Effective Treatment for Severe Pain Behind the Knee

Our knees, being the largest joints in our bodies, play a pivotal role in our daily movement. From walking to climbing stairs, running to participating in sports, all these activities rely on the efficient functioning of our knees. Yet, the complexities of knee anatomy, involving various muscles, ligaments, and joints, can make it vulnerable to severe pain. Understanding the intricacies of knee structure can be your first step toward decoding the potential causes behind debilitating knee pain. Whether it is due to injuries, diseases, or conditions like arthritis, pinpointing the cause becomes an essential part of devising an effective treatment plan to alleviate your discomfort.

Understanding Knee Anatomy

Understanding Knee Anatomy

Knee anatomy is complex, but understanding it is vital if you are looking to identify and treat severe pain behind the knee. Composed of various muscles, ligaments, and joints, the knee plays a crucial role in movements such as walking, running, and jumping.

Knee Bones

Your knee is made up of three significant bones: the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), and patella (kneecap). These bones interact to allow your knee to bend and straighten, providing the flexibility and strength necessary for movement.

Knee Joints

There are actually two joints in the knee: the tibiofemoral joint (between the femur and tibia) and the patellofemoral joint (between the patella and the femur). When these joints work smoothly, they enable your knee to move freely without pain.

Knee Ligaments and Tendons

The stability of your knee is provided by ligaments and tendons. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bone to bone, while tendons connect muscle to bone. There are four primary ligaments in your knee: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). These ligaments work together to ensure that your knee moves correctly.

Knee Muscles

The muscles that surround your knee also play a significant role in its function. The main muscles include the quadriceps (in the front of the thigh), the hamstrings (in the back of the thigh), and the calf muscles. These muscles are responsible for extending and bending your knee.

Possible Causes of Severe Pain Behind the Knee

Understanding the anatomy of the knee can aid in diagnosing the source of severe pain. Pain behind the knee can stem from various issues, including:

  • Damaged ligaments or tendons: Ligaments and tendons may be strained or torn because of overstretching, sudden twisting or impact, or overuse.
  • Patellar tendinitis: This is described in the example above and may cause pain behind the knee.
  • Baker’s cyst: This type of cyst forms when fluid builds up in the back of the knee, causing swelling and pain.
  • Meniscus Tear: The menisci are two pieces of cartilage that act as a cushion between the femur and tibia. If these become torn due to injury or wear and tear, it can cause severe pain behind the knee.
  • Arthritis: This can cause pain in any part of the knee, including the back.

If you are experiencing severe pain behind the knee, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Diagram of Knee Anatomy

Causes of Pain Behind the Knee


Arthritis has been recognized as one of the leading causes of severe pain behind the knee. It is characterized by an inflammation of one or more joints, leading to pain and stiffness. There are several types of arthritis that affect the knee, including Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Gout.

Common symptoms of Arthritis include:

  • Persistent joint pain
  • Tenderness in the knee joint
  • Swelling in the knee area
  • Limited knee mobility
  • An increase in pain during rainy weather or during the morning
Baker’s Cyst

Baker’s cyst, also known as a popliteal cyst, happens when there is a build-up of synovial fluid (a lubricating fluid that reduces friction between the joints) creating a lump at the back of the knee. This condition results in a stiff and swollen knee, making it uncomfortable to the touch.

Signs to look out for Baker’s Cyst are:

  • Swelling behind the knee and sometimes in the leg
  • A significant amount of knee pain
  • Joint locking or clicking
  • Inability to fully move the knee
Torn Meniscus

A meniscus tear is a common injury that, when severe, can lead to chronic knee pain. The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee and keeps it steady by balancing your weight across the knee. Too much stress on these areas, usually from twisting the knee can result in a tear.

Symptoms of a torn meniscus include:

  • A popping sensation during the injury
  • Difficulty moving the knee
  • Inflammation or stiffness
  • Feeling of knee giving way or inability to bear weight on it
Chondromalacia Patella

Also known as “Runner’s Knee,” this condition is typically caused by the softening and breakdown of the tissue (cartilage) on the underside of the kneecap (patella). It causes knee pain and stiffness – particularly when walking up or down hills or stairs, during jumping activities, or when carrying heavy objects.

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • A dull, aching pain under the kneecap
  • Increased pain when walking up or down stairs or after sitting for long periods
  • A grating or grinding sensation when extending the knee

A diagram of a knee joint with different areas of pain labeled.

Medical Interventions and Remedies

Baker’s Cyst

A Baker’s Cyst, also known as a popliteal cyst, is another common cause of pain behind the knee. This condition occurs when there’s an accumulation of synovial fluid, a lubricating fluid in joints, which forms a cyst in the back of the knee. Symptoms of a Baker’s Cyst might include:

  • A bulge or tightness behind the knee
  • Stiffness and pain when extending or flexing the knee

Baker’s Cysts may disappear on their own over time but medical interventions such as corticosteroid injections, physical therapy or even surgical intervention might be necessary in some cases. Physical therapy, including exercises to improve flexibility and strength, can be helpful to reduce discomfort.


