What Can Cause Knee Pain Without Injury
Reviewed By - Sean Byers, MD

Published: Last Updated: Category: Knee Pain

Knee pain is a common, concerning condition that impacts many people, and it can have a wide range of causes. While many people can trace their knee pain to specific injuries, a number of people do not experience a specific injury as the reason for their knee pain ailments. 

If you know the source of your knee pain, you can set about a course for treatment and relief.

Health Report Live has the information that you may need for this type of condition. 

Understanding What Knee Pain Is

Knee pain is, in essence, a signal from your body that something is wrong with your knee. In some cases, it is, in fact, your knee telling you that you have torn a ligament or have otherwise injured it. 

However, in other cases, it is telling you there is an infection, inflammation, or some other ailment that falls under the knee pain without traumatic injuries or dislocation.

Luckily, certain conditions resulting in knee pain are relatively minor and only require in-home treatment to resolve. However, other types of pain are harder to resolve, and even if they are not the result of injury, they will require some level of medical intervention to resolve.

Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of symptoms to look out for when you are wondering what can cause knee pain without injury. Those include:

  • Swelling and stiffness
  • Redness
  • Warmth to the touch
  • Weakness or instability
  • Popping or crunching noises
  • Inability to fully straighten the knee

The article goes on to note the second tier of more concerning symptoms. Those include:

  • Not being able to bear weight on your knee
  • Feeling as if your knee is unstable or gives out
  • Marked knee swelling
  • Being unable to extend or flex your knee fully
  • Seeing an obvious deformity in your leg or knee
  • Presence of a fever, in addition to redness, pain, and swelling in your knee
  • Severe knee pain associated with an injury

How Do I Know If My Knee Pain Is Not Serious?

If your knee pain is in that first group rather than that second group, that is likely a good sign that you are dealing with something less concerning. One way to gauge your knee pain severity is to see how it will respond to simple at-home therapy. 

Rest and ice your knee, and take over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or naproxen. If those measures relieve your symptoms, it is likely you are dealing with something minor. If you are worried about the state of your knee, you can see a doctor who can determine if nothing is seriously wrong with it.

Common Causes of Knee Pain Without Injury

There are a number of sources of knee pain that have nothing to do with an injury or specific structural damage. Here are the common sources of knee pain without injury.

Knee Tendonitis

When people refer to knee tendonitis or tendinitis, they are most likely talking about patellar tendonitis. That is a condition referred to as the jumper’s knee. As the Johns Hopkins site notes, this is a condition involving inflammation of your patellar tendon. That is the tendon that connects your kneecap (patella) to your shinbone (tibia). 

According to the article, the jumper’s knee weakens your tendon and, if untreated, can lead to tears in your tendon. It is usually the result of overuse, but with rest and ice, it will typically resolve. When left untreated, it can become worse, so stopping the activity causing it is strongly encouraged during the treatment period.

Bursitis

The Mayo Clinic defines bursitis as a painful condition that impacts the bursae (tiny fluid-filled sacs) that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints, causing joint pain. Bursitis happens when those bursae become inflamed. As with tendonitis, rest may help resolve this ailment.

Knee Arthritis

There are more than 100 types of arthritis that can affect people, with two types being among the most known causes of chronic knee pain or knee problems.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

RA is an auto-immune condition that can result in a number of effects on the body, including knee pain. The Mayo Clinic points out that, unlike the wear-and-tear damage of OA (osteoarthritis), RA (rheumatoid arthritis) affects the lining of joints, causing a painful swelling that can result in bone erosion and joint deformity.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Osteoarthritis is typically the accumulation of use and age. The Mayo Clinic notes that it is by far the most common type of arthritis, affecting millions of people. While symptoms can usually be managed, as the article points out, the damage osteoarthritis does to joints cannot be reversed. 

Pain, swelling, tenderness, and loss of flexibility are the most common symptoms resulting from this condition.

Knee Tear

A knee tear usually refers to a meniscus injury. This happens when the C-shaped piece of cartilage known as the meniscus tears. That is typically the result of twisting the knee. 

As the Mayo Clinic notes, many of these types of injuries don’t require surgical intervention. A combination of ice, rest, and time can be enough to resolve this injury and allow people to resume normal function.

