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The causes of knee pain in relation to knee anatomy, and when to see help

The causes of knee pain in relation to knee anatomy and discuss when it's appropriate to seek medical help. Understanding the knee's complex structure can shed light on the possible sources of pain. Here's a breakdown:


The knee joint comprises three bones: the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), and patella (kneecap). Fractures or stress fractures in any of these bones can cause significant knee pain.


Articular cartilage lines the ends of the femur, tibia, and patella, allowing smooth joint movement. When the cartilage wears down due to factors like aging, overuse, or arthritis, it can lead to knee pain, stiffness, and swelling (osteoarthritis).


Ligaments provide stability to the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) are commonly injured in activities involving sudden stops or changes in direction, resulting in pain and instability.


The menisci are C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as shock absorbers in the knee. Tears in the meniscus often occur from twisting or pivoting movements, causing pain, swelling, and sometimes locking or catching sensations.


The patellar tendon connects the patella to the tibia, enabling knee extension. Overuse or repetitive stress on the tendon can lead to patellar tendinitis (jumper's knee), causing pain just below the patella.


Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that cushion and reduce friction in the knee joint. Inflammation or irritation of these bursae (bursitis) can occur due to repetitive motions or direct trauma, resulting in localised pain and swelling.

Knowing when to seek medical help for knee pain is essential. Consider the following signs that indicate a need for professional evaluation:

· Severe pain that limits mobility or prevents weight-bearing

· Inability to fully extend or flex the knee

· Swelling, redness, or warmth around the knee joint

· Locking or catching sensations in the knee during movement

· Signs of infection (fever, increased redness, or drainage from the knee)

· Progressive or worsening pain over time

· History of a significant knee injury or trauma

If any of these signs are present, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional, such as an orthopaedic specialist or a sports medicine physician. They can conduct a thorough evaluation, including a medical history, physical examination, and potentially imaging studies, to determine the cause of knee pain and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Early intervention and accurate diagnosis are crucial for optimising outcomes and preventing further damage or complications.

Learn more about Professor Paul Lee.

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