Knee Pain Diagnosis

Accurate knee pain diagnosis is the first step in recovering from a knee problem so you can beat your pain and stop it from coming back again. Once you know what is causing your pain, you can treat it effectively and make a quick recovery.

The most common reason for knee pain to recur is failure to treat the underlying cause of a problem. For example, let's say your knee is swollen. You can treat the swelling with ice, compression bandages, elevation and exercises and the swelling will most likely start to improve. But chances are, it will come back again unless you have identified what caused the swelling in the first place and also treated that.

So how do we make an accurate knee pain diagnosis? Well, there are a few ways to you can approach it: You can think about: 

1) The Location of the Pain: where exactly your knee pain is e.g. front, side or back  
2) Your Specific symptoms: what are the main symptoms associated with your pain e.g. popping noises, locking
3) How the Pain Started: the mechanism of injury e.g. sudden twisting or gradual onset

Here we will look at all three options to help you work out what your problem might be and what you can do to treat it. Choose the area that best describes you and then use the links to find out all about your problem and the causes, symptoms and treatment options for each type of knee pain diagnosis. 

1. Diagnosis by Pain Location

People often find the simplest place to start with knee pain diagnosis is to think about where their pain is in the knee. While pain can refer to and from other places, thinking about where the majority of the pain is coming from can help with working out what has gone wrong.

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

The front of the knee is the most common place to get knee pain, commonly referred to as anterior knee pain. It can be caused by a number of knee problems, often related to the kneecap.

Visit the Front Knee Pain diagnosis section to find out what problems cause pain here.

Medial knee pain is pain on the inner side of the knee joint

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.

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

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

Pain mostly at the back of the knee is most common in the over 50’s from wear and tear conditions. In younger people it tends to be due to an injury. 

If your pain is mostly behind your knee, visit the Posterior Knee Pain diagnosis section to learn about the different causes and treatments.

Lateral knee pain is pain on the outer side of the knee

The outer side of the knee is the least common place to have problems. It is usually caused by irritation to the structures 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.

Calf muscle pain below the knee may be from a soft tissue injury or a sign of a more serious underlying condition

Calf pain may be caused by soft tissue damage such as a muscle tear or something more serious such as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

In the Calf Pain section we look at the eight most common causes of pain in the calf region, how they vary, how to tell if it's serious and how to treat them.

X-ray showing a fracture of the kneecap

Huge forces go through the kneecap 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.  

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

2. Diagnosis By Symptoms

Thinking about the main location of pain is a good way of making a knee pain 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.

Another way of diagnosing knee pain is by thinking about the specific symptoms that accompany the knee pain. In many cases, these may  be the most defining features in knee pain diagnosis, as the presence or absence of them quickly rule conditions/injuries in or out, so see which one best fits your problem.

It is very common to get knee pain from running due to the forces going through the knee joint

Forces up to 550% body weight go through the joint when running. Running knee pain is usually due to either training errors, poor biomechanics or muscle imbalance.

In the Running Knee Pain diagnosis section, we look at why people get pain when they run, and how to prevent and treat this common problem. 

Thinking about your noisy knees can help you make a knee pain diagnosis

Knees sometimes make strange, disconcerting noises e.g. a sudden, one-time pop or a persistent clicking, grinding or crunching. Sometimes it's painful, other times not.

In the Noisy Knee Pain diagnosis section we look at the possible causes, how to tell which one you have and how to treat them.

Knee pain on stairs is a common problem

Stairs often cause problems for people with knee pain, particularly coming down stairs. The force going through the knee cap when you come down stairs is 3.5x bodyweight.

Find out more about the most common causes of knee pain going down stairs to help with knee pain diagnosis, and how you can treat and prevent this common problem.

Knee locking usually indicates that something is getting stuck inside the joint and blocking it from moving normally

Knee locking occurs when something gets stuck in the joint, stopping you moving the knee. You often have to wiggle the knee around before it will then move freely without pain.

