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Knee pain

5-minute read

See your doctor urgently if you have a fever, new knee pain and your knee is red and swollen.

Key facts

  • Knee pain can be caused by an injury or a medical condition.
  • Treatment of knee pain depends on the cause — treatments can include losing weight, low impact exercises and strengthening exercises.
  • If left untreated some knee conditions (such as arthritis) can cause ongoing knee pain and joint damage.
  • If you have a lot of pain, and you can't put any weight on your knee, see a doctor.

What is knee pain?

Knee pain is a common symptom that can occur suddenly or over time. There are many possible causes, including an injury or medical conditions (such as arthritis). Knee pain is also more common as you get older.

What are the symptoms related to knee pain?

You may feel pain in different areas of the knee. Some of these include:

  • pain in your knee joint — the pain can move up and down your leg
  • pain at the front of your knee — caused by bursitis or arthritis
  • pain on the sides of your knee — caused by an injury or arthritis
  • pain in the back of your knee — caused by arthritis or cysts, known as Baker's cysts

If you have knee pain, you may get other symptoms such as:

  • swelling, redness or heat in the knee
  • bruising around the knee
  • your knee 'giving way'
  • locking or clicking
  • difficulty straightening your knee

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes knee pain?

Knee pain may be due to different reasons.

Injury-related causes of knee pain include:

  • damage to parts of your knee — including the bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons or muscles
  • bursitis — which is swelling of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the knee

Arthritis related causes of knee pain include:

Other causes of knee pain include patellofemoral pain syndrome. This is where you have pain around your kneecap (patella) where it runs over the end of the thigh bone (femur). This can be due to your kneecap being poorly aligned.

How is the cause of knee pain diagnosed?

Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and examine your knee.

Your doctor may order some tests including:

  • blood tests
  • imaging, such as an x-ray, ultrasound or MRI scan
  • knee joint aspiration — where a small amount of fluid is taken from the space around your knee joint using a needle

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor if:

  • you can't move your knee
  • you can't put any weight on your knee
  • if your knee locks or gives way
  • your knee is very painful

When should I seek urgent care?

You should go to an emergency department if:

  • your knee is badly swollen or has changed shape
  • you have a fever and a red and hot knee
  • your knee pain is caused by a major injury

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is knee pain treated?

If you have knee pain and swelling due to an injury:

  • avoid putting weight on your knee
  • use an ice pack for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours

Self-care at home

If you have injured your knee, you can start treatment at home. Read more about initial treatment of knee injuries.

If your knee pain is caused by osteoarthritis you can help to relieve your symptoms by:

See your doctor if the pain doesn't improve after a few days.

Medicines for knee pain

Your doctor may suggest medicines for your knee pain. These include:

Other treatment options

Other treatment options for knee pain include:

  • strapping or a brace to support your knee
  • foot orthotics to improve the way you walk
  • physiotherapy
  • surgery

Can knee pain be prevented?

You can decrease your chances of getting knee pain by doing some types of exercise and keeping a healthy weight.

Exercise

Check with your doctor or physiotherapist before starting exercise.

Regular exercise may help to prevent knee pain and strengthening exercises can help strengthen the muscles around your knee.

Always warm up before you exercise and cool down after you exercise.

Weight loss

Being overweight puts more pressure on your knees. Even a small amount of weight loss can help lessen your knee pain.

Complications of knee pain

Most knee pain is not serious.

If left untreated some knee injuries and medical conditions (such as arthritis) cause ongoing knee pain and joint damage.

After a knee injury you are more likely to have a similar injury in the future.

Resources and support

Visit the Australian Physiotherapy Association to find out more about physiotherapy or to find a physiotherapist.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024


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