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Knee pain

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Learn more about knee pain: introduction

Knee pain can often be treated at home – you should start to feel better in a few days. See a GP if the pain is very bad or lasts a long time.

How to ease knee pain and swelling

Try these things at first:

  • put as little weight as possible on the knee – for example, avoid standing for a long time
  • use an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a teatowel) on your knee for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours
  • take paracetamol

See a GP if:

See a GP if:

  • it doesn't improve within a few weeks
  • you can't move your knee or put any weight on it
  • your knee locks, painfully clicks or gives way – painless clicking is normal

Go to to a minor injuries unit or A&E if:

  • your knee is very painful
  • your knee is badly swollen or has changed shape
  • you have a very high temperature, feel hot and shivery, and have redness or heat around the knee – this can be a sign of infection

Find a minor injuries unit

Common causes of knee pain

Knee pain can be a symptom of many different conditions. A doctor will suggest treatment based on the condition causing your pain. They might:

  • refer you to hospital for a scan or specialist treatment, for example surgery
  • prescribe medication or physiotherapy

Use these links to get an idea of what can be done about knee pain. But don't self-diagnose – see a GP if you're worried.

Knee pain after an injury

Knee symptoms Possible cause
Pain after overstretching, overusing or twisting, often during exercise sprains and strains
Pain between your kneecap and shin, often caused by repetitive running or jumping tendonitis
Unstable, gives way when you try to stand, unable to straighten, may hear a popping sound during injury torn ligament, tendon or meniscus, cartilage damage
Teenagers and young adults with pain and swelling below kneecap Osgood-Schlatter's disease
Kneecap changes shape after a collision or sudden change in direction dislocated kneecap

Knee pain with no obvious injury

Knee symptoms Possible cause
Pain and stiffness in both knees, mild swelling, more common in older people osteoarthritis
Warm and red, kneeling or bending makes pain and swelling worse bursitis
Swelling, warmth, bruising, more likely while taking anticoagulants bleeding in the joint
Hot and red, sudden attacks of very bad pain gout or septic arthritis
Content supplied by the NHS website

Learn more about knee pain: treatment

Sprains and strains are common injuries affecting the muscles and ligaments. Most can be treated at home without seeing a GP.

Check if you have a sprain or strain

It's likely to be a sprain or strain if:

  • you have pain, tenderness or weakness – often around your ankle, foot, wrist, thumb, knee, leg or back
  • the injured area is swollen or bruised
  • you can't put weight on the injury or use it normally
  • you have muscle spasms or cramping – where your muscles painfully tighten on their own
Is it a sprain or a strain?
Sprains Strains
Torn or twisted ligament (tissue that connects the joints) Overstretched or torn muscle (also known as a pulled muscle)
Most common in: wrists, ankles, thumbs, knees Most common in: knees, feet, legs, back

How to treat sprains and strains yourself

For the first couple of days, follow the 4 steps known as RICE therapy to help bring down swelling and support the injury:

  1. Rest – stop any exercise or activities and try not to put any weight on the injury.
  2. Ice – apply an ice pack (or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea towel) to the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  3. Compression – wrap a bandage around the injury to support it.
  4. Elevate – keep it raised on a pillow as much as possible.

To help prevent swelling, try to avoid heat – such as hot baths and heat packs – alcohol and massages for the first couple of days.

When you can move the injured area without pain stopping you, try to keep moving it so the joint or muscle doesn't become stiff.

A pharmacist can help with sprains and strains

Speak to a pharmacist about the best treatment for you. They might suggest tablets, or a cream or gel you rub on the skin.

Painkillers like paracetamol will ease the pain and ibuprofen will bring down swelling. However, you shouldn't take ibuprofen for 48 hours after your injury as it may slow down healing.

Find a pharmacy

How long it takes for a sprain or strain to heal

After 2 weeks, most sprains and strains will feel better. Avoid strenuous exercise such as running for up to 8 weeks, as there's a risk of further damage.

Severe sprains and strains can take months to get back to normal.

You can't always prevent sprains and strains

Sprains and strains happen when you overstretch or twist a muscle. Not warming up before exercising, tired muscles and playing sport are common causes.

See a GP if:

Go to a minor injuries unit if:

  • the injury isn't feeling any better after treating it yourself
  • the pain or swelling is getting worse

Find a minor injuries unit

See a GP if:

  • you also have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery

These could be signs of an infection.

Treatment at a minor injuries unit

You may be given self-care advice or prescribed a stronger painkiller.

If you need an X-ray it might be possible to have one at the unit or you may be referred to hospital.

Physiotherapy for sprains and strains

If you have a sprain or strain that's taking longer than usual to get better, your GP may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist.

Physiotherapy from the NHS might not be available everywhere and waiting times can be long. You can also get it privately.

Find a physiotherapist

Go to A&E or call 999 if:

  • you heard a crack when you had your injury
  • the injured body part has changed shape
  • the injury is numb, discoloured or cold to touch

You may have broken a bone and will need an X-ray.

Content supplied by the NHS website