Knee Symptoms

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

Common knee symptoms

Knee symptoms vary greatly depending on what is going on in and around the knee joint. There may be burning knee pain, sharp pain, instability, stiffness or difficulty with certain activities.

Each of these knee symptoms indicates different problems in the knee joint, and by thinking about what we feel, we can work out what is wrong and what to do to treat it.

Knee symptoms may indicate a fairly minor problem such as cartilage irritation or a minor ligament sprain, or they may be a sign of a more serious problem such as advanced arthritis or a ligament tear.

Common Knee Symptoms

Here we will look at the most common symptoms associated with knee pain and how to use those symptoms to work out what is wrong. From there, you can find the best way to treat your knee pain and stop it from coming back.

Common knee symptoms include:

  1. Knee Pain From Running
  2. Noisy Knee Pain & Popping
  3. Knee Pain On Stairs
  4. Locked Knee
  5. Leg & Knee Swelling
  6. Knee Pain At Night
  7. Burning Knee Pain
  8. Sharp Knee Pain
  9. Knee Pain When Squatting
  10. Knee Pain Kneeling
  11. Bony Lump On Knee
  12. Pain When Sitting
  13. Leg & Calf Muscle Cramps
  14. Knee Giving Way
  15. Severe Knee Pain

Think about your knee symptoms. Are there particular activities when you really notice the pain or things you just don't like to do anymore because it hurts too much? Does your knee make strange noises? Does it look slightly different to the other knee?

Let's look at the most common knee symptoms and what they mean.

Running Knee Pain

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. 

Noisy Knees

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

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

In the Noisy Knee Pain section we look at the possible causes, how to tell which one is causing your knee symptoms and how to treat them.

Knee Pain On Stairs

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.

Locked Knee

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. In most cases, it stops you being able to straighten the knee and have to wiggle the knee around before it will then move.

In the knee locking section we look at all the possible causes for the knee locking up, the associated knee symptoms and what you can do to treat them.

Knee Swelling

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. It may come on suddenly or build up gradually.

In the knee swelling section we look at the most common causes of swelling, what they mean, commonly associated knee symptoms and how to treat them.

Pain At Night

Common Knee Symptoms: Knee Pain At Night. What causes it and how to relieve nocturnal knee pain

Struggling to get to sleep at night or being woken up by knee pain? You are not alone. 

In the knee pain at night section we look at the common causes of nocturnal knee pain and how to relieve and prevent them

Burning Knee Pain

Burning knee pain is a common knee symptoms and may indicate a problem in the joint or from neural irritation.

Burning knee pain usually indicates that there is swelling inside the knee joint from a medical condition or an injury. Or it may be a sign of a problem elsewhere e.g. nerve compression or underlying medical condition.

In the burning knee pain section we look at all the possible causes, associated knee symptoms and how to treat them.

Sharp Knee Pain

Sharp knee pain is a common symptom usually associated with either a problem in the knee bones or surrounding nerves

A sudden, sharp pain in the knee usually indicates one of two things. Either something is getting squashed e.g. bone or soft tissue, or there is a problem in one of the nerves. The pain may be localised to the knee or spread down the leg.

In the sharp knee pain section we look at the possible causes, how they present and what activities are typically affected.

Pain With Squats

Knee Symptoms: Knee pain when squatting

Forces up to 7x bodyweight go through the knee when we squat so it's no wonder knee pain with squats is such a common problem.

Most cases are due to a combination of muscle weakness and poor technique. Find out how you to beat you knee pain when squatting

Pain 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 which can cause pain and inflammation. 

There may be a burning, stinging, aching or stabbing pain depending on what is wrong.

Find out about the common causes of knee pain kneeling and treatment.

Knee Stiffness

Knee stiffness 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 common causes of knee stiffness, how to make an accurate knee pain diagnosis, and the most effective treatment options.

Knee Pain Bending

A great deal of force goes through the knee when we do any activities with a bent knee making pain a common problem when bending. 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 the associated knee symptoms in the Knee Pain When Bending section.

Location of Pain

Thinking about where your knee symptoms are is a great way to work out what is wrong with your knee

Another option is to think about where the majority of your knee symptoms are. There may be front knee pain, swelling behind the knee, discomfort on the side of the knee or it may be the kneecap that is causing problems.

Visit the knee pain diagnosis section to work out what your symptoms mean by where they are in the knee. 

Bony Lump 

A lump below the kneecap often indicates Osgood Schlatter Disease. Image source

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

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

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 knee symptoms get worse with prolonged inactivity e.g. office workers sitting for long periods.  The pain may start while sitting or when you first get up. 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. 

Leg Cramps

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.

You can find out all about the most common causes of cramp in the lower leg including diagnosis, symptoms and treatment in the cramp section.

Knee Gives Way

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

Knee giving way usually indicates:

Ligament injury: usually caused by twisting, a force through the knee or the knee bending backwards 

Meniscus tear: often makes the knee feel unstable and can occasionally cause the knee to give way

Severe Knee Pain

Severe knee pain can be extremely concerning and unpleasant. It is often accompanied by other symptoms such as swelling, instability, redness and an obvious deformity. The pain may come on very suddenly or gradually over time and symptoms may fluctuate.

In this section we look at the most common causes of severe knee pain, how to work out which one you are suffering from and how to treat it. 

When To See Your Doctor

Some knee symptoms may be a sign that there is something serious going on. See you doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the following knee symptoms:

  1. You are unable to take any weight on your leg
  2. Your knee is giving way / collapsing when you stand or walk
  3. Your knee movement is markedly reduced
  4. There is severe knee swelling
  5. You are in severe pain
  6. There is an obvious deformity of your leg
  7. You knee pain is accompanied by redness, swelling and you are feeling unwell/have a fever
  8. You notice any changes in bladder/bowel function, vision or sensation in your leg
  9. You have had any unexplained weight loss

If you are at all worried about your knee symptoms, even if you don't have any of the ones listed above, do get checked out by your doctor. 

Page Last Updated: 03/16/22
Next Review Due: 03/16/24

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1. Clinical Journal of Pain: The influence of knee pain location on symptoms, functional status and knee-related quality of life in older adults with chronic knee pain. June 2016