Knee Pain When Bending: Causes & Treatment - Knee Pain Explained (2023)

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Written By:Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by:KPE Medical Review Board

Knee Pain When Bending: Causes & Treatment - Knee Pain Explained (1)

Knee pain when bending is a common problem. Forces up to seven times body weight can go through the knee as it bends, so it comes as no surprise that it is such a widespread problem.

Bending knee pain may start suddenly after an injury, or gradually come on over time depending on the cause.

There are a number of different causes of knee pain when bending, but they generally all result from a problem with one (or more) of the structures in or around the knee, affecting how it moves.

This changes how the forces travel through the different parts of the knee and can result in too much pressure going through certain parts, which leads to knee pain bending.

Here we will look at the different types of bending knee pain, the most common causes of knee pain when bending, treatment options and what is actually going on in the knee as it bends.

Why Does Bending Cause Knee Pain?

Knee pain when bending can be split into two types:

Knee Pain When Bending: Causes & Treatment - Knee Pain Explained (2)

Weight-Bearing: when there is weight going through the knee as you bend it such as when you squat down, go up and down stairs and as you sit down in a chair

Non Weight-Bearing: when there is no weight going through the knee when you bend it e.g. when sitting in a chair and moving the knee or standing but with the leg lifted off the floor as you bend it

Knee pain when bending tends to be worse when there is weight going through the knee as you bend it due to the compression and pressure on the different structures in the knee.

This should come as no surprise when we realise how large the forces going through different parts of the knee.

For example, when bending the knee to climb stairs, a force approximately three times body weight goes through the knee.

When squatting down the force is even greater at seven times body weight and when jumping, a huge force ten times body weight goes through part of the knee.

(Video) Atraumatic Knee Pain Differential Diagnosis | ITBS, PFPS, Jumper's Knee

Causes Of Knee Pain When Bending

So let’s look at the most common causes of knee pain when bending and how to treat them:

1.Runners Knee

Runners Knee is the most common cause of knee pain when bending but don’t be fooled by the name. It is just as likely to affect office workers as runners! Runners Knee is also, more accurately, know as anterior knee pain or patellofemoral pain syndrome.

What Is It:Runners Knee is aproblem with how the knee cap moves places extra stress and friction on the cartilage as the knee bends and straightens

Causes: Muscle weakness and/or tightness or altered biomechanics such as foot arches and hip angle

Symptoms: Knee pain when bending the knee is the most common symptom and tends to be at the front of the knee, just below and to the sides of the kneecap. It may occur during bending activities such as squatting or coming down stairs, or when you first move the knee after sitting down for prolonged periods e.g. driving or watching TV. Another common feature is a grinding or grating sound as you bend and straighten the knee.

Onset: Symptoms develop gradually

Find out more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention & treatment options:Runners Knee

2.Knee Bursitis

Bursa are small, fluid-filled sacs that site between bone and soft tissues to reduce friction.

What Is It:Bursitis is inflammation of one or more of the bursa located around the knee

Causes:Prolonged/repetitive pressure, excessive friction, a fall or blow to the knee

Symptoms:Knee pain bending - the location will depend on which bursa is affected

Onset: in most cases a gradual onset of knee pain but can develop suddenly after an injury

Find out more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention & treatment options:Knee Bursitis

3.Housemaids Knee

This is a common cause of swelling and knee pain when bending in people who spent a lot of time kneeling

Knee Pain When Bending: Causes & Treatment - Knee Pain Explained (5)

What Is It:Housemaids Knee is inflammation on the prepatellar bursa found just below the kneecap at the front of the knee

Causes: Prolonged/repetitive kneeling e.g. housework or tradesmen work, a blow to the knee e.g. falling onto the knee

Symptoms: front knee pain when bending and straightening the knee, swelling at the front of the knee

Onset: usually gradual unless there was a direct force through the knee

(Video) Knee Pain , common causes- Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

Find out more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention & treatment options:Housemaids Knee

4.Bakers Cyst

What Is It:A Bakers Cyst is swelling of the semimembranosus bursa at the back of the knee

Causes: Excess fluid in the knee joint seeps back into the bursa and collects resulting in swelling. Usually caused by arthritis but can develop with any condition that causes swelling in the knee joint e.g. a cartilage tear or gout

