Pain on Outside of Knee: Causes and Treatments

Also known as lateral knee pain, pain on outside of knee is gradual, unlike a ligament injury or acute knee joint. Irritation can occur on your knee leading to pain when you use your knee too much in activities that require lots of knee bending. Other causes could be hip or back pain that has traveled to the knee, traumatic injury as well as a long period of normal wear and tear. Knee cartilage problems, bones or ligaments could lead to lateral knee pain. The cause of the pain will determine treatment.

Possible Causes of Pain on Outside of Knee

1. Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Repeated knee bending exercises like cycling and running can result in overuse syndromes. Iliotibial band syndrome is among such conditions and it causes the pain as a result of irritation iliotibial band (tissue running from the knee to the pelvis along the outside of the leg). Irritation is as a result of constant rubbing against the outer part of the knee bone. The pain is more intense when walking on an inclined surface. Factors that contribute to overuse include insufficient stretching, poor training, unbalanced thigh muscle strength and inappropriate footwear as well as flat feet.

2. Patellofemoral Syndrome

It occurs as a result of an imbalance in the muscle responsible for the alignment of the knee. When this happens, the kneecap rubs against the thigh bone causing the pain. Mostly, pain is experienced on the front part of the knee, but there are occasions when the pain is felt on outside of knee when the friction is on the outside of the bone. Pain is experienced when sitting, squatting, jumping and climbing stairs.

3. Knee Osteoarthritis

Ends of bones are covered by a smooth substance called articular cartilage that allows smooth gliding. When wear and tear occurs on the cartilage, the result is osteoarthritis. Irritation from the bones’ friction causes the pain. Wearing off of the outer cartilage causes the pain. A past knee injury as well as obesity contribute to osteoarthritis. If you have this condition, you will experience morning knee stiffness, but it wears off during the day. Sitting and standing become difficult as well as climbing stairs.

4. Lateral Collateral Ligament Injury

Knee trauma, more so from sporting activities, can hurt the knee joint ligaments, causing pain on outside of knee. The outside or lateral section of the thigh bone to your lower leg bones are connected by the lateral collateral ligament. When the knee bends outwards, it can cause the ligament to stretch outwards, which will in turn cause it to tear or sprain. When the injury occurs, you will experience knee instability or a snap. This normally happens to footballers due to tackling.

5. Lateral Meniscus Tear

The knee is stabilized and cushioned by cartilage called menisci. Knee trauma can cause injury to the menisci. Pain on the outside of the knee will most commonly occur when you tear the outside or lateral meniscus. Such a tear will be caused by a sudden turn of the upper leg when the foot is stuck on another. Not only will you feel pain when this happens, but your legs will also lock. Straightening the legs might be difficult.

6. Runner’s Knee

This condition mostly affects runners and other athletes who bend their knees a lot. You will experience pain around and behind the knee cap specifically where the knee cap and the thigh bone meet. Walking, kneeling and running become painful when you have this condition. The knee will have popping or grinding sensations. Swelling might occur as well as pain when walking on inclined surfaces.

7. Other Causes

Pain in your hip or lower back can travel to your knee resulting in a burning sensation or a pins and needles kind of pain. This is known as referred pain. Other less common causes include compression or injury of the nerve or artery that goes through the knee, strain on the muscle that is attached to the knee joint as well as stress fractures on the shin bone within the knee joint.

How to Treat Pain on Outside of Knee

1.    PRICE Regimen

“PRICE” mean protect, rest and ice.

Protect Your Knee from Trauma

•    You can use splinting or knee padding.

•    A pad covering the knee cap will protect it from further injuries.

Rest Your Knee

Resting will ensure that you do not keep straining your knee as well as giving it time to heal.

Ice Your Knee

•    Icing reduces inflammation for both minor and major injuries.

•    It is recommended to ice the knee two or three times per day for about 20 to 30 minutes.

•    You can use a bag of frozen vegetables or an ice bag

2.    OTC Pain Medicine

Knee pain can be tackled with common pain medication like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like naproxen (Naprosyn or Aleve) as well as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). These drugs are used to deal with the pain and higher doses are used to break the inflammation cycle. However, like the other medication, they have side effects. It is, therefore, not advisable to use NSAIDs if you have bleeding problems, kidney issues and stomach ulcers. Acetaminophen can be used to deal with knee pain, but it does not contain anti-inflammatory capabilities like NSAIDs.

3.    Therapy

Knee stability is improved by strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee. Training will improve the quadriceps (frontal thigh muscles) and hamstrings (back thigh muscles). Exercise that will improve balance is also vital. Arch support with wedges on the sides can be used to shift pressure from the side of the knee. In various cases, different types of braces are used to support and protect the knee.

4.    Injections

A corticosteroid drug can be injected into the knee joint in some cases. It will offer pain relief and decrease symptoms of arthritis. An injection will not work in all situations. Though the risk is low, there are chances of an infection.

5.    Surgery

It is not always necessary to have a surgery to cure the pain on outside of knee. It is good to consider non-surgical rehabilitation. However, if you decide to go ahead with surgery, these are your options:

  • Arthroscopic Surgery

Your doctor can decide to use long tools and a fiber-optic camera inserted through minor incisions around the knee. Loose bodies are removed through arthroscopy. Damaged cartilage can be repaired. Reconstruction of torn ligaments can be done using the same process.

  • Partial Knee Replacement Surgery

This surgery involves the surgeon replacing the damaged parts of the knee with plastic or metallic material. A small incision is made on the knee and you tend to heal fast.

  • Total Knee Replacement

In this procedure, the damaged cartilage and bone are cut off from your thighbone, kneecap and shin bone. They are then replaced by a man-made joint made of high-grade polymers, plastics and metal alloys.

Watch the following video to learn how to treat ITB.

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