Locked Knees

What are the main causes of locked knees?

A locked knee can be an occasional, temporary occurrence or a chronic condition that leaves you unable to bend or straighten your knee for long periods. 

Knees are designed to bend up and down, and even slightly rotate. If your knee cannot perform these functions, it can impact your mobility and affect your ability to sit, stand, squat and kneel properly. 

A true locked knee happens when your knee joint is literally locked into place and cannot move, whereas a pseudo locked knee occurs when moving the knee becomes difficult as a result of pain. 

If you are experiencing occasional or chronic knee pain, our specialists at OrthoNeuro in Columbus, Ohio can help you get back on track. Call one of our offices today or book an appointment online.

What Causes a Locked Knee?

There are several factors and ailments that could cause your knees to lock up. Below you will find 7 of the most common causes of a locked knee:

A Meniscus Tear

The meniscus is a c-shaped pad of cartilage in the knee joint that acts as a shock absorber. A meniscus tear can impede movement as the cartilage swells or shifts, thus preventing the joint from moving freely.

meniscus tear can be caused by a sudden twist or can occur when squatting. It can also be caused by gradual wear, which is why it can be more commonly found in older people.

A meniscus tear can sometimes heal on its own, but more severe cases may require a surgical approach. A bucket handle tear, for example, is a complete tear of the medial meniscus and can cause the torn meniscus to turn over and stick in the joint, resulting in true knee locking.

Ligament Damage

The knee could not function without the strong bands of tissue or ligaments surrounding it. Sudden stopping or moving the knee joint away from a normal position can result in tears to ligaments.

The use of ice packs to reduce swelling can alleviate knee pain and the locking of the knee joint. A knee injury from ligament damage can take a while to heal and often responds well to physical therapy. However, surgery may be required when a knee ligament is injured.

Loose Bone Fragments

The knee joint comprises several bones that come together at the top of the shinbone and the bottom of the thigh bone to create one joint. The most minor chip or break in these bones can result in a loose bone fragment that floats around the joint.

True knee locking from a loose bone fragment can cause severe pain and an almost complete lack of movement of the knee. It is known as a true locked knee because there is no movement possible due to this loose bone fragment getting in the way.

For those suffering from a degenerative disease that results in the common occurrence of loose fragments, your doctor may suggest a knee replacement as a suitable option for relief.


Arthritis is often the most common cause of knee locking, especially in older people. The knee joints are weight-bearing, so they take a lot of wear and tear. Inflammation of this joint can impede proper knee movement.

This inflammation can develop after an earlier knee fracture or recurrent sports injury. While it may cause pain when moving the joint, it is essential that the knee not remain in one position but be kept moving as much as possible.

Prescription pain medications, steroid injections, and movement therapy can all alleviate knee pain from arthritis. In the most severe of cases, a total knee replacement may be necessary to give sufferers a new lease on life.

Pseudo Knee Locking

A pseudo-locked knee occurs when knee pain is so intense that the leg muscles temporarily spasm, and the knee briefly locks up. This spasm acts as a warning to the knee joint so that it cannot be moved and cause any more damage.

Pseudo knee locking can be caused by any number of issues, including:

A pseudo-locked knee can often be treated with rest, ice, and some mild pain-relieving medications. In rare instances, your doctor may suggest surgery or other medical treatments in order to correct the problem.

Plica Syndrome

Plica is the name given to the thin folds of the protective knee membrane. When the plica becomes inflamed, the joint can cause pain and instability, causing the knee to lock.

A locked knee from plica syndrome primarily needs rest. Anti-inflammatory medications can also help. It is vital to get professional medical advice when suffering from issues of knee locking.

Patellar Maltracking

Patellar maltracking occurs when the kneecap shifts out of place when you bend or straighten your leg. A primary symptom is feeling the knee pop out of place. This can occur when climbing stairs, kneeling, or even causing the knee to rotate slightly.

Knee locking can be prevented with regular exercise and strengthening therapy. Ongoing flare-ups may need treatment with rest or even a knee brace to help keep the knee in the proper position until it has fully healed.

When to Seek Treatment for Your Knee Locking

Any time that you are experiencing knee locking, it’s always a good idea to get the input and advice of a professional. The knee specialists at OrthoNeuro have the experience and skills necessary to help you alleviate your pain and discomfort.  

Don’t let your locked-up knee issues keep you from living your life to the full. Be sure to call our specialists at one of our offices in Columbus, Ohio today or book your appointment online.

Make an Appointment with an OrthoNeuro Knee Specialist Today!

If you have been experiencing symptoms of a locked knee, schedule an appointment with one of our Board Certified Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists at one of our 7 convenient locations throughout Greater Columbus. 

We will evaluate your unique lifestyle and goals to determine which type of treatment is best for you.

Knee Specialists


“Meniscus repair six months ago. Surgery went smoothly. Dr. set realistic expectations that have been met.
Great team to work with“