Symptoms: Stiffness and knee pain when bending and straightening the knee, worse with activity and better with rest. People can often feel a small bulge at the back of their knee that feels like a water balloon

Onset: Bending knee pain symptoms develop gradually

Find out more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention & treatment options:Bakers Cyst

5.Knee Sprain

Knee Pain When Bending: Causes & Treatment - Knee Pain Explained (7)

The knee has four ligaments that help control the stability of the knee. The cruciate ligaments sit inside the joint and the collateral ligaments are found either side of the knee

What Is It:A knee sprain is when one of the knee ligaments gets overstretched and tears. There are three different grades of knee sprain depending on how much of the ligament is damaged

Causes: Excessive force through the knee or sudden twisting or the knee

Symptoms: Pain with activity and difficulty bending and straightening the knee. Instability of the knee and swelling. The more severe the injury, the more severe the symptoms

Onset: Immediate or within a couple of days of the injury

Find out more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention & treatment options:Knee Sprains

(Video) Knee Pain Types Explained | Royersford, PA | Limerick, PA

6.Meniscus Tear

The meniscus is a special, extra thick layer of cartilage that lines the knee joint to provide cushioning and protection to the knee. It also helps to transmit the forces through the knee correctly. Meniscus tears are a common cause of knee pain when bending.

What Is It:A meniscus tear is when there is tearing or fraying in the meniscus results in inflammation, and decreased cushioning of the joint. Sometimes the torn fragment gets stuck in the joint limiting movement

Causes: Wear and tear or sudden twisting of the knee when the foot is fixed

Symptoms: Knee pain when bending especially going up stairs or squatting down. Knee movement may be limited and in some cases the knee gets stuck when the loose fragment gets locked in the joint. The knee will most likely be swollen

Onset: May develop gradually from wear and tear or suddenly after an injury such as twisting the knee when the foot is fixed

Find out more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention & treatment options:Meniscus Tears

7.Knee Arthritis

Arthritis means “inflammation of a joint” and affects millions of people worldwide. There are over 200 different types of arthritis, but the one that most commonly causes knee pain when bending is osteoarthritis

Knee Pain When Bending: Causes & Treatment - Knee Pain Explained (9)

What Is It: Osteoarthritis is where there is thinning and wear and tear of the cartilage lining the knee joint, and the formation of bony lumps in the joint. These result in excessive friction through the knee bones

Causes: There are a multitude of causes of arthritis including previous damage to the knee, genetics, being over-weight and altered biomechanics changing the way the forces travel through the knee

Symptoms: Knee pain, particularly first thing in the morning or after prolonged sitting when you then try and bend your knee. There is often so much knee pain when bending or straightening your knee fully that the joint starts to stiffen. The pain tends to ease with gentle movement but gets worse if you do too much, especially on a bent knee such as stairs or bending down

Onset: Symptoms develop gradually over time and often come and go. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects people over the age of 65

Find out more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention & treatment options:Knee Arthritis

Other Causes of Knee Pain When Bending

Other less common causes of knee pain when bending include:

  1. Patellar Tendonitis: Inflammation and micro-tears in the patellar tendon just below the kneecap, usually after prolonged jumping or kicking movements resulting in bending knee pain. The most defining feature of patellar tendonitis is that it is painful if you press on the tendon

  2. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS): Irritation and inflammation of a thick fibrous band on the outer side of the thigh and knee. It usually develops from overuse and most frequently affects runners. Sending bending knee pain from ITBS tends to be on the outer side of the knee and there may be a popping/grinding sensation as you bend the knee
  3. Osgood Schlatters: A common cause of bending knee pain in teenagers usually associated with sudden growth spurts where the bones grow quicker than the soft tissues leading to excessive tension through the patellar tendon which damages the underlying bone.

Treating Knee Pain When Bending

The best treatment for knee pain when bending will depend on the underlying cause of your knee pain. In most cases it will involve:

(Video) What is Causing the Pain Behind Your Knee, How to Tell

  • PRICE
  • Strengthening Exercises
  • Stretches
  • Knee Braces
  • Injections
  • Knee Surgery

You will find loads more information on the different conditions we have looked at including the best ways to treat knee pain when bending by using the links above.