In the knee locking section we look at all the possible causes for the knee locking up, how to make an accurate knee pain diagnosis and what you can do to treat it.

Swelling is a common problem with knee pain.  The location and severity of the swelling helps to make an accurate knee pain diagnosis

Virtually any knee problem may be accompanied by swelling, but different types of swelling lead to different knee pain diagnosis e.g. whether it comes on suddenly or builds up gradually.

In the knee swelling section we look at the most common causes of swelling for knee pain diagnosis. 

Calf muscle cramps can be caused by a number of different things

Muscle cramp is a common problem, particularly during or after exercise, or at night time. It can been extremely painful and whilst the cramping may only last for a few minutes, the calf may remain painful for a few hours or even days.

Find out about the most common causes of cramp in the lower leg including diagnosis, symptoms and treatment options in the calf cramps section.

Knee stiffness may develop as a result of an injury or a medical condition.  It may develop suddenly or gradually and often fluctuates.  Stiffness when you first wake up that settles once you’re moving about is a classic feature of Osteoarthritis, which is most common in the over 50’s.

In the stiff knee section, we look at the most common causes of knee stiffness, how to make an accurate knee pain diagnosis, and the most effective treatment option .

A great deal of force goes through the knee when we do any activities with a bent knee e.g.squatting down places a force seven times body weight through the knee.  There may be a problem inside the knee joint or in one of the surrounding soft tissues. 

You can find out about the most common causes and how to treat them in the Knee Pain When Bending section.

Pain When Kneeling

Thinking about your specific symptoms helps make an accurate diagnosis eg do you get knee pain when you are kneeling down?

Kneeling puts pressure through the front of the knee and primarily aggravates three conditions: 

Housemaids Knee: a common problem for people who spend long periods kneeling e.g. carpet layers
Osgood Schlatters: common in adolescents, particularly after a growth spurt.  
Arthritis: wear and tear or sometimes inflammation. Most common over the age of 50

Pain When Sitting

Knee Pain Diagnosis looks at symptoms like pain when sitting for long periods to help you work out what is causing your knee pain.

Some conditions tend to get worse with prolonged inactivity e.g. office workers sitting for long periods.  The pain may start while you are sitting or when you first get up. The most common causes are:
Runners Knee: causes pain and stiffness at the front of the knee
Arthritis: changes in the bone caused by wear and tear or inflammation
Osgood Schlatters: common in adolescents, particularly after a growth spurt. 

Knee Gives Way

This is when the knee buckles underneath you without you being able to control it. You may stumble or fall to the ground. 

1) Ligament injury,  usually caused by sudden twisting, a force through the knee or the knee bending backwards the wrong way.
2) Meniscus tears often make the knee feel unstable and can occasionally cause the knee to give way

Find out more about each of these by using the links above to make an accurate knee pain diagnosis.

Bony Lump 

A bony lump just below the kneecap is a classic sign of Osgood Schlatters, which is common in teenagers/young adults particularly after a growth spurt. Tension on the tendon just below the kneecap damages the bone, often resulting in a hard lump on the front of the shin.

Find out more about the common causes, symptoms, knee pain diagnosis and treatment options in the Osgood Schlatter section.

3. Diagnosis By How the Pain Started

Another important part of knee pain 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 so accurate knee pain diagnosis is vital.

A twisted knee often results in ligament injuries

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 making an accurate knee pain diagnosis for 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.

More About Knee Pain Diagnosis

So here we have looked at three different ways to make a knee pain diagnosis, by location, by symptoms and by the onset. You can find out everything you need to know about each of these by using the links above. You may now find the right things first time, but by using these tools, you will get there. But remember, the best way to get an accurate knee injury diagnosis is to see your doctor/physical therapist. 

If you want to know how to get rid of your pain, visit the knee pain treatment section for a variety of treatment options.

Remember, the best way to get an accurate knee pain diagnosis is to see your doctor/physical therapist and it is essential to understand what is causing your pain to be able to treat it.

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