Understanding Sharp Stabbing Pain in Knee: Causes and Treatment

Sharp and piercing knee pains can be an alarming symptom disrupting our daily lives, often leaving us feeling helpless and in dire need of relief. Understanding the causes, recognizing different types of knee pains, and being aware of various treatment options can prepare us to manage, if not pre-empt, this distressing condition. Our discussions will delve into various causes of sharp stabbing pain in the knee area, identifying conditions like Patellofemoral Joint Pain, Hoffa’s Fat Pad Impingement, and others. Further, nuances of inflammatory pain and mechanical pain in the knee, along with factors that could exacerbate these pains, will be examined. Lastly, we will explore a range of treatments, right from non-invasive approaches such as physiotherapy to more intensified options like injections and surgeries. As each person’s condition is unique, custom-fit advice from a healthcare professional is always the best choice, but this information is certainly a steppingstone to a better understanding and eventual healing of your knee pain.

Causes of Sharp Stabbing Pain in Knee

Patellofemoral Joint Pain

Patellofemoral joint pain is a condition that causes pain at the front of the knee, often described as a sharp, stabbing sensation. This discomfort results from the malalignment or abnormal tracking of the kneecap over the thigh bone, which causes increased pressure and subsequent inflammation. Activities that put extra stress on the kneecap, such as squatting, kneeling, or going up and down stairs, often exacerbate this pain.

Hoffa’s Fat Pad Impingement

Hoffa’s Fat Pad Impingement is an injury to the fat pad, an area located below the kneecap, sandwiched between the kneecap and shinbone. The pain felt in this condition is often sharp and stabbing, particularly when it’s pinched between the kneecap and thigh bone, brought on by excessive knee extension. Situations leading to this impingement include heavy lifting, a direct blow to the knee, or even a sudden increase in activity.


A fracture in the knee usually results in severe pain, often described as sharp and stabbing. The pain is made worse by any movement or pressure applied to the knee. The primary cause of knee fractures is direct trauma, often from accidents or falls.

Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Osgood-Schlatter disease causes a painful, bony bump just below the kneecap, resulting in sharp, stabbing pain. This disease is caused by repeated tension from the large muscles in the front of the thigh on the area where the patellar tendon attaches to the shinbone. The condition is more common in children and adolescents who partake in activities that involve running, jumping, and swift changes in direction.

Sinding-Larsen Johansson Disease

Sinding Larsen Johansson Disease is a condition that affects the kneecap’s bottom. It stems from repeated tension on the patellar tendon, causing a part of the kneecap to separate from the bone. This disease often causes a sharp stabbing knee pain, particularly during activities like climbing the stairs, squatting, or when the knees are fully straightened.

Meniscus Tear

A meniscus tear, an injury to the cartilage that stabilizes and cushions the knee joint, can often result in a sharp, stabbing pain. Typical activities that can lead to a meniscus tear include squatting, turning quickly on the knee, or direct contact, such as during a football tackle.

Knee Bursitis

Knee Bursitis refers to the inflammation of a small fluid-filled sac, known as the bursa, which lies over the kneecap. The pain associated with this condition is typically sharp and stabbing, often likened to the sensation of a needle prick. Bursitis is often triggered due to prolonged kneeling, a direct blow to the knee, or infection.

Knee Arthritis

Arthritis in the knee is a condition characterized by the deterioration of the cartilage in the joint, leading to pain and inflammation. In severe cases, arthritis can result in sharp, stabbing pain, particularly during weight-bearing activities like walking or standing.


Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that develops as people grow older. It is characterized by the wear and tear of the cartilage that cushions the bones’ ends. Osteoarthritis can often result in a sharp, penetrating sensation in the knee and is usually more noticeable after prolonged periods of rest or intense activity, such as long walks or rigorous workouts.

A diagram of the knee, illustrating various conditions that cause stabbing pain.

Types of Knee Pain and Worsening Factors

Inflammatory Knee Pain

Moving on to another significant cause of knee pain, we examine inflammatory knee pain. This type of knee discomfort is typically severe and continuous, often brought on by conditions that trigger inflammation within the knee joint, including but not limited to rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and gout. Rheumatoid arthritis is a noteworthy culprit, as it causes joint inflammation and swelling that can lead to a severe stabbing sensation in the knee.

If you are experiencing inflammatory knee pain, some symptoms to look out for include:

  • A consistent, dull ache in the knee
  • Intense, stabbing sensations
  • Swelling and a feeling of warmth in the knee area
  • Noticeable reduction in knee mobility

Mechanical Knee Pain

On the other hand, mechanical knee pain arises from damage to components of the knee, such as the bones, cartilage, meniscus, or ligaments. This type of pain is often associated with conditions like osteoarthritis, meniscal tears, or ligament injuries.

