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Pain Behind Knee: Causes, Prevention and Treatment Option

Pain Behind Knee: Causes, Prevention and Treatment Option


Are you experiencing pain behind your knee? It could be due to various reasons, from injuries and arthritis to conditions like bursitis. Understanding the causes and symptoms of pain behind knee is essential for effective prevention and treatment.

In this article, we will explore the common causes of pain behind knee, the symptoms to look out for, and the various treatment options available. Additionally, we will provide valuable insights into preventing pain behind the knee and offer guidance on when to seek professional help.

For those seeking additional support, Max Performance Physical Therapy can be a valuable resource in treating knee problems.

Understanding the Anatomy of the Knee Joint

The knee joint is a complex hinge joint where the thigh bone (femur) meets the shinbone (tibia) and the kneecap (patella). It is stabilized by ligaments, including the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments (ACL/PCL), which control forward and backward movement, and the medial and lateral collateral ligaments (MCL/LCL), which manage side-to-side stability.

Tendons, such as the patellar tendon, join the muscles around the knee, including the quadriceps and hamstring muscles, to the bones, assisting in movement and flexibility. The menisci are two C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as shock absorbers, and the synovial membrane produces synovial fluid for joint lubrication. Understanding this anatomy is crucial for identifying issues that may cause knee pain.

Common Causes of Pain Behind the Knee

Pain behind the knee is a common symptom that afflicts many people, from athletes with knee pain crossfit and to those with sedentary lifestyles. This pain can range from mild discomfort to severe pain that hinders everyday activities. This symptom has several potential causes, and understanding them is vital to proper diagnosis and treatment.


Injuries are one of the primary reasons individuals may experience pain behind the knee.

Ligament Sprains and Strains: Sprains can occur due to various activities or traumatic events. These injuries typically involve the stretching or tearing the knee ligaments that support the knee joint.

ACL Tear: It is a common knee injury that occurs when the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is stretched or torn. ACL tears often happen during sports activities that involve sudden stops, changes in direction, or impact on the knee.

PCL Tear: It is less common than an ACL tear and occurs when the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is stretched or torn. PCL tears often result from traumatic events such as falls directly onto the knee or car accidents.

Meniscus tears: This is another frequent cause due to the meniscus’ critical role in absorbing shock and stabilizing the knee joint.

Hamstring injuries: It is an injury that can lead to posterior knee pain, as the hamstring muscles play a crucial part in knee movement and support. 

Hyperextended knee: This happens when the leg bends too far backward, which can damage various structures in the knee and result in pain.

Calf tears: Are less directly associated with the knee but can influence the overall function of the leg and contribute to discomfort in the knee area. 

Patellar tendonitis: Also known as jumper’s knee, is an inflammation of the patellar tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone. This condition is particularly prevalent among athletes and can cause sharp pain, especially when jumping or running. Studies indicate that the overall prevalence of current jumper’s knee is 14.2%, highlighting the significant impact this condition has on individuals engaged in high-impact sports. 

Knee Arthritis

Arthritis is a medical condition that deteriorates joints over time. 

Osteoarthritis: The most common form of arthritis, affects the cartilage and can lead to knee stiffness and pain. 

Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the joints, including those of the knee, and can cause severe pain and disability.

Baker’s Cyst

A Baker’s cyst, or popliteal cyst, is a fluid-filled sac that forms behind the knee, leading to swelling and pain. It often results from excess synovial fluid produced by the knee to protect and lubricate the joint, which can accumulate and form a cyst. Research indicates that the incidence of Baker’s cyst ranges from 5-38% among individuals experiencing knee pain. Specifically, in a population study of 399 patients with knee pain, the occurrence of Baker’s cyst was noted to fall within this range, underscoring its significance as a common underlying cause of discomfort in the knee area.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, typically in the leg. DVT can cause pain, swelling, and redness behind the knee or in the calf. It is a serious medical condition that requires prompt medical attention.


Bursitis refers to the inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction between the tissues inside the joint. In the knee, bursitis can cause swelling and pain behind the knee, particularly when the affected area is moved or touched.

Leg Cramps

Lastly, leg cramps are a common and usually benign cause of posterior knee pain. Cramps can suddenly tighten the muscles behind the knee. This results in temporary but intense pain.

Identifying Symptoms of Pain Behind the Knee

Pain behind the knee can manifest in various ways depending on its cause. Below is a list of symptoms that are commonly associated with specific knee conditions:

  • Instability when walking, a popping sensation, and swelling.
  • A person may hear a clicking sound, experience difficulty straightening the knee fully, and feel tenderness along the knee joint.
  • Sharp pain at the back of the knee during physical activity, bruising, and weakness in the leg are indicative signs.
  • Stiffness and decreased range of motion in the knee, especially in the morning or after sitting for long periods, are typical symptoms.
  • Swelling behind the knee and a sense of fullness when bending the leg may be observed.
  • Pain that may worsen when bending the foot upward.
  • The area might be warm to the touch with visible redness and pain that increases with movement or pressure.

Diagnosing Pain Behind the Knee

Physical Examination

When diagnosing pain behind the knee, medical professionals begin with a thorough physical exam. They review the patient’s medical history and conduct tests to assess range of motion, stability, and the presence of inflammation or fluid-filled sacs.


Advanced imaging tests such as X-rays can reveal changes in the knee joint, including arthritis or fractures of the bones. 


An ultrasound may be used to visualize soft tissues like the patellar tendon, hamstring muscles, and potential blood clots, offering a dynamic view as the knee moves.


In some cases, an MRI is necessary to get a detailed image of internal structures. It is particularly useful in evaluating soft tissue injuries such as meniscus and cartilage tears and distinguishing a Baker’s cyst from more serious conditions like a tumor or DVT.