Infection

When people wonder what can cause knee pain without injury, they may not think of an infection, but that can indeed be the culprit. In this case, it could be a condition known as septic arthritis. 

When people wonder what can cause knee pain without injury, they may not think of an infection, but that can be the culprit. In this case, it could be a condition known as septic arthritis. 

Infection is inflammation of the joints caused by bacteria, viruses, or even a fungus. Staphylococcus, streptococcus, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae are among the most common infections to blame.

Baker’s Cyst

This ailment, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a fluid-filled cyst that causes a bulge and a feeling of tightness behind your knee. It can happen as a result of an injury or arthritis, coming from the knee creating too much fluid in response to that.

Gout and Pseudogout

When trying to determine what can cause knee pain without injury, it may be either gout or pseudogout.

Gout is a condition, as the CDC describes, resulting from hyperuricemia, or an excess of uric acid in the body. 

The body naturally creates uric acid as it breaks down purines found in the body and the foods you eat. An excessive quantity of uric acid in the body can lead to uric acid crystals (monosodium urate) buildup in fluids, joints, and tissues. 

Hyperuricemia does not always cause gout. Hyperuricemia without gout symptoms does not need treatment.

However, when it does result in gout, it can cause painful flare-ups in joints, including the knee, and over time, can lead to gouty arthritis.

Pseudogout, as its name suggests, is like gout but is not caused by excess uric acid. Rather, as the Mayo Clinic explains, it is a form of arthritis characterized by painful swelling in one or several joints. 

It is linked to calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals within the affected joint. However, not everyone who presents with those calcium crystals develops pseudogout.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

The Cleveland Clinic reports that this syndrome, one possibility for what can cause knee pain without injury, happens when the iliotibial band gets irritated or swollen from rubbing against your hip or knee bones. 

That large tendon, located on the outside of the leg, extends from the pelvic bone to the knee. Many people experience tightness with it, especially if they are active.

Hip, Foot, or Ankle Problems

The source of your knee pain may be attributable to a whole other body part. If you are experiencing an issue with your hip, foot, or ankle, it can result in knee pain.

Past Injuries

It is also possible that a past injury can result in lingering knee pain. If you have an old knee injury that wasn’t properly treated, it may flare up now and then or hurt all the time.

Tumor

A tumor located in the knee may be the result of a type of cancer called osteosarcoma that typically starts in the bones. According to the American Cancer Society, osteosarcoma often presents with pain, and the knee is one of the two common sites for younger people who have this condition. 

At first, the pain may not be apparent or constant and may be worse at night. The pain often intensifies with activity and may result in a limp if the tumor is in a leg bone.

Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease

This medical condition is caused by irritation of the bone growth plate. As Johns Hopkins reports, Osgood-Schlatter’s disease causes pain and swelling underneath the knee joint, where the patellar tendon affixes to the top of the tibia (shinbone or tibial tuberosity). 

There may also be inflammation of the patellar tendon, which stretches over the kneecap. It usually occurs among young, athletic people.

Cancer And Knee Pain

Aside from osteosarcoma, which can directly affect the knee, it is possible that a treatment that you may be undergoing for another type of cancer can result in knee pain from a loss of bone density.

Managing Symptoms

Balancing Rest And Exercise

A number of knee ailments are related to overuse and irritation. Just getting off your knees can be a huge help. The acronym R.I.C.E. is central in injury treatment, and rest is the first word in that four-pronged approach. 

Depending on the nature of what you are dealing with, initially staying off your knee and getting some rest can help you take a beating and keep yourself from making the injury or pain worse.

A physical therapy practice has even floated an alternative to R.I.C.E.: M.E.A.T. That philosophy encourages movement, exercise, analgesics, and treatment, advising that the injured person move the affected area as soon as possible.

Whenever you consider resuming movement and then exercising, you may consider doing low-impact exercises while recovering. Swimming, for example, will be more gentle on your knee joints than a run may be.

Weight Management

It is important to lose weight as part of your overall approach to joint health and overall range of motion, but it is particularly important when it comes to your knees. 

The Mayo Clinic advises individuals to maintain a healthy weight, which is one of the best things one can do for their knees. Every extra pound results in additional strain on the joints, increasing the risk of injuries and osteoarthritis.

This underscores the importance of finding low-impact exercise you enjoy, as it’s important to try to exercise when you can, even if you are experiencing knee pain.