One variant of mechanical knee pain may manifest as sharp, stabbing pain, often felt when the knee is in motion. This may be due to a torn meniscus or a knee sprain.

People with mechanical knee pain often encounter:

  • Sharp, jabbing pain while moving
  • A grinding sensation in the knee
  • Instability or a feeling of the knee giving way
  • Knee stiffness, particularly after prolonged inactivity

Factors Worsening Knee Pain

Certain activities and lifestyle factors can exacerbate knee pain of all types.


While rest can be beneficial for a diseased or injured knee, prolonged periods of inactivity or sedentary lifestyle can lead to stiffness and exacerbation of pain. It leads to weakening of muscles supporting the knee, resulting in decreased range of motion and more strain on the knee during movement.

High-Pressure Activities

Activities that put a lot of pressure on the knee, like sprinting, jumping or heavy lifting, can worsen knee pain. Participants of high-impact sports and occupations often see an increase in knee pain.

Weight and Its Impact on the Knees

If you are carrying extra weight, you may be putting additional strain on your knees. This is due to the fact that the joints, such as the knees, bear this weight, which can exacerbate any existing knee pain. It’s important to note that even slight weight gain can translate into substantial pressure on the knees. Specifically, gaining a single pound may result in adding up to four pounds of pressure on the knees during walking activities.

Illustration of a person holding their knee in pain

Treatment and Management of Sharp Stabbing Knee Pain

Addressing Sharp Stabbing Knee Pain through Physiotherapy

Should you experience a sharp, stabbing knee pain, Physiotherapy offers a non-invasive and effective treatment option. This form of therapy mainly focuses on enhancing the strength and flexibility of the knee’s surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Physiotherapy techniques typically involve range-of-motion exercises, specialized stretching, along with massage. Timeframes for relief from pain through physiotherapy can vary, depending on the person and the severity of their knee trouble. However, progress tends to become apparent within a few weeks to several months following the start of therapy.

Rest and Ice

Often the body just needs time to heal itself. One of the simplest and most effective ways to manage sharp stabbing knee pain is by resting the affected area, along with applying ice. The cold from the ice pack can help reduce swelling and inflammation, essentially numbing the area and thereby lessening the pain. This approach is suitable for temporary relief but should not replace a thorough diagnosis and potential treatment plan from a healthcare professional.

Over-the-counter Medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can provide temporary relief from knee pain. However, these should be used cautiously and as per the recommended dosage, as overuse can cause stomach issues and in rare cases, liver trouble.

Corticosteroid Injections

If simpler treatment options prove inefficient, corticosteroids may be used. These are potent anti-inflammatory drugs that are injected directly into the knee joint to reduce inflammation and hence ease the pain. Corticosteroids start working within a few days of the injection and can provide relief for weeks to months. The risks involved with corticosteroid injections include accelerated joint destruction, reduced immune function, and a rare but severe local reaction known as a ‘steroid flare’.

Hyaluronic Acid Injections

Hyaluronic acid injections are administered directly into the knee joint to improve its lubrication, thereby reducing pain and increasing functionality. These injections might take longer to show effects when compared to corticosteroids, but their results also last significantly longer, typically a few months. Risks with injecting hyaluronic acid can include allergic reactions, local skin reactions, and infection.


As a last resort, when all other treatment options are exhausted or deemed unsuitable, surgery may be recommended. The surgical procedures can vary from minor arthroscopic surgeries to total knee replacement, depending on the cause and severity of the pain. As with any surgical procedure, it comes with inherent risks including infection, blood clots, and post-operative pain.


When it comes to managing sharp stabbing knee pain, the recommended treatment largely depends on the underlying cause, the individual’s overall health status, and their personal lifestyle. This highlights the importance of seeking help from a healthcare professional for a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan.

Image depicting someone experiencing sharp stabbing knee pain

From exploring a multitude of causes to understanding diverse types of knee pains and learning about the various treatments, we have embarked on a comprehensive journey to grasp this pervasive problem better. Insight into the causes such as Patellofemoral Joint Pain, Hoffa’s Fat Pad Impingement, and many more, has provided us with a clear outline of what might be causing that sharp stabbing pain in the knee. Acknowledging the characteristics of inflammatory and mechanical pain, as well as potential worsening factors, provides us with a broader perspective. The discussion on treatment options empowers us with the knowledge to make informed decisions and potentially accelerates the journey to relief. In all cases, it’s paramount to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. We hope this information aids in your path to healing, or, at least, assuages some concerns about the sharp stabbing knee pain that you or your loved one might be experiencing.