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What Causes Knee Pain?

Every year, millions visit a doctor complaining of pain in the knee. In fact, knee pain is the most common reason to go see a bone and joint surgeon.

Specifically, the knee is where the thigh bone comes together with the tibia. The tibia bone is the largest bone in the lower portion of the leg. At the joint between the thigh bone and the tibia rests the patella or knee cap. The entire joint is covered by the synovial sac which produces a lubricant like fluid for the functioning of the joint. Of course, other body parts are involved in making up the entire knee joint: muscles, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons.

The knee joint allows for rolling movements, rotating movements, and gliding actions. Because of the joint’s extreme versatility and complete range of motion and despite that the knee is able to support a person’s body weight two to three times over, the knee is highly susceptible to injury.

Knee pain, therefore, can be caused by many different factors and reasons. In general, pain in the knee is experienced as an aching feeling or as an on fire sensation.

The Knee Joint.

What Causes Knee Pain?

A lot of different conditions and diseases are associated with knee pain. Knee pain lasting for a short amount of time may simply be caused by overexertion. The following list describes the ten most common reasons for knee pain.

Arthritis: Arthritis is probably the most common association with knee pain. There are three types of arthritis: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, and septic. Osteoarthritis is joint degeneration. Rheumatoid is joint inflammation. Septic arthritis is caused by joint infection.

Bursitis: The bursae of the knee is a protective structure within the joint that protects from general friction. Bursitis is caused by inflammation. The inflammation of the bursae can be caused by larger existing issues such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout. Interestingly, bursitis was once known as “the house-maid’s knee,” because of the constant kneeling one did as a house maid to clean floors. Bursitis can simply be caused by an over-use of the joint in a particular movement—such as continued kneeling.

Cysts: Cysts are simply fluid-filled sacs. A cyst around the knee joint causes not only general knee pain, but can also be the central cause of swelling of the knee.

Fracture: Any kind of break or crack in the bones that make up the knee joint will cause knee pain. That means a crack or break in the patella, the tibia, or even anywhere in the thigh bone can cause pain within the knee.

Gout: Gout places an inordinate amount of uric acid within the blood. The uric acid is produced as a result of an internal bodily chemical process gone hay-wire. Besides joint pain in general, uric acid can leave deposits of a crystal like substance in and near joint areas. At it’s most benign, gout can cause rheumatoid arthritis. At it’s worse, gout can cause total joint destruction.

Ligament injury: Ligaments support the knee. Any injury or overuse to the knee ligaments can cause serious pain. This type of injury is most common with sports.

Loose bodies: Anything floating around the knee joint can cause pain. These loose bodies can be anything from ligament and/or cartilage fragments to crystal deposits caused by uric acid in the blood stream.

Meniscus related problems: At the top end of the tibia where it meats the thigh bone sits shock absorbers, much like what is found in a vehicle’s suspension system. Only this shock system is made up of cartilage and is called menisci. A meniscus related problem is another one of those sports associated injuries, though damage can be done to the menisci other than participating in sports. Damage happens normally as a tear. A meniscus tear can also happen due to old age too.


Osteonecrosis: Osteonecrosis is bone degeneration. Osteonecrosis can cause knee pain when the degeneration of the bone happens along the thigh bone or the tibia. The problem can not only lead to knee pain, degeneration of the particular bone in question, but can cause deformity. Osteonecrosis occurs when there is a decreased blood supply to the bone. The decreased supply can sometimes occur due to a fracture or break.

Patellofemoral pain: No one knows exactly what causes patellofemoral pain. The pain centers specifically around the knee cap or the patella, and does not seem to spread. There is some suspicion that the patellofemoral pain is caused by an unusual rapid growth of some sort, the bones repositioning themselves in an odd way, a weakening of the muscles around the patella, or decreased range of flexibility in the knee. Whatever causes the patellofemoral pain is pretty much just a good, educated guess though. The pain is also sometimes referred to as anterior knee pain syndrome.

Knee pain can have many causes. The knees are large joints with subject to heavy loads to the joint’s bone and cartilage and part of membranes, menisci, ligaments and viscous bags. Around the knee joint, there are many tendons and muscles. All these structures can give rise to pain in knee.

The prevalence of knee pain is increasing, which may be related to several sports injuries (baseball, football, skiing) and unilateral load. In a survey, 30 % of women and 25 % of men reported that they had had knee pain in the past 12 months. The 80 % of all children in the school have had knee pain and 15 % of them seek medical attention for the knee pain. Older women often have knee pain than older men. In general practice, 1-2% of patient complaints of knee pain.

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