The hinge-like movement of your knee is supported by a network of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

But these tissues can cause knee pain if they are overused, become inflamed, or are subject to a blow or other injury. Each element of the knee is susceptible to some common sports injuries.

The bones and soft tissues of the knee work together to allow its hinge-like movement. Read: Guide to Knee Joint Anatomy

Many of the symptoms for knee injuries are similar, which is why the diagnosis of a doctor or sports specialist is important to say definitely what's causing your knee pain.

But if you know the main causes of knee pain—and the occasional distinctive symptoms—you're closer to the diagnosis and treatment you need.


Bone or kneecap injuries

Bone dislocation can occur if the femur (thigh bone) or tibia (shin bone) get out of alignment, or if the patella (kneecap) slips out of place. The patella can also be fractured. These are almost always as a result of severe trauma, such as a fall or car accident.

See What Is a Dislocated Kneecap?

Both patellar fractures and dislocations cause knee pain, but the pattern is slightly different: For a dislocation, the pain will be sharp but fade with rest. Patellar fractures, on the other hand, tend to cause sharp pain immediately after injury, then remain consistently aching throughout healing.

See About Acute Patellar Injuries

Ligament injuries

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) crisscrosses with one other ligament in the knee. It keeps the knee aligned and prevents it from slipping forward or backward. However, it's prone to rips or tears, particularly when the knee twists sideways. An ACL tear is a common sports injury, and women are more prone to it.

See Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tears

ACL injuries almost always occur after a sudden blow or pivot. They can also occur when the knee is hyperextended. People hear a "pop," then experience pain and a feeling of the knee "giving out" from under them.

See Understanding Knee Hyperextension

The ACL is the most common ligament injured, but three other knee ligaments can also cause problems when injured, usually as a result of a blow to the front or side of the knee.

See The 4 Types of Knee Sprains

Tendon injuries

Two tendons in the knee can also cause knee pain if injured. The patellar tendon attaches your kneecap to your tibia. It can become inflamed and cause pain when it's jarred from below repeatedly; this is why it's also known as "jumper’s knee."

See Symptoms and Diagnosis of Jumper’s Knee

Pain can also originate from the tendon between the kneecap and femur. This is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PPS) or "runner's knee."

See What You Need to Know About Runner’s Knee

As these nicknames imply, tendons are often injured through overuse. Pain may be minor and felt only when exercising, but more severe cases can affect daily activities. Tendon injuries may also cause swelling, redness, or warmth.

Cartilage injuries

The C-shaped pad of cartilage between the femur and tibia is known as the meniscus. The meniscus can be torn either through a single traumatic injury or a series of smaller traumas over time. A torn meniscus causes knee pain, swelling, stiffness, and sometimes locking or instability of the knee.

See Symptoms of Meniscal Tears

Knee pain from arthritis

Knee pain can also be the result of damage to the knee joint from arthritis. Knee osteoarthritis risk factors include age, being overweight, family history, or a history of knee trauma, such as one of the injuries listed above.

If you're experiencing knee pain or stiffness that comes and goes, or pain that gets worse after inactivity (such as when you get up in the morning), this may be the result of arthritis.

To learn more about the ways arthritis can affect the knees, visit Arthritis-health's article: What Is Knee Osteoarthritis?

Both knee injuries and knee arthritis have treatment options that can decrease pain and help you maintain mobility and strength, so see your doctor if you're having trouble with knee pain.

Learn more:

ACL Tear Treatment Options

Common Running Injuries: Knee Pain

Carrie DeVries worked as the content marketing manager at Veritas Health. Carrie combined a background of writing and editing, marketing, and patient education to best serve the consumers, patients, and physicians who rely the Veritas Health sites for information.