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Knee pain

Many of us will experience knee pain at some point in our lives. Although it can be very painful, it is rarely serious. For most people knee pain will normally resolve within 6-12 weeks without any treatment.

Common causes

A number of factors have been associated with knee pain. These include:

  • A sprain/strain or injury such as a twist or fall.
  • A sudden increase or decrease in your normal activity or exercise levels.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Other conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia.
  • Following a period of increased stress, worry or low mood.
  • Following a period of poor sleep, fatigue or feeling run down.
  • Other lifestyle factors such as being overweight and smoking.
  • A flare up of longstanding knee pain.


Common symptoms

These include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Giving way

You may experience constant or intermittent (comes and goes) symptoms that are aggravated by certain activities and reduced by others.


What can I do to help it?

  • In the first few days after an onset of knee pain, changing or reducing your usual activities may help. However, there is strong evidence that keeping active and gradually returning to all your usual activities and exercise will help you recover.
  • It is normal to experience some pain during your recovery, but it does not mean you are causing any harm or damage to your knee.
  • Try to stay at work or return as soon as you are able. Your employer, GP or health practitioner will be able to advise on how to return to your normal work duties.

Try some of these self-help tips to aid your recovery:

  • Apply a heat or icepack to the painful area – for up to 15 minutes. Never apply heat or ice directly to the skin.
  • A short course of simple pain medication as advised by your pharmacist or GP may help reduce pain and allow you to move more comfortably.
  • Keep moving. Regular movement and exercise is safe and helpful for knee pain. It is important to build up gradually – the exercise or activity you enjoy most, is likely to help your recovery.
  • Try and get a good night’s sleep e.g., place a pillow between your knees, and rest your leg on the pillow when lying on your non-painful side.
  • Good sleep habits and managing stress may help you cope better with your pain.


Facts about knee pain

  • Knee pain is common WITHOUT any damage to your joints, ligaments, or tendons.
  • X-rays and scans often DO NOT show the cause of your pain.
  • Movement and exercise is NOT harmful for your knee joint.
  • Your knee can become stronger and healthier with regular movement and exercise.
  • Walking and general exercises such as squatting are safe and great exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knee - as long as you build them up gradually.
  • Creaking or clicking knee joints are common in people without knee pain. It is a rarely a sign of harm or damage.
  • If you are overweight - losing weight by getting more active and improving your diet can improve your knee pain by reducing inflammation in your body and the load on your knee joint.
  • Improving your sleep and general health are all also important for your knee pain.


When should I seek medical advice?

Call your GP surgery if

  • Your pain is getting worse.
  • You have tried the self-help tips for 3-4 weeks and the symptoms have not improved.


Seek immediate medical advice if

  • After an injury e.g. a fall or twisting movement
    • you’ve difficulty standing or walking
    • If you are unable to straighten your knee e.g., gets stuck in one position
    • If your knee is swollen and or giving way
  • You have a fever, and your knee is hot, red, swollen and painful.


Do I need an X-Ray or scan?

  • X-rays or scans or are NOT usually required to diagnose knee pain.
  • X-rays or scans are NOT able to tell us how much pain you are experiencing.
  • X-rays and scans often show meniscal tears, joint narrowing and osteoarthritis which are common in people WITHOUT knee pain. These findings are unlikely to change the way you manage your pain.
  • X-rays and scans are best used where a serious injury (e.g., a broken bone) or conditions such as cancer or infection are suspected.


Do I need a fit note?


Useful websites and resources


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