Arthritis, which involves inflammation of one or more of your joints, can also cause pain behind the knee. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which often develop with age but can also be a result of injury or disease. Treatment options for arthritis range from lifestyle changes to medications and physical therapy to surgery.

Treatment and Remedies
  1. Rest and Elevation

    If you’re experiencing knee pain, one of the first things you should do is take the weight off of your knee and elevate it. Resting allows your body to start healing itself, while elevation can help reduce inflammation and pain.

    Physical Therapy

    A physical therapist can help you with exercises that strengthen the muscles supporting your knee and promote stability. They can also show you how to improve your flexibility, which can reduce pain and prevent future injuries.


    Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can be used to reduce pain and swelling. In some cases, your doctor may recommend prescription medications or corticosteroid injections.


    Surgery can be a solution for severe cases where other remedies have not worked. This includes removing or repairing damaged cartilage, correcting alignment issues in the knee, or in some cases, replacing the whole knee joint.

    Alternative therapies

    Massage, acupuncture, and hot/cold therapy can be effective methods for treating knee pain. A deep massage can help reduce muscle tension and joint stiffness while improving circulation. Acupuncture may provide some people with relief from chronic knee pain. Hot/cold therapy involves alternating between heat (to relax muscles and increase blood flow) and cold (to reduce inflammation and slow nerve impulses).

    Dietary Supplements

    Certain dietary supplements might also help alleviate knee pain. For instance, glucosamine and chondroitin are known to improve joint health.

    A person's knee with a red area indicating pain and inflammation

    Preventing Further Knee Pain

    Understanding Knee Pain

    Knee pain can result from sudden injury, overuse, or underlying condition like arthritis. The pain located behind the knee can be particularly severe and can significantly interfere with your mobility. To avoid further discomfort and potential damage, it’s advised to implement some lifestyle changes, preventive measures, and exercises.

    Strengthening Exercises

    Strengthening exercises are designed to build up the muscles around your knee, providing additional support and reducing stress on the knee joint. Ideally, these exercises should be performed under supervision during the initial period to ensure correct form and prevent further injury.

    • Straight Leg Raises: Begin by lying down with one knee bent and the other straight. Tighten your thigh muscle on the straight leg and raise it to the level of your other knee. Hold for 3 seconds before slowly lowering it back down.
    • Hamstring Curls: While holding onto a chair for balance, slowly bend your knee as far as you can and then slowly lower it. Aim for three sets of 15 on each leg.

    Remember to consult your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine to ensure they are safe for your specific condition.

    Proper Footwear

    Different day-to-day activities require different shoe support. Always wear well-fitting shoes that cater to your activity (runners for running, cycling shoes for cycling, etc.). Orthopedic shoes or inserts can help realign your foot’s positioning, reducing strain on your knee.

    Weight Management

    Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly lower stress on your knee joints. Each pound of weight loss can reduce knee pressure by four pounds. A balanced diet alongside regular exercise plays a significant role in weight management. Consult your healthcare provider for personalized advice.

    Correct Movement Techniques

    Inappropriate movement techniques while performing various activities can aggravate knee pain. It can be beneficial to work with a physical therapist to learn the correct movements.

    • Avoid activities with high impact on your knees like jumping.
    • Use your whole body when you’re moving or lifting something heavy rather than putting all the weight on your knees.
    • When standing, keep your weight balanced on both feet.

    Managing knee pain involves a multipronged approach that melds exercise, lifestyle changes, and preventive measures. Attention to detail like wearing the right shoes, maintaining a healthy weight, and practicing correct movement techniques can make a significant difference in your knee health. Combining these with a personalized exercise routine can help strengthen your knees, relieve pain, and enhance mobility. Regular consultation with your healthcare provider ensures these measures are benefiting your specific needs and conditions.

    A person holding their knee while sitting down, indicating knee pain

    The road to pain relief and knee health often involves a mix of medical interventions, natural remedies, and lifestyle adaptations. The medical sphere offers a range of solutions, including medications to surgery, depending on the seriousness of the condition. On the other hand, natural remedies such as home-based exercises, massage therapies, and adequate rest can support your body’s recovery process. Beyond the realm of treatments, it is also imperative to adopt preventive measures to protect your knees from further damage. It might involve incorporating strengthening exercises into your routine, managing your weight, selecting the right footwear, and mastering the correct movement techniques. Remember, whatever your knee condition is, being knowledgeable and proactive can strongly support your journey toward pain relief and improved mobility.