Knee Pain Diagnosis Chart

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

A knee pain diagnosis chart can be a really useful tool to help you work out why you have pain in your knee. There are lots of different structures in and around the knee that can cause pain.

Knowing what typically causes pain in each area of the knee makes it easier to reach an accurate knee pain self diagnosis.

Front Knee Pain Diagnosis Chart

Anterior Knee Pain Diagnosis Chart. This knee pain injury chart helps you to work out what is causing your front knee pain.

This first knee pain diagnosis chart focuses on pain at the front of the knee. Then next one, further down, looks at pain behind the knee.

A. Pain Above the Knee Cap (yellow)

Quadriceps Tendinopathy: Damage to the quadriceps tendon causing pain above the kneecap that is worse with activity. LEARN MORE>

B. Outer Knee Pain (blue)

Iliotibial Band Syndrome: Most common. Irritation of the thick band on the outer leg. Pain may be extend up towards the hip on the outer thigh. LEARN MORE>

Lateral Meniscus Tear: Damage to the lateral portion on the knee cartilage. Can make it difficult to straighten the knee. LEARN MORE>

Lateral Collateral Ligament Injury: Overstretching and tearing of the LCL usually from awkward knee twisting or a large force through the side of the knee. LEARN MORE>

C. Pain At The Kneecap (red)

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: Most common. Caused by a problem with how the kneecap moves. LEARN MORE>

Chondromalacia Patella: Damage to the cartilage on the back of the kneecap. Typically affects healthy people under the age of 40. LEARN MORE>

Arthritis: Wear and tear or degeneration of the knee bones and cartilage. Typically affects over the 60's. LEARN MORE>

Housemaids Knee: Inflammation of the prepatellar bursa, often causing localised swelling at the front of the knee. Can occur at any age, most commonly in people who spend lots of time kneeling. LEARN MORE>

D. Inner Knee Pain (purple)

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Sprain: Most Common. Overstretching or tear of the MCL from knee twisting injury. Typically affects the under 50's. LEARN MORE>

Medial Meniscus Tear: Damage to the knee cartilage either through injury (typically under 50's) or wear and tear (typically over 50's). Often associated with knee locking and swelling. LEARN MORE>

Arthritis: Gradual onset of knee pain due to wear and tear of the knee cartilage and bones. Typically affects the over 60's and more common on inner side of the knee than the outer. LEARN MORE>

E. Medial Knee Pain Below The Knee (green)

Medial Plica Syndrome: Inflammation of the synovial membrane in the knee joint. Often associated with knee clicking. LEARN MORE>

Pes Anserine Bursitis: Inflammation of the pes anserine bursa. Pain felt approximately 2 inches below the knee, often associated with a pocket of swelling. LEARN MORE>

F. Pain Below The Knee (orange)

Patellar Tendonitis: Most common. Damage to the patellar tendon, thickening of the tendon, pain worse with repetitive activities e.g. jumping. LEARN MORE>

Osgood Schlatters Disease: Affects adolescents and children typically after a growth spurt. Pain is felt at the top of the shin bone and there is often a hard bony lump. LEARN MORE>

Osteochondritis Dissecans: Decreased blood flow to the knee bones leads to degeneration, thinning and tearing of the knee bones and cartilage. Most common between the ages of 10-20. LEARN MORE>

Sinding-Larsen-Johansson (SLJ) Disease: Affects adolescents and children. Pain similar to OSD but slightly higher, just below the kneecap. 

Posterior Knee Pain Diagnosis Chart

Posterior Knee Pain Diagnosis Chart. This knee pain injury chart helps you to work out what is causing pain behind your knee

This knee pain diagnosis chart focuses on pain at the back of the knee.

A. Pain Behind The Knee (red)

Bakers Cyst: Most common cause of pain and swelling behind the knee. Inflammation of the popliteal bursa. LEARN MORE>

Arthritis: Degeneration of the knee cartilage and bones causing pain and stiffness, especially in the morning. LEARN MORE>

ACL Tear: Injury to the anterior cruciate ligament from twisting or force through the knee. Usually associated with knee instability. LEARN MORE>

PCL Tear: Injury to the posterior cruciate ligament - less common than ACL Injury. Typically injured in RTA, fall or sports. LEARN MORE>

Hyperextension Injury: Where the knee bends too far backwards causing pain, swelling and restricted movement.  LEARN MORE>

B. Posterolateral Knee Pain (blue)

Biceps Femoris Tendinopathy: Inflammation, degeneration or a tear in biceps femoris, one of the hamstrings muscles. Common problem for runners, frequently misdiagnosed as ITBS.

C. Posteromedial Knee Pain (yellow)

Hamstring Tendinopathy: Inflammation or degeneration of the two hamstring muscles on the inner side of the knee (semimembranosus or semitendinosus). Fairly uncommon, usually affecting long distance runners or climbers.

D. Lateral Pain Below The Knee (purple)

Lateral Head of Gastrocnemius Injury: Tear of the lateral head of the superficial calf muscle. Rarely injured in isolation, usually associated with ligaments and/or cartilage damage. LEARN MORE>

E. Medial Pain Below The Knee (pink)

Medial Head of Gastrocnemius Injury: Tear of the medial head of the superficial calf muscle. Usually injured when the pushing off the foot whilst the knee is straight and the ankle is flexed. LEARN MORE>

F. Pain Below The Knee (green)

Calf Muscle Cramps: Sudden spasming of the calf muscles. May be extremely painful but usually settles within a few minutes. LEARN MORE>

Calf Tear: Overstretching or tearing of one of the calf muscles, usually during sports. Typically instant pain with immediate swelling and bruisingLEARN MORE>

DVT: A blood clot in one of the deep leg veins. Associated with intense pain, swelling, redness, heat and tenderness. A DVT is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical intervention.

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Understanding Knee Pain Diagnosis

Understanding what is causing your knee pain is the first, crucial step to overcoming knee pain. The knee pain diagnosis charts here are very useful visual tool to help you work out what is wrong.

You can find out loads more about these conditions by using the links above. Alternatively, if you want some more guidance, visit the knee pain diagnosis section.

There are lots of other causes of knee pain that don't appear on either of these knee pain diagnosis charts e.g. gout knee.  They tend to cause more general, widespread knee pain, rather than pain in a specific locations so haven't been included here on these knee pain diagnosis chart. You can find out more in the common knee conditions section.

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

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1. American Family Physician Journal. Evaluation of patients presenting with knee pain: Part II. Differential diagnosis. September 2003

2. British Medical Journal Best Practice. Assessment of Knee Injury. June 2018

3. MedscapeEvaluating Knee Pain: The Latest in Diagnosis and Management. June 2017