Here we have looked at the most common causes of knee pain when bending, but almost any problem with the knee can result in pain as you move it. If none of these is sounding quite right, visit the knee pain diagnosis section for more help work out what is causing your bending knee pain.

How Does The Knee Bend?

The knee is a hinge joint, which means its main movement is bending and straightening (aka flexion and extension). As the knee moves, a number of things are happening:

Muscles:They work in pairs with one relaxing and the other contracting (tightening) to allow the movement e.g. to bend your knee you hamstrings contract and you quads relax

Knee Pain When Bending: Causes & Treatment - Knee Pain Explained (11)

Bones:The femur (thigh) and tibia (shin) have to roll, glide and spin to move smoothly. The patella (kneecap) shifts, tilts and rotates as it glides up and down through a groove on the thigh bone – the position and movement of the patella is controlled by the surrounding muscle.

Cartilage:The special shock-absorbing cartilage that lines the knee (known as the meniscus) moves and changes shape slightly to prevent it from getting trapped

Ligaments:These help control the movement and maintain stability by preventing excessive movement of the bones. There are two pairs of ligaments, the cruciate ligaments in the middle of the joint, and the collateral ligaments on either side

These structures all need to work together properly to allow for smooth, pain-free knee bending and straightening. Problems in any of these areas can lead to knee pain when bending. For example, if there is muscle weakness or ligament instability, the bones may move slightly out of position causing them to catch or grind on other structures in the knee.

Page Last Updated: 10/06/21
Next Review Due: 10/06/23

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FAQs

Why does my knee ache and hurt when I bend it? ›

If your knee pain when bending is sharp, the most likely causes are a torn ligament or meniscus, fracture of one of the bones of your knee joint, osteoarthritis or patellar tendonitis.

What is the most common cause of knee pain? ›

The most common causes of knee pain are related to aging, injury or repeated stress on the knee. Common knee problems include sprained or strained ligaments, cartilage tears, tendonitis and arthritis.

What is the best painkiller for knee pain? ›

Over-The-Counter Medication for Knee Pain

The main over-the-counter drugs are acetaminophen (Tylenol and other brands) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs), including aspirin (such as Bayer), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). These can help with simple sprains or even arthritis.

Will knee pain go away? ›

Knee pain will usually go away without further medical treatment, using only a few self-help measures. If you need help you might first see a physiotherapist or your GP.

Is walking is good for knee pain? ›

Walking builds your muscles so they can take the pressure off your joints and handle more of the weight themselves. That means less pain for your knees. Helps you lose weight. For every pound you lose, there's four times less pressure and stress on your knees.

What exercises strengthen your knees? ›

5 Exercises to Help Strengthen Your Knees
  • Exercise 1: Knee Extension.
  • Exercise 2: Knee Flexion (Standing)
  • Exercise 3: Heel and Calf Raises.
  • Exercise 4: Wall Squats.
  • Exercise 5: Swimming.
Jun 1, 2022

How do I know if my knee pain is serious? ›

Call your doctor if you:
  1. Can't bear weight on your knee or feel as if your knee is unstable or gives out.
  2. Have marked knee swelling.
  3. Are unable to fully extend or flex your knee.
  4. See an obvious deformity in your leg or knee.
  5. Have a fever, in addition to redness, pain and swelling in your knee.
May 11, 2021

What are the symptoms of cartilage damage in the knee? ›

Symptoms of cartilage damage
  • joint pain – this may continue even when resting and worsen when you put weight on the joint.
  • swelling – this may not develop for a few hours or days.
  • stiffness.
  • a clicking or grinding sensation.
  • the joint locking, catching, or giving way.

Can an xray show arthritis in the knee? ›

Your doctor may recommend an X-ray of your knee to find out. X-rays are quick, painless, and may help your doctor see the physical symptoms of osteoarthritis in your knee joints.

How can I fix my knee pain at home? ›

Self-care measures for an injured knee include:
  1. Rest. Take a break from your normal activities to reduce repetitive strain on your knee, give the injury time to heal and help prevent further damage. ...
  2. Ice. Ice reduces both pain and inflammation. ...
  3. Heat. ...
  4. Compression. ...
  5. Elevation.
May 11, 2021

What food makes knees stronger? ›

Food for Knee Strengthening

Foods high in vitamin C, which is important in the formation of collagen, a major component of knee cartilage, include broccoli, red and green peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes and greens, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

How should I sleep with knee pain? ›

Back or Side Sleeping for Less Knee Pain

If on your back, put a pillow under your knees for support. On your side, keep your knee in a flexed position to minimize pain. Try to never sleep with your legs crossed. If you have knee pain due to injury, you should see an orthopaedic specialist.

