What is Causing My Knee Pain?

05/18/2021 • Scott Maddalo M.D., M.S.

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Knee pain is one of the most common reasons patients come into the doctor’s office. Frequent knee pain affects almost 25% of adults and causes limitation in mobility and function along with reduced quality of life. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of knee pain in people over 50 years old with 37% of those 60 years and older having it confirmed by x-ray. Women are more often affected than men. Untreated knee pain can lead to severe chronic pain that is difficult to manage and treat. Osteoarthritis of the knee causes pain, stiffness, reduced joint motion and muscle weakness. These limitations reduce functionality and quality of life. In this post, different causes of knee pain will be discussed.

Most people assume that their knee pain does not need medical attention because the injury is not significant or is related to some form of trauma. While this is often the case, damage to your knee joint can also occur slowly over time and affect you just as much as a significant accident or injury.

Any pain you are experiencing is a sign that something is not right and the earlier the cause can be accurately determined, the faster you will get to being healed and fully functional again. Some common causes for non-trauma related knee pain are described below:


Either rheumatoid arthritis* or osteoarthritis* can cause severe knee pain, even without a fall or injury. Osteoarthritis can be characterized by the pain and swelling you continue to feel as you age. While joints, such as the knee, are very strong they are not indestructible. The soft tissue and bone inevitably wear down over time from continued use. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis are a result of the immune system attacked your own tissue and lead to joint damage. If you suspect rheumatoid arthritis is behind your knee pain, you might have pain in other joints, as well.

Ligament or Meniscus Tear

There is a misconception that if a tear is causing your knee pain, you must have experienced a traumatic injury. While many anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus tears can be caused by an injury, it is not always the case. General wear and tear over time can also cause tears within your knee, causing a great deal of pain and limitation in function. Years of stretching the ACL or applying pressure to the meniscus can lead to a point where the tissue breaks down and leads to pain.


Bursitis can affect anyone and generally results from overuse. Bursa are fluid filled sacs around the body that protect your bones from rubbing against each other. When a joint like the knee is used a lot, it can lead to inflammation within these “cushions” and lead to pain that can be dull or sharp.


Tendons are soft tissue structures that connect muscle to bone. Tendinitis results from overuse  and in the knee may be referred to as ‘jumper’s knee.’ Those that run frequently or perform a lot of jumping activity can feel this over time. Often when beginning a new exercise program tendinitis pain can occur but with rest and gradual increase in activity the pain usually resolves. This particular pain is usually localized under your patella, or knee cap.

Final Thoughts

Many causes of pain in the knee are related to repetitive motion and stress. It is common to think that only a traumatic event leading to an injury causes cause knee pain, but everyday use of the knee joint will cause wear and tear that can lead to a variety of injuries. You should see your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to recover your function and get pain relief. Most injuries or causes of pain will resolve and heal with rest and time but imaging, pain relief devices, medications, injections or even surgery may be necessary to help you.


*Quell is intended to treat lower extremity chronic pain such as knee pain.  It has not been reviewed or cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for specific medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

The Content in this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this post.

NeuroMetrix compensated Dr. Maddalo to share his perspectives on knee pain. The thoughts and opinions in this blog post are his own.

About The Author
Scott Maddalo M.D., M.S.

Dr. Maddalo is an expert in pain management with a focus on non-pharmacologic approaches to treatment. He received his M.D. from New York University School of Medicine. He is board certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. His background includes a M.S. degree in Clinical Investigation from New York University. Currently, Dr. Maddalo is the pain management physician for Hudson Valley Bone and Joint Surgeons, which is a highly respected Orthopedic Surgery group in Westchester County, NY.

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