Understanding Pain Behind Knee When Walking: Causes & Remedies

The human knee is an anatomical masterpiece, engineered over millennia of evolution to bear weight, absorb shock, and allow an incredible range of motion. However, when experiencing pain behind the knee when walking, it becomes quickly apparent just how crucial this joint is in our everyday life. This piece aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the knee joint’s anatomy, the common causes of knee pain, and the diverse range of treatment options currently available. Knowledge is crucial in dealing with pain, empowering individuals to take informed actions towards recovery.

Understanding the Knee Joint

Understanding the Anatomy of the Knee Joint

The knee joint is a complex system made up of various bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Understanding the makeup of the knee joint can provide you with insight into the possible causes of pain behind the knee when walking.

Your knee joint is where the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), and patella (knee cap) intersect. Several critical ligaments connect these bones, including the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL). These ligaments work together to offer a balance of stability and mobility, helping you walk, run, jump, and perform other activities.

Furthermore, numerous tendons surround the knee joint, which connect bones to muscles. The most prominent tendon in the knee area is the patellar tendon. This tendon stretches from the lower tip of the patella to the top of the tibia and plays a crucial role in straightening the leg.

Several muscles help facilitate movement in the knee joint, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. The popliteal muscle is located at the back of your knee and is particularly relevant to our topic because it aids in flexing and extending the leg.

Causes of Pain Behind the Knee When Walking

Identifying the exact cause of pain behind the knee is hassle-free when you have understood the underlying structure of the knee joint. Here are a few common reasons you might experience pain while walking:

  • Baker’s Cyst: When the synovial fluid that lubricates the knee joint forms a cyst at the back of the knee, it is termed a Baker’s cyst. It may cause swelling and tightness behind the knee and visible bulge, especially when standing or walking.
  • Hamstring Tendonitis: Overuse or strain of the hamstring muscles can lead to this condition. It can cause pain behind the knee, especially when walking or bending the leg.
  • Popliteal Tendinitis: If you’re active in sports that involve a lot of jumping, running, or heavy use of the legs, you may suffer from this. Symptoms include intense pain and inflammation behind the knee, more pronounced after physical activities.
  • Arthritis: While it typically involves general joint pain, some forms of arthritis can make you feel pain specifically behind your knees while walking.
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): This is a severe medical condition that deals with a blood clot in the leg, usually leading to swelling and pain in the affected area.
Treatment Options

Treatment for pain behind your knee while walking depends on its cause. For less severe conditions, home remedies might be adequate. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE method) can help manage pain and swelling. Non-prescription anti-inflammatory medication, like ibuprofen, can also provide relief.

Additionally, physical therapy can help improve strength and flexibility in your knee joint. Depending on the cause of the pain, specific exercises may be recommended to help correct the issue.

In more severe cases, like DVT or severe Baker’s cysts, more extensive medical intervention may be required. If you are experiencing severe or prolonged knee pain, it is important to reach out to a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Proactive Measures for Knee Pain

Regular physical activity and a healthy body weight are crucial in preventing a variety of knee joint issues. Strength training activities can condition muscles to provide additional support for your knee, reducing the risk of injury. Regular stretching not only improves flexibility but also aids in the prevention of muscle strains or pulls.

Equally important is the need to be careful when changing your activity level. Gradual increases in exercise or activity give your knees necessary time to adjust accordingly. This article hopes to provide an in-depth understanding of the knee joint, reasons for pain behind the knee and measures to prevent these issues. However, if you’re experiencing ongoing knee pain, it’s critical to seek medical advice to rule out any severe conditions.

An illustration of the knee joint anatomy, highlighting the bones, ligaments, tendons, and relationship between different components.

Common Causes of Pain Behind Knee When Walking

Arthritis and Knee Pain

Arthritis is frequently identified as a cause of knee pain, particularly in the older population. The wear and tear of cartilage, aging, and past injuries often lead to arthritis in the knee. The three main kinds of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and posttraumatic arthritis.

Key symptoms of Arthritis include:

  • A persistent or sporadic pain that tends to worsen during physical activities
  • Experiencing swelling and stiffness in the knee joint
  • A noticeable decrease in mobility and an increase in instability

Knee tendonitis, also known as patellar tendonitis or “jumper’s knee,” results from inflammation of the tendons due to overuse from high-impact activities. It can cause severe pain behind the knee, especially when walking, running, or bending the knee.

