- SYMPTOMS - Knee
SYMPTOMS - Knee
Which symptoms (complaints) typically go with which diagnoses? Learn more below about pain, giving way, locking and swelling.
The location of your pain is the most important part in determining what may be going on in your knee.
- Pain on the sides of your knee (inside = "medial", outside = "lateral") can be related to injuries to the collateral ligaments, meniscus tears, or arthritis.
- Pain on the front of the knee is usually related to softening of the cartilage under the patella (kneecap). It can also be caused by arthritis, and certain types of tendonitis.
- Pain in the back of the knee can be caused by arthritis or cysts, known as Baker's cysts.
Pain on the outside part of your knee
This outside part of the knee is the side where the palm of your corresponding hand would touch. This is known as the LATERAL side of your knee. This area can be further subdivided into those above and at the spot where your joint begins. This is where your femur (thighbone) meets your tibia (shinbone). You can locate this by sitting with your knee bent to 90 degrees such as in a chair and feeling the soft slope of the outerpart of your knee. Follow this slope down till your finger touches a soft part. This soft spot should be your joint line. Pain at the joint line may mean you have a tear in your cartilage ring called the meniscus or a tear/sprain of your lateral collateral ligament. Pain above your joint line may mean you have some problems with either your kneecap (patella), your lateral collateral ligament (LCL), or even some prolonged swelling of your knee causing some strain onto your joint capsule. Pain on the outside of your knee can also be due to arthritis.
Pain on the inside part of your knee
The inside of the knee is the side closest to your other knee. This side is known as the MEDIAL side of your knee. Again, this area can be subdivided into three major areas. The first is the spot where your joint begins otherwise known as your joint line. This is where your femur (thighbone) meets your tibia (shinbone). Again it is easiest to locate this spot with your knee bent at 90 degrees. At the corner of this angle is your joint line. Pain at this site may mean you have a tear in your cartilage ring called the meniscus. Because your collateral ligament is attached to your medial meniscus, you may also have an injury to your collateral ligament — the medial collateral ligament (MCL). Pain on the inside of your knee can also be due to arthritis.
Pain above your joint line may mean that you have an injury to your collateral ligament or even some swelling to the capsule of your joint from another injury somewhere else in your knee.
The are below the joint line is located by feeling down only a few inches from the joint line along your shinbone. If you have pain just below your joint line you may have either a bursitis of an area where three tendons come together to attach to your shinbone called the pes bursa. This received its name because it resembles the foot of a duck and pes is Latin for foot. If your pain is more to the middle of your knee, this may due to an injury to your MCL.
Pain on the front of your knee
This is one of the easiest areas to find since you see this very easily. The pain on the front of your knee can be easily split into areas at, above or below your patella (kneecap).
Pain located directly over your patella usually mean you have something wrong with your patella or the soft tissue over the patella. Pain deep inside your knee usually means your problem is at your patella such as a problem with the way it tracks over your femur or even softening of your cartilage surface. This is called chondromalacia patella. If you have had a serious injury to your knee, pain deep in this area could be due to a fracture (break). Pain in the soft tissue above your patella may mean your have a bursitis. The bursitis may be due to overuse, trauma or even infection. Finally, the pain under your kneecap could simply be due to arthritis in that area of the knee.
Pain located above your patella may be due to an injury to the tendon connecting your thigh muscle (quadriceps) to your patella. This is known as the quadriceps tendon. Another reason you may have pain in this area may be due to swelling in your joint causing an aching pain over the joint capsule.
Pain located below your patella may be due to an injury to the tendon connecting your patella to your tibia (shinbone). This is known as your patellar tendon. Pain in the area below your patella may also be due to calcium deposits in the patellar tendon, or if you are younger than 18 years old, you may have injured the growth plate where the tendon attaches to the tibia.
Pain behind the knee
Pain located behind the knee may be due to swelling of a cyst called a Baker's Cyst. This does not mean that you will start to look like the Pillsbury Doughboy, but is named after a famous surgeon named Baker. The cyst is usually due to a weakening of the lining of your joint. When you knee swells, the fluid pushes out the back of your knee to cause the cyst to enlarge. Many things can cause you knee to swell such as a tear in your meniscus or ligaments. You may even have arthritis or just a minor tear of the cartilage surface.
WARNING: pain that is so severe that it inhibits you're walking or, if your pain persists for over 72 hours, please seek medical evaluation.
Giving way (instability)
This is the feeling of instability of the knee. The knee feels like it is loose or wants to give out on you. Some people say it is like "walking on rollerskates". This can be related to ligament injuries (e.g., ACL tear), arthritis, a dislocating kneecap, and meniscus tears.
If it feels as if your knee was going to give out from underneath your body, you should seek medical help for further evaluation. Giving away may be due to five major reasons.
- The first is a tear of your cartilage rings called menisci. This type of giving away is usually a feeling of instability of your knee especially with squatting or descending stairs.
- The second is due to a tear of your cruciate ligaments located in the center of your knee. This is more of a true giving away with an actual buckling of your knee. Most people have had some sort of major injury to their knee associated with this condition. Most can recall a "pop" of the knee and significant swelling at the time of the injury. If this is occurring often, you can usually predict when it is going to happen such as rapid pivoting or cutting movements.
- The third reason that your knee could give way is because you have a tear of your collateral ligaments. There are two major collateral ligaments - the MCL (on the inside of your knee) and the LCL (on the outside of your knee). Your MCL is the one most commonly torn, and sometimes it tears when the ACL does as well.
- The fourth reason is usually due to problems with your kneecap (patella) moving out of its groove on the femur. This is usually associated with a sudden click to the kneecap and a feeling of it going back into the groove. This is called patellar instability.
- The fifth reason is usually due to the catching of the uneven surfaces of your joint from arthritis. The grooves and dips in your worn cartilage catches and produces a feeling of giving away. These episodes are unpredictable, but can occur with attempts at squatting or getting up from a chair. Occasionally a free-floating piece of calcified cartilage called a loose body or a "joint mouse" may become caught in your joint producing a giving away or locking feeling.
Locking is the sensation that your knee is getting stuck in a certain position. Learn more about locking.
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