Knee pain is an extremely common symptom that can result from everything from a temporary injury to a chronic condition like arthritis. You can usually treat knee pain at home with rest and over-the-counter medicine. Visit a healthcare provider if you’ve experienced an injury or have knee pain for more than a few days in a row.
Knee pain is pain or discomfort you feel in or around your knee joint.
The knee is the biggest joint in your body, and it absorbs and supports a lot of your weight as you move. That’s why it’s one of the most commonly injured joints. Knee pain can be a temporary, short-term problem, but it can also be a chronic (long-term) issue that needs diagnosis and treatment by a healthcare provider.
Where you feel knee pain usually depends on which part or parts of your joint are damaged. You might feel pain:
Knee pain can come and go. For example, you might feel pain when you’re moving or bending your knee which gets better when you rest. Some people also feel pain at different parts of the day. You could feel more pain first thing in the morning when you wake up. It’s also common to feel knee pain at night, especially if you were physically active earlier that day.
You can usually treat knee pain at home by taking a break from physical activities and taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. Visit a healthcare provider if you’re feeling pain that’s bad enough to affect your daily routine or that’s making it hard to move. See a provider if you experience knee pain that lasts more than a few days without getting better.
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The most common causes of knee pain include:
Physical activities, exercise, playing sports and doing physical work can all stress your knee joint. Doing the same repetitive motion (like jumping a lot, or working on your hands and knees) can cause knee pain.
Knee pain is a symptom of common overuse issues, including:
Any injury that damages your knee joint can cause pain. Knee injuries can include:
Some of the most common injuries that cause knee pain include:
Which treatments you’ll need for knee pain will depend on what’s causing it. A healthcare provider will suggest treatments based on the pain’s severity and its cause.
You can usually treat knee pain at home with the RICE method:
Rest: Stop the physical activity that caused the pain to avoid making the injury worse.
Ice: Apply an ice pack or cold compress for 15 to 20 minutes every hour for the first day after your injury. After one day, you can apply ice every three to four hours. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin (wrap the ice pack in a towel or washcloth).
Compression: Compression helps reduce blood flow to your injured knee and reduces swelling. Apply a compression bandage or wrap it around your knee. A healthcare provider can show you how to apply and wear a compression wrap safely.
Elevation: Keep your knee elevated above the level of your heart. You can prop your knee up with pillows, blankets or cushions.
Your healthcare provider might suggest medications to relieve the knee pain and any other symptoms you’re experiencing.
Most people can take over-the-counter NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Don’t take these medications for more than 10 days in a row without talking to your provider or if you have kidney or liver disease.
A knee brace supports your knee and holds it in place. Knee braces work by keeping your knee in alignment. They’re usually made of stiff plastic or metal with cushions and straps that wrap around your knee and leg. Your provider will tell you which type of brace you’ll need and how often you should wear it.
Your provider might suggest physical therapy if you have arthritis or are recovering from an injury. A physical therapist will show you stretches and exercises that strengthen the muscles around your affected knee. This will improve your stability and can relieve pain.
Most people with knee pain won’t need surgery. But your provider may suggest it if the pain is severe and other treatments haven’t helped. You might need surgery to repair a damaged ligament, bone fracture or if you have severe arthritis.
Knee arthroscopy is the most common type of knee surgery. Your surgeon will make a few small incisions (cuts) in the skin around your knee then insert a special tool called an arthroscope into your knee joint. The arthroscope includes a camera and a light that lets your surgeon see and repair damage inside your knee.
You might need a knee replacement (arthroplasty). Your surgeon will replace your knee joint with an artificial implant (a prosthesis). Your provider might recommend a knee replacement if pain and other symptoms in your knee affect your ability to stand, walk and move. Your surgeon will suggest either a total knee replacement or a partial knee replacement. Which type of surgery you’ll need depends on what’s causing the pain and which parts of your knee are damaged.
Your surgeon will tell you what to expect and how long it’ll take to recover.
You might not always be able to prevent knee pain, especially if it’s caused by an injury you can’t plan for. You may not be able to prevent arthritis and other health conditions, either.
The best way to prevent pain is to stay safe when you’re physically active. During sports or other physical activities:
Follow these general safety tips to reduce your risk of an injury:
Visit a healthcare provider if you have knee pain all the time, or if the pain is intense enough that you change your daily routine or avoid some of your usual activities.
Go to the emergency room or call 911 (or your local emergency services number) if you’ve experienced a trauma like a car accident or severe fall. Go to the ER if you can’t move your knee or leg, or if you think you have a broken bone.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Knee pain is so common that almost everyone’s felt it in their lives. But that doesn’t mean you have to live in constant pain. Visit a healthcare provider if knee pain is making it bad enough to make you change your daily routine. They’ll help you find treatments that get you back to what you love.
Trust your instincts and listen to your body. People sometimes assume that knee pain is just a part of getting older or an unavoidable side effect of their jobs or activities. You might feel pain every once in a while, but don’t ignore it if it’s been more than a few days in a row since you’ve been pain-free.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/20/2023.
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