Sharp, Stabbing Pain In The Knee Which Comes and Goes

Published: Last Updated: Category: Knee Pain

A sharp, stabbing pain in the knee that comes and goes can be indicative of a variety of issues. It also seems to always flare up at the most inopportune of times, derailing what was supposed to be a productive day.

We’ll share a few potential causes of this specific type of knee pain, and provide a couple ways you can start feeling better while you devise a plan with your professional care specialist.

Before we get to that, let’s talk about the anatomy of the knee, and explain why your knee pain comes and goes.

Anatomy Of The Knee

The knee is a complex joint, with tons of possibilities for something to go wrong. What we describe as the “knee” connects the two lower leg bones (tibia & fibula) and the femur.

The joint itself is covered by the kneecap, which serves as protection for the joint. Also in play are pieces of cartilage, tendons, and ligaments – a few noteworthy ones are the meniscus, ACL, MCL, PCL.

Finally, there is bursa to help with movements. These are essentially fluid filled sacs, and can easily become aggravated and painful.

Why Does My Knee Pain Come and Go?

A sharp stabbing pain in the knee that comes and goes is actually pretty common. This is because many of the potential conditions that result in knee pain flare up.

For example, if you go a few days without much physical activity, the pain in your knee may subside a bit. But then if you exercise, play a sport, or even walk up a flight of stairs you normally wouldn’t, the pain will come charging back in full force.

That’s not to say you will feel no pain one day, and wake up the next day in agony. Usually, the pain is always there as a dull, aching sensation. But after certain activities, the pain may become more intense, coming and going in waves as a sharp, stabbing, or even burning pain.

Let’s get into what you came here to learn about today – the most common causing of sharp, stabbing pain in the knee that comes and goes.

What Causes Sharp Stabbing Pain In The Knee That Comes And Goes?

There are all kinds of causes for this specific type of pain in your knee. As we covered right off the bat, the knee is a very complex joint that has many, many different components.

So, think about which side of the knee you feel pain in. If you feel it on the back of your knee, for example, it could be an issue with your ACL.

If your pain seems to be just radiating from the knee in general and you can’t necessarily pinpoint the exact location, it may be something more general, like arthritis. 

Obviously, a trip to the doctor to get tests performed, along with an x-ray, are your best bet. This way, you can come up with a tailored treatment plan, rule out surgery, and get back to feeling better and doing the things you love. But in the meantime, here are some things you may want to look into.


The most common cause of sharp, stabbing knee pain that comes and goes is arthritis. This is especially common in elderly populations, as it’s a degenerative condition of your joints.

Arthritis can present itself not just in your knees, but any joints – your back, wrists, ankles, hips, etc. It can cause pain in any area of your knee – front, medial, or even the lateral sides.

Typically, you’ll experience this pain in both knees – not one or the other. This will help you distinguish between it and other conditions.

Knee Bursitis

As we mentioned above, the knee has bursa distributed throughout to help with cushioning the joint. As you can imagine, these take on a lot of wear and tear. This leads to overuse injury.

When the bursa flare up and become inflamed, it is known as bursitis. This can cause a sharp, stabbing pain in the knee which comes and goes.

The pain can flare up with more activity, such as walking up stairs. Treatment for this issue is as simple as following the RICE protocol, and letting the inflammation settle. Sometimes, you may need to get non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs to help with this. Most often, this is all it takes to clear the pain up. However, it may come back.

Runners Knee (Anterior Knee Pain)

If you feel your pain in the anterior knee, it could be runner’s knee. This also goes by terms such as jumper’s knee, chondromalacia patella, and patellofemoral pain syndrome.

This is especially common among athletes, hence the name. It is an overuse issue, and can wear away at the cartilage leading to more serious, long term issues.

Runner’s knee typically presents itself as a dull, aching pain in the front of the knee and can be exacerbated with running, squatting, or pretty much any other physical activity for that matter.

Like knee bursitis, this can be alleviated through RICE, OTC anti inflammatories, and then physical therapy to heal and strengthen the knees and surrounding muscles to prevent future flare ups.

Meniscal Injury

One final potential cause we want to mention is injuries to the meniscus. This is a piece of cartilage that serves as a shock absorber, not much different from how bursa act.

Typically, this is not an overuse injury. Injury to the meniscus is usually the result of trauma to the knee, and is common in sports with contact. Along with sharp, stabbing pain in your knee which comes and goes, you can also expect knee dysfunction – the joint itself won’t work how it’s supposed to when the cushion is damaged. It may lock up, and you may find yourself having trouble balancing.

The extent of your injury will determine which treatment is the best course of action. Small tears can heal on their own while more serious injuries will need surgery for full recovery.