Initial physical activity and symptoms guide which diagnostic tests are conducted. Treatments can range from physical therapy to surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.

Treatment Option for Pain Behind Knee

Pain Behind Knee: Causes, Prevention and Treatment Option

Addressing posterior knee pain involves a variety of treatments tailored to the underlying cause. Consistently seeking diagnosis and medical attention early when experiencing knee pain can prevent further risk for knee problems and ensure appropriate care for pain behind the knee.

Home Remedies


Relieving pain behind knee can often begin at home. The RICE protocol—rest, ice, compression, and elevation—is a common first-line approach:

  • Rest: Avoid strenuous physical activity to prevent further knee injuries.
  • Ice: Apply cold packs to the afflicted area to reduce swelling.
  • Compression: Use an elastic bandage for gentle support.
  • Elevation: Keep the leg elevated to minimize inflammation.

Take Over-the-Counter Medicine

In conjunction with the RICE method, over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage mild to moderate knee pain.

Use Braces or Sleeves

These can stabilize the knee joint and distribute weight evenly.

Use a Cane if Needed

Utilize it for balance and to take pressure off the painful knee.

By following these home remedies, individuals can often manage posterior knee pain stemming from everyday activities and less severe knee injuries. However, if symptoms persist, seeking medical attention is crucial.

Medical Intervention

Medical intervention for pain behind the knee includes physical therapy and, in some cases, surgery. These approaches aim to address underlying medical conditions, such as meniscus tears and rheumatoid arthritis.

Physical Therapy

This non-invasive treatment focuses on:

  • Strengthening the hamstring and calf muscles.
  • Increasing flexibility and range of motion.
  • Reducing inflammation through specialized exercises.
  • Learning movement patterns to prevent further knee joint issues.


Recommended when conservative treatments fail, or severe pain persists. Surgical options include:

  • Meniscectomy or meniscus repair for meniscus tears.
  • Arthroscopy for cartilage tears and other knee injuries.
  • Ligament reconstruction in the case of a torn ligament.

Post-surgery, physical therapy is often prescribed to aid in recovery and restore function.

Tips to Prevent Pain Behind the Knee

Maintaining knee health is crucial for everyday activities and physical activity. Here are tips to prevent posterior knee pain:

  • Strengthen Muscles: Focus on the hamstring muscles and calf muscles to provide better support to the knee joint.
  • Stretch Regularly: Increase flexibility in leg muscles to lessen the strain on the knee.
  • Manage Weight: Excess weight puts added stress on knee joints, so maintain a healthy weight.
  • Wear Appropriate Footwear: Supportive shoes can reduce the load on your knee.
  • Avoid Overexertion: Listen to your body and avoid excessive physical activity that can lead to knee injuries.
  • Use Supportive Gear: Elastic bandages or knee braces can protect your knee during high-stress activities.
  • Warm-Up and Cool-Down: Never skip warm-ups before and cool-downs after intense exercise.

Note: Individuals with a history of knee issues should consider consulting a healthcare professional before significantly changing their exercise routine or physical activity levels.

When to Seek Professional Help

Pain behind knee can be a common symptom, but certain signs indicate it’s time to consult a health care provider. Here’s when to seek medical attention:

  • Severe Pain: If the pain is intense and limits your everyday activities, it’s crucial to get it checked.
  • Swelling: Swelling or fluid-filled sacs behind the knee, such as a popliteal cyst, may require professional assessment.
  • Redness or Warmth: These could be signs of an infection or blood clot.


  • Inability to Bear Weight: Difficulty standing or walking on the affected leg might suggest a torn ligament or other knee injuries.


In summary, pain behind the knee, or posterior knee pain, can stem from a variety of conditions. It’s essential not to overlook severe pain, especially if it interferes with physical or daily activity. Whether you’re dealing with hamstring injuries, dealing with a sharp pain indicative of a ligament sprain, or navigating the challenges of a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis, proper medical attention is important.

Ultimately, combining a thorough physical exam with your precise medical history allows healthcare providers to formulate an effective treatment plan, potentially involving physical therapy or other interventions. Remember, timely response to knee pain can prevent complications and promote a quicker return to your everyday activities.

If you are ever wondering what this pain behind my knee is or if you have any other knee issues, consider reaching out to Max Performance Physical Therapy, a trusted team of physical therapists in Orlando. Their dedicated team can offer personalized treatment plans to help you on the road to recovery.


Should I be worried about pain behind knee?

If you are experiencing pain behind the knee, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. They will be able to assess your symptoms, conduct any necessary tests or imaging, and provide you with the necessary guidance and treatment options.

It is always better to be cautious and seek medical advice if you are concerned about any pain or discomfort, especially if it persists or worsens over time.

What causes pain at the back of the leg behind the knee?

Pain behind knee can be caused by a variety of issues, such as Injuries, Knee Arthritis, Baker’s Cyst, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), Bursitis, and Leg Cramps. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

How do you treat back of knee pain?

Treatment for pain at the back of the knee varies depending on the underlying cause. Typically, it involves a combination of approaches tailored to the specific condition. Rest and ice application are commonly recommended to alleviate discomfort, especially for minor injuries, while compression with an elastic bandage provides additional support. Elevation of the leg helps to reduce swelling. 

Physical therapy plays a crucial role, with exercises aimed at strengthening the knee and improving flexibility under the guidance of a therapist. Medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to alleviate pain and inflammation. In more severe cases involving significant injuries or conditions like meniscus or ligament tears, surgical intervention might be necessary to address the issue effectively.

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