What is better for knee pain heat or cold? ›

Heat helps loosen tight muscles and joints and relieves pain and muscle spasms. If you have swelling, it's best to use ice for 24 hours, then switch to heat. If swelling isn't a problem, it's fine to use heat when you first notice knee pain.

What is the best sitting position for knee pain? ›

To give your knees relief, limit the amount of time you spend with your knees bent or crossed. Try to have them straight whenever possible. If you have to sit with your knees crossed or bent, limit it to 20 minutes at a time before getting up and moving around.

Should I go to the doctor if it hurts to bend my knee? ›

Make an appointment with your doctor if your knee pain was caused by a particularly forceful impact or if it's accompanied by: Significant swelling. Redness. Tenderness and warmth around the joint.

What is the reason of knee pain without injury? ›

Typically, tendonitis is caused by straining your joint and your muscles, either through repetitive use, overuse or overloading. If you spend a day doing an activity you're not used to, like strenuous hiking or lots of bending and lifting, you can develop tendonitis.

How long should I rest my knee? ›

Do: Rest a Sore Knee. Take a break so your knee has time to heal. You'll only need 1 or 2 days of rest to ease minor knee pain, but severe injuries may keep you off your feet longer. Talk to your doctor if it doesn't get better after a few days.

How can I heal my knee without surgery? ›

6 alternatives to knee replacement surgery
  1. Exercise to keep your joints moving. When your knees hurt and feel stiff, exercise is usually the last thing on your mind. ...
  2. Lose weight to reduce pressure on your knees. ...
  3. Physical therapy to target knee pain. ...
  4. Joint supplements. ...
  5. Injections for knee pain. ...
  6. Orthobiologics.

Does sitting affect your knees? ›

While simply sitting still too much can lead to knee pain and stiffness, staying in the wrong position for extended periods of time can be rough on the knees as well. In particular, office environments can often be hard on the knees.

Does climbing stairs strengthen knees? ›

Strengthening the knee is one way to prevent knee trouble and deal with a knee condition you already have. One exercise that's simple to do is stair climbing.

What does arthritis in knee feel like? ›

There are many signs and symptoms of arthritis of the knee: Creaking, clicking, grinding or snapping noises (crepitus). Difficulty walking. Joint pain that changes (gets better or worse) depending on the weather.

When should you not ignore knee pain? ›

Sudden, severe pain in the knee. Pain that persists while walking. The knee abruptly giving out, causing you to fall and feel unstable while walking. Swelling within 24 hours after the initial injury.

How long should knee pain last before seeing a doctor? ›

Generally, athletes should see a healthcare provider for pain lasting more than 48 hours and other adults should see an expert if there seems to be no change for three weeks. Generally, most healthcare providers recommend that you schedule an appointment as soon as you notice that your symptoms impact the way you live.

What vitamin is good for cartilage? ›

Glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3, and green tea are just a few of them. Glucosamine helps keep the cartilage in joints healthy and may have an anti-inflammatory effect. Natural glucosamine levels drop as people age.

Can a knee cartilage repair itself? ›

No matter the cause, cartilage damage is challenging, because cartilage doesn't have its own blood supply. Therefore, it can't heal itself. Once cartilage is damaged, without treatment the damage stays the same or gets larger over time.

How can I repair my knee cartilage naturally? ›

Stretch as often as possible. A simple stretch can help prevent stiffness in your joints and lubricate and nourish the cartilage with synovial fluid. Stretch exercises like yoga and pilates can help alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis and also strengthen your muscles to prevent further joint injury.

How do they remove arthritis from a knee? ›

The most common surgeries to treat knee arthritis are: Total knee replacement (total knee arthroplasty) Partial knee replacement (unicompartmental knee arthroplasty) Knee osteotomy (tibial osteotomy or femoral osteotomy)

Do you need MRI for knee pain? ›

In combination with conventional x-rays, MRI is usually the best choice for examining the body's major joints like the knee. The examination is typically performed to diagnose or evaluate: knee pain, weakness, swelling or bleeding in the tissues in and around the joint. damaged cartilage, meniscus, ligaments or tendons.

