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Knee Pain


Does this describe your symptoms?



  • Pain in the knee

Causes of Knee Pain

  • Arthritis (e.g., degenerative, gouty, infectious, inflammatory, traumatic)

  • Baker's Cyst (popliteal cyst): This is a fluid collection in a cyst that bulges out from the knee joint. Symptoms include painful or painless swelling in the area behind the knee.

  • Bursitis: Prepatellar bursitis is a fluid filled sack localized on the inferior aspect of the anterior knee.

  • Cellulitis

  • Overuse injury, tendonitis

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (chondromalacia patellae)

  • Trauma (e.g., contusion, dislocation, fracture, sprain, strain)

Some Signs and Symptoms That Could be SERIOUS

  • Severe pain and unable to walk

  • Knee swelling with fever (possibility of infection of knee joint)

  • Unilateral calf pain and/or swelling (possibility of blood clot in leg)

If not, see these topics


When to Call Your Doctor

call now

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • You feel weak or very sick

  • Severe pain (can't stand or walk)

  • Fever and swollen knee joint

  • Redness of skin around knee

  • Pain or swelling in one calf

call within 24 hours

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think you need to be seen

call within 24 hours

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

  • Swollen knee joint

  • Fluid-filled sack just below knee cap

  • Limping

  • Symptoms interfere with work or school

  • Knee pain persists longer than 7 days

  • Knee pain is a recurrent problem

  • Knee giving way (or buckling) when walking, is a recurrent problem

  • Knee locking (i.e., joint gets stuck, catching), is a recurrent problem

home care

Self Care at Home If

  • Mild knee pain and you don't think you need to be seen



  1. Knee Pain after Overuse: Muscle strain and joint irritation are very common following vigorous activity. Such activities include sports like tennis and basketball, jogging, and certain types of work.

    • Local Cold: Apply a cold pack or ice bag (wrapped in a moist towel) to the area for 20 minutes. Repeat in 1 hour, then every 4 hours while awake. Continue this for the first 48 hours after an overuse injury (Reason: reduce the swelling and pain).

    • Local Heat: Beginning 48 hours after an injury, apply a warm washcloth or heating pad for 10 minutes three times a day to help increase circulation and improve healing.

  2. Rest Your Knee for the next couple days. Avoid activities that worsen your pain. Reduce activities that put a lot of strain on the knee joint (e.g., deep knee bends, stair climbing, running).

  3. Pain Medicines:

    • For pain relief, take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen.

    Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol):

    • Take 650 mg by mouth every 4-6 hours. Each Regular Strength Tylenol pill has 325 mg of acetaminophen.

    • Another choice is to take 1,000 mg every 8 hours. Each Extra Strength Tylenol pill has 500 mg of acetaminophen.

    • The most you should take each day is 3,000 mg.

    Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil):

    • Take 400 mg by mouth every 6 hours.

    • Another choice is to take 600 mg by mouth every 8 hours.

    • Use the lowest amount that makes your pain feel better.

    Naproxen (e.g., Aleve):

    • Take 250-500 mg by mouth every 12 hours.

    • Use the lowest amount that makes your pain feel better.

    Extra Notes:

    • Acetaminophen is thought to be safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old. Acetaminophen is in many OTC and prescription medicines. It might be in more than one medicine that you are taking. You need to be careful and not take an overdose. An acetaminophen overdose can hurt the liver.

    • Caution: Do not take acetaminophen if you have liver disease.

    • Caution: Do not take ibuprofen or naproxen if you have stomach problems, kidney disease, are pregnant, or have been told by your doctor to avoid this type of medicine. Do not take ibuprofen or naproxen for more than 7 days without consulting your doctor.

    • Before taking any medicine, read all the instructions on the package

  4. Expected Course: If your knee pain does not get better during the next week or if it recurs, then you should make an appointment with your doctor.

  5. Call Your Doctor If:

    • Knee pain persists longer than 7 days

    • You become worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.