it is time to schedule an appointment with a doctor. It is also best to call your doctor if you are unable to bear weight on your knee, you feel unstable when walking, have significant knee swelling, or experience chronic knee pain that interrupts your life. 

When at-home knee treatments stop working, it is another sign you need to see a doctor for your knee pain.

Knee Pain Treatment

The Versus Arthritis organization says that managing knee pain can help acute knee pain heal itself, while it can also help those with chronic knee pain experience relief. 

The most common recommendation for knee pain treatment is to rest the knee for 24 to 48 hours to allow it to heal and prevent further damage. If possible, avoid moving the knee or putting pressure on it.

The National Health Service recommends low-impact exercise, including swimming and cycling, to help individuals recover from a knee injury. Additional at-home treatment options for shooting knee pain include:

  • Applying heat packs to the knee
  • Applying ice packs to the knee
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Physiotherapy
  • Wear knee braces

The Cleveland Clinic gives this medical advice when dealing with these types of pain at home: when the above at-home remedies and therapy options do not work, it is time to see a medical doctor. Knee pain treatment options include knee injections, knee replacement surgery, and laser therapy.

The Tomah Memorial Hospital states that doctors will determine a healthcare treatment plan for conditions like jumper’s knee and joint pain on the inner side of the knee. This starts with a diagnosis that can include X-rays.

Knee Exercises to Reduce Pain

Regularly exercising your knee helps control the pain and often helps your knee heal, relieving you of long-term, chronic pain.

In addition, exercising the muscles around the knee helps strengthen the muscles, taking the pressure off the knee joint ultimately relieving you of the sharp shooting pain you experience.

Some of the common knee exercises to help reduce knee pain include:

  • Straight leg raises
  • Knee extensions
  • Calf stretch
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Toe raises

The American Association of Retired Persons suggests that, when working out your knee, only do what you are capable of doing without causing more injury or intensifying the pain in your knee.

If you are experiencing knee pain and are trying to find relief, it is best to seek a diagnosis from your doctor or an orthopedic surgeon. 

Though it may feel like there is no possible chance for relief from your sharp knee pain, there are several over-the-counter options to help ease the pain. Your doctor can help determine the causes of the pain and treat the root cause of your chronic or acute knee pain.

Health Report Live provides helpful knee pain advice for seniors. Whether you are experiencing stabbing pain in the knee or difficulty climbing stairs, you can find the treatments and medical advice you need in our 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.

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