Knee Injury Diagnosis:
Part 2

Accurate knee injury diagnosis is the first step in recovering from a knee problem. Once you know what is causing your problem, you can determine the best course of treatment to help you make a quick recovery.

In Knee Injury Diagnosis: Part 1 we looked at using the specific symptoms, such as the knee giving way or popping, to help diagnose the cause of pain.

Here we will make a diagnosis using:
1) Location of the pain:
where exactly your pain is
2) How the pain started: the mechanism of injury e.g. sudden twisting or gradual onset

Here you will find a guide to help you work out what your problem might be. You can choose from the links to find out more about each one including causes, symptoms and treatment options.

Diagnosis by Pain Location

Identifying the exact location of your pain can help with knee injury diagnosis. If it is in a fairly specific location, choose from the options below. If your pain is more general, you might find it easier to think about how your pain started or to search by your other specific symptoms in part 1.

1) Front Knee Pain

Thinking about the location of the pain is a useful tool in knee injury diagnosis.

The front of the knee is the most common place to get knee pain and is commonly referred to as anterior knee pain. It can be caused by a number of knee problems, usually related to the kneecap, such as Runners Knee and Chondromalacia Patella.

If you pain is mostly at the front around the patella, go to the Front Knee Pain diagnosis section to find out more about each problem

2) Pain On The Inner Side

Medial Knee Pain is extremely common. More force tends to go through the inner side of the knee (the side closest to the other leg) which makes it prone to injury, such as ligament and cartilage tears, and arthritis.

If your pain is mostly on the inner side of your leg, browse the Medial Knee Injury diagnosis section to identify the most likely cause of your pain.

3) Pain Behind the Knee

Pain behind the knee is often caused by swelling from a knee injury

Pain mostly at the back of the knee is usually related to arthritis, common in the over 50’s, but can be due to other problems such as a Bakers Cyst or cartilage tear.

If your pain is mostly behind your knee, visit the Posterior Knee Pain diagnosis section to understand more about the different causes and how to treat them.

4) Pain On The Outer Side

The outer side of the knee is the least common place to have problems. It is usually caused by irritation to one of the tendons, ligaments or cartilage on the outer side of the knee.

If that is where your pain is, go to the Lateral Knee Injury diagnosis section to find out about these three main causes.

5) Calf Pain

Calf pain may be caused by a muscular problem such as a tear or muscle imbalance, or something more serious such as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).  To find out more about the eight most common causes of pain in the calf region, how they vary and how to treat them, visit the Calf Pain section

6) Pain Below the Knee

Pain just below the patella usually indicates one of three problems.
Jumpers Knee (aka Patellar Tendonitis): usually caused by frequent kicking or jumping
Osgood Schlatters: common in adolescents, particularly after a growth spurt
Pes Anserine Bursitis: inflammation of the bursa causes pain approximately 2-3 inches below the knee joint on the inner side of the knee
Find out more about these causes of knee pain by clicking on the links

7) Knee Cap Pain

X-ray showing a fracture of the kneecap

The kneecap (patella) is the small bone found over the front of the joint.  It moves up and down as you move your leg.  Despite being a small bone, huge forces go through it during simple everyday activities like going up and down stairs and squatting.  Knee cap pain may come on gradually, or may be the result of an injury causing the kneecap to either dislocate or break. 

Visit the Knee Cap Pain section to find out more about the different causes, symptoms and treatment options for patella problems. 

Thinking about the main location of pain is a good way of making a knee injury diagnosis, but it is not always that simple. Pain can refer to other places, so for example a problem at the kneecap may produce pain all around the knee and down the calf too.

If your pain is more diffuse, you may find it easier to make a knee injury diagnosis by thinking about how the pain started or your specific symptoms.

Diagnosis By How the Pain Started

Another important part of knee injury diagnosis is knowing whether the problem started suddenly, which usually indicates a specific knee injury, or whether it came on gradually over time for no specific reason, which usually indicates an underlying knee condition.

1) Twisted Knee

A twisted knee is one of the most common way the joint gets injured.  This type of injury most commonly occurs during sports or by falling awkwardly.  Depending on how the knee twists, it places stress through different structures of the knee.

Most commonly, it is the ligaments or cartilage that get damaged when the knee over-twists.  Ligament injuries tend to cause ongoing problems with stability and the knee may frequently give way even months after the initial injury.  Cartilage injuries tend to cause pain and swelling, may limit knee movement and at times can cause the knee to get stuck. In more serious injuries, multiple structures may be damaged.

You can find out more about these different injuries and how to treat them in the Twisted Knee section.

2) Pain Gradually Came On

This usually indicates an underlying problem that may have been there for a while without you realising. Sometimes, the knee will cope with a developing problem for so long, and then for no obvious reason will start being uncomfortable.

Visit the Common Knee Conditions section to find out about the most common problems that develop without a specific injury, including information on symptoms and treatments.

3) Sudden Knee Pain

Knee injuries are common in sports.

The knee is commonly injured by:

1) Twisting e.g. skiing
2) A force through the knee e.g. from a fall or a tackle or
3) Sudden deceleration e.g. stopping suddenly causing the leg to bend too far backwards

These most commonly result in injuries to the ligaments and/or cartilage. Pain is usually instant, or certainly comes on within 24-48 hours and may be accompanied by swelling and bruising. Visit the Common Knee Injuries section to find out more including symptoms and treatment options for different injuries.

Other Knee Injury Diagnosis Options

If you haven’t already read Knee Injury Diagnosis: Part 1, visit the section to find out how to diagnose your problem from your specific symptoms, such as the knee giving way and locking.

It is essential to understand what is causing your pain to be able to treat it - see the Common Causes of Knee Pain section for more info. But remember, the best way to get an accurate knee injury diagnosis is to see your doctor/physical therapist.

Go to Diagnosis: Part 1 or Homepage

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