Heat or Ice Packs

Both heat and ice can be employed as you are recovering from knee joint pain or sprains. The OrthoCarolina site advises individuals that ice (cryotherapy) beats heat (thermotherapy) for treating inflammation and pain in most circumstances. 

Even though heat initially feels warm and cozy, ice helps decrease pain and inflammation in the long run.

It is best to use ice for no more than 20 minutes at a time. As the site notes, more than 20 minutes of icing can lead to reactive vasodilation (widening) of the vessels. This reaction happens as the body tries to make sure the tissues get the blood supply they need. 

Studies have also shown that 30 to 40 minutes in between icing sessions are needed to counter this reaction. The suggested time for icing is 20 minutes on and at least 30 minutes off.

Suitable Footwear

The key here is to wear footwear that is comfortable for you. It should give you support, but it should also be flexible and allow you to move. If it is too stiff, it may be doing you more harm than good. 

You can Google and find a ton of helpful suggestions from vendors touting their shoes as best for those with knee pain.

In general, look for shoes that are flexible. A good walking shoe should flex easily and contains shock absorbers. A shoe that is hard to bend will restrict your foot, change your stride, and worsen knee pain.

Painkillers

You may take pain relief medications, such as anti-inflammatory medication, if you feel that will bring relief to your knee pain.

Analgesics like acetaminophen may be useful, depending on the severity of your pain.

Many doctors treating knee pain recommend over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) for treatment.

There are two varieties that can be employed. One route is via tablets taken orally, with ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Advil) and naproxen (most commonly known by the Aleve brand name) being two typical go-to choices for people trying to resolve knee pain.

However, NSAIDs also come in a topical form. Diclofenac is the active ingredient found in both Voltaren and Pennsaid. Those medicines can be applied directly to the knee to offer potential relief.

Questions To Take Note When Having Knee Pain Without Injury

Are You Getting Any Other Symptoms With The Pain?

As you may have already noted, there are some signs of knee trouble in addition to pain – like redness or tenderness — that may give you and your doctor a sense of what is giving you trouble. Making notes of your symptoms can help your doctor diagnose your pain.

Where Is the Exact Source of the Pain?

If you are experiencing pain in the front of your knee, for example, it may point to patellar tendonitis, whereas if you have pain along the outside of the knee, it may be an IT band issue. 

Other locations of the pain can be in the thighbone or femur, or patellofemoral pain. The location of the pain can be a clue for medical professionals working with you.

Have You Had a Change of Activity?

If you have suddenly taken on more exercise or there is something different in your routine, it could be impacting you in a way that has resulted in your knee pain. It may not be entirely connected, but informing your doctor may provide some insight into what is causing the changes in your knee.

How Old Are You?

With some ailments, like osteoarthritis, age can be a determining factor in your prognosis and can help give your doctor clues as to how likely one scenario versus another may be.

Diagnosis

A doctor can help provide a diagnosis for you, though it may take you going to an orthopedic doctor to get the answers you are looking for. It is possible to fully know that you will need an MRI or an X-ray in order to get a fuller picture (by giving your doctor a fuller picture). 

Treatment Options

Even in cases of knee pain without injury, knee pain is pain, and it is likely you are looking for relief — even while you are trying to figure out what is causing it. Here are some ideas:

Stronger Painkillers

It is possible that prescribed painkillers can help you manage the pain, but that is medical advice that your doctor will have to make. It is also possible that your doctor may recommend you take a larger dose of something over-the-counter, like an NSAID, to deal with your pain.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy and physical therapy may indeed help with your knee pain. They can help strengthen your muscles and make your body feel and move better.

Talking Therapies And Pain Management Programs

Talking therapies can help people to change their perceptions of pain and relationships to pain, while pain management programs can help track what you are experiencing and can allow you relief or time.

Surgery or Injections?

It is possible that you need medical intervention even in a case of knee pain without injury. Orthopaedic surgery, such as knee replacement may be needed to address your issue. It is possible, also that a corticosteroid injection in your knee can help you heal, though it is not called for in all cases.

When to See the Doctor

If you are suffering from knee pain without injury, you may be very confused about what is happening and want to see the doctor as soon as you can. That is totally understandable and even advisable. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you can figure out what the possible cause of your knee pain is and how best to treat it.