How do I get rid of arthritis in my knee? ›

The treatment plan will typically include a combination of the following:
  1. Weight loss. ...
  2. Exercise. ...
  3. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. ...
  4. Injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid into the knee. ...
  5. Alternative therapies. ...
  6. Using devices such as braces. ...
  7. Physical and occupational therapy. ...
  8. Surgery.
Jun 14, 2021

How do I know if my knee pain is serious? ›

Make an appointment with your doctor if your knee pain was caused by a particularly forceful impact or if it's accompanied by:
  1. Significant swelling.
  2. Redness.
  3. Tenderness and warmth around the joint.
  4. Significant pain.
  5. Fever.

What causes knee pain without injury? ›

Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. Gout, caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joint. Pseudogout, a buildup of calcium crystals in the joint fluid. Septic arthritis, caused by infection inside the knee joint.

How long should knee pain last before seeing a doctor? ›

Generally, athletes should see a healthcare provider for pain lasting more than 48 hours and other adults should see an expert if there seems to be no change for three weeks. Generally, most healthcare providers recommend that you schedule an appointment as soon as you notice that your symptoms impact the way you live.

What does arthritis in the knee feel like? ›

There are many signs and symptoms of arthritis of the knee: Creaking, clicking, grinding or snapping noises (crepitus). Difficulty walking. Joint pain that changes (gets better or worse) depending on the weather.

How can I cure my knee pain? ›

Self-care measures for an injured knee include:
  1. Rest. Take a break from your normal activities to reduce repetitive strain on your knee, give the injury time to heal and help prevent further damage. ...
  2. Ice. Ice reduces both pain and inflammation. ...
  3. Heat. ...
  4. Compression. ...
  5. Elevation.
May 11, 2021

Will knee pain go away? ›

Knee pain will usually go away without further medical treatment, using only a few self-help measures. If you need help you might first see a physiotherapist or your GP.

What different knee pain means? ›

Knee pain may be the result of an injury, such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. Medical conditions — including arthritis, gout and infections — also can cause knee pain. Many types of minor knee pain respond well to self-care measures. Physical therapy and knee braces also can help relieve pain.

How long should knee pain last? ›

You'll only need 1 or 2 days of rest to ease minor knee pain, but severe injuries may keep you off your feet longer. Talk to your doctor if it doesn't get better after a few days.

Is walking good for knee pain? ›

Walking builds your muscles so they can take the pressure off your joints and handle more of the weight themselves. That means less pain for your knees.

How do I know if I have damaged my knee cartilage? ›

Symptoms of cartilage damage in a joint include:
  • joint pain – this may continue even when resting and worsen when you put weight on the joint.
  • swelling – this may not develop for a few hours or days.
  • stiffness.
  • a clicking or grinding sensation.
  • the joint locking, catching, or giving way.

When should you not ignore knee pain? ›

Sudden, severe pain in the knee. Pain that persists while walking. The knee abruptly giving out, causing you to fall and feel unstable while walking. Swelling within 24 hours after the initial injury.

How do you test for arthritis in the knees? ›

Diagnosis
  1. X-rays. Cartilage doesn't show up on X-ray images, but cartilage loss is revealed by a narrowing of the space between the bones in your joint. ...
  2. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of bone and soft tissues, including cartilage.
Jun 16, 2021

What medicine is good for arthritis in the knees? ›

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) can help relieve occasional pain triggered by activity your muscles and joints aren't used to — such as gardening after a winter indoors.

Does knee arthritis go away? ›

Outlook. The symptoms of knee arthritis will depend, to some extent, on the type of arthritis. Pain, swelling, and a loss of mobility are common with different types of arthritis. There's no cure for arthritis, but treatment can relieve symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and reduce the risk of complications.

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2. Knee Pain , Knee arthritis treatment - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim, M.D.
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3. Why Is My Knee In Pain When Bending It?
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4. What is Causing Your Knee Pain? Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome or Kneecap Pain? How to Tell?
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5. Inner knee pain: Why does the inside of my knee hurt? [5 Common Causes]
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