Characteristics of knee tendonitis include:

  • Swelling or redness around the knee
  • A feeling of warmth in the knee joint
  • Tenderness or sharp pain directly under the kneecap
  • Pain that increases when using stairs or when standing after sitting
Baker’s Cyst

A Baker’s cyst, or popliteal cyst, is a fluid-filled cyst that causes a bulge and a feeling of tightness behind your knee. It’s usually a result of an underlying knee condition such as arthritis or a cartilage tear.

Signs of a Baker’s cyst include:

  • Swelling behind the knee that may get worse when you stand
  • Stiffness or loss of motion in the knee
  • Pain in the knee or calf, especially when you bend or extend your knee
Cartilage Damage

The knee joint contains a type of cartilage called meniscus, often referred to as knee “cushions,” which helps absorb shock during movement. Meniscus tears are common and can happen as a result of aging or a knee injury.

Symptoms of cartilage damage may include:

  • A catching or locking sensation in the knee
  • Difficulty moving the knee through its full range of motion
  • Swelling of the knee
  • Pain when bearing weight on the knee or pivoting
Understanding Knee Sprains

A knee sprain refers to an injury sustained by any of the knee’s ligaments, with the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) being the most commonly affected. Such sprains often result from sporting activities that necessitate sudden twists or changes in direction.

Typical symptoms of a knee sprain encompass:

  • Pain and sensitivity in and around the knee
  • Swelling
  • Akin to bruising
  • Reduced mobility
  • An unstable, ‘wobbly’ feeling in the knee

A diagram showing different knee conditions, such as arthritis, tendonitis, Baker's cyst, cartilage damage, and knee sprains, displayed around a knee joint.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Apprehending and Addressing Pain Behind the Knee When Walking

Effectively dealing with knee pain starts with a comprehensive diagnosis performed by a qualified healthcare provider. They will likely undertake a detailed physical examination of the knee, checking for aspects like flexibility, swelling, sensitivity to touch, signs of inflammation and the types of movements that induce pain.

Your medical history is invaluable in diagnosing knee-related pain. You should be ready to outline your symptoms and the activities that seem to exacerbate your condition. For example, is the pain solely present while walking, or does it continue to persist when you’re at rest?

Further insight into your condition may necessitate the operation of imaging techniques like X-rays, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), or an Ultrasound. X-rays can highlight any alterations in the knee’s bone structure, such as fractures or deformities. In contrast, an MRI offers detailed images of soft tissues like tendons and ligaments. Ultrasound is useful in visualizing soft tissue using sound waves and can help in detecting fluid accumulation or the presence of cysts behind the knee.

Treatment Options

Once the cause of the pain is diagnosed, the doctor will explore various treatment options. Nonsurgical methods are generally considered first, depending on the severity of the condition.

Rest and Physical Therapy

The most conservative approach encompasses rest, activity modification, and physical therapy. Rest allows the knee joint to heal, while physical therapy can help strengthen the surrounding muscles and improve flexibility. Routine exercises can reduce the incidence of future episodes by strengthening the muscles and tendons that support the knee.


Over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. If over-the-counter medications are not effective, the physician may recommend prescription-strength pain medications.


If the pain persists, corticosteroid injections directly into the knee joint may be considered. These injections have potent anti-inflammatory effects and can provide pain relief. Other injections, including hyaluronic acid or platelet-rich plasma (PRP), may be recommended to stimulate healing within the joint.

Surgical Intervention

Should conservative treatments fail or if the patient has a severe injury to the knee ligaments or cartilage, surgical intervention might be necessary. Notably, an orthopedic surgeon is likely to recommend the least invasive surgical options such as arthroscopy first. However, severe knee conditions might necessitate complex procedures such as partial knee replacement or a total knee arthroplasty.

It’s important to note that ongoing research continues to explore and develop new treatment options for knee pain management. Therefore, always seek professional advice to ensure you receive the most accurate diagnosis and suitable treatment for your condition.

A person holding their knee in pain, depicting knee pain when walking

Understanding the anatomy of the knee, recognizing potential causes of pain, and being aware of the various treatment options empowers individuals suffering from knee pain to take an active role in their health and recovery. Knee pain may impede our daily function, but it doesn’t need to stifle our quality of life. With appropriate knowledge, positive communication with healthcare providers, and a proactive approach to treatment, you can navigate the journey of healing with greater confidence and clarity, turning pain into a catalyst for positive change in your health and wellbeing.