Why Does It Hurt to Bend My Knee?

Written by: Amber Sauder

Knee pain can be due to numerous reasons, and the location of the knee pain can help indicate its etiology (cause). It can be difficult to self-diagnose why your knee hurts, so it is recommended to visit an orthopedic physician who can determine the type of condition or knee injury responsible for your pain.

If you are experiencing knee pain and would like to get to the root cause of why your knees hurt, then schedule a consultation with our orthopedic specialists at OrthoNeuro. 

Our physicians will provide you with an accurate diagnosis and specialized treatment plan. Call or book an appointment online with us today!


Causes of Knee Pain

There are many different causes of knee pain, including the following conditions:


Knee arthritis is one of the most common causes of knee pain associated with aging. It occurs in our knees, as well as other joints, such as the hip and shoulder. The pain results from “wear and tear” that, over time, lead to the breakdown of the cartilage in our joints. Cartilage is the soft cushioning tissue that protects our joints as they move. But as this starts to break down, the point of contact in the joint is now considered “bone on bone.”

People with arthritis tend to report experiencing pain and stiffness of their knee joint, making movement difficult. They may also report crepitus, which is an audible grinding heard with the movement of the knee. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis cannot be reversed, but there are treatment options to help reduce pain, such as medications, gels, and injections. As a last resort, surgery is performed to replace the arthritic joint.

Patellar Tendonitis

The patellar tendon connects your patella (knee cap) to the tibia (shinbone). Patellar tendonitis is typically an overuse injury where the repeated stress creates small tears in the tendon, causing it to become inflamed, resulting in pain in the front of your knee. The pain can start out occurring only with activity or during a workout, but over time, it will progress and start interfering with activities of daily living.

Your doctor will typically start with minimally-invasive treatments such as anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. If this is unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection or, in rare instances, surgery.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

The iliotibial band or IT band runs along the outer edge of the thigh from the hip to the top of the shin bone and will move over the outer edge of the knee when bending and extending the leg. Repeated motions can cause people to experience pain on the outside of the knee, referred to as IT band syndrome.

Your IT band becomes irritated and swollen when it is stretched too tight and rubs against the bone. In addition to pain on the outside of the knee, IT band syndrome can also cause crepitus, with the pain being worse when going downhill.

IT band syndrome can be treated with conservative therapies such as anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. Having a proper warm-up and cool down, gradual increase in intensity, and avoiding running up or down inclined surfaces are preventative measures that can reduce IT band syndrome.

Medial Collateral Ligament

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is a major ligament in the inner aspect of the knee. It connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia) and provides stability for the knee joint. A partial or complete tear of these knee ligaments can cause pain in the inner part of the knee.

MCL tears are a common injury for athletes, specifically those active in football, basketball, and skiing. In addition to pain, patients often report stiffness and swelling in their knee and a sensation that the knee will give out.

Your physician may order an MRI to further assess the ligament, and depending on the severity, classified as a grade 1, grade 2, or grade 3, with grade 3 being the most severe.

MCL injuries rarely require surgery, and for the most part, can be treated with a combination of rest, bracing, over-the-counter pain relievers, physical therapy, and removing body weight from the joint.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament

Another important ligament that connects the femur to the tibia is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Injuries to the ACL often occur during motions that involve sudden changes in direction, stopping and starting, and jumping. This can result in a torn ligament. Similar to MCL injuries, patients will also report pain, stiffness, swelling, and instability of their knee.

In addition to a physical exam, your doctor will order an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment of ACL injuries can be nonoperative or operative, with many factors contributing to each option. Physical therapy is a key component of treating ACL injuries in both operative and nonoperative settings.


If you are experiencing knee pain when bending or performing other activities, schedule an appointment to consult with our expert physicians. Our highly skilled orthopedic surgeons at OrthoNeuro are experts at treating knee pain and are ready to help you get to the root cause of your knee pain. They will provide accurate diagnoses and customized treatment plans to restore your knee function. Call or book an appointment online with us today!

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