Sudden Knee Pain Without Injury

It happens more often that people are either walking along or going down the steps or just go to stand up and their knee hurts.  This pain can be an intense pain, a sharp pain, a burning pain or just an ache.  No matter what hype of pain it is, one thing is certain, that the pain happens and there is no injury.  There is no event, no fall, no tripping, nothing that you would be able to recall a reason that your knee would hurt.

The difficulty in figuring out exactly what is going on, which makes it hard to diagnose by yourself, is the fact that the knee has muscles that attach at the knee also attach at the hip and at the foot.  Therefore, you cannot just look at the knee for an answer on why the knee suddenly started to hurt.

While there are ligaments that attach solely at the knee, usually pain that starts randomly is not due to a torn ligament.  Pain associated with ligament damage, occurs with a traumatic incident like a fall.

While the pain can often be intense, it often does not mean that anything is torn and is often comes from several things. The pain will most likely be intense in one spot but even though it presents as pain in one spot, the pain is most likely coming from several different spots and all the spots will need to be addressed for the pain to be resolved.

First let us address why the pain comes on suddenly. Most likely the pain did not come on suddenly, the pain came on over time, but your body compensated for it.  Many times, you can recall a time that your knee was sore or uncomfortable, it did not stop you and you were able to push through it and you thought it went away but it did not go away, you just compensated for it.  You often felt a twinge and your body wanted the twinge to stop so it changed something, without you knowing it, and starting compensating to make the pain now stop. As you change things or compensate this change different things in your body. As these compensation injuries continue to build up, they can cause pain in one spot.

Where can the pain be coming from?

  1. It can be coming from tightness in your hips and calves. Tightness in your hip, your IT Band, your adductors, you hamstring and so on.  Tightness in hips can cause the knee to be pulled in several different directions that can cause extreme pain suddenly. This tightness can come on due to weakness, not stretching or foam rolling and compensating.  Most often it is not just coming from one muscle, it is coming from several different muscles which is why it can be intense and why it is often takes a long time to heal because all the muscles need to be addressed.
  2. Another cause of sudden knee pain without injury is flat feet. This can be in addition to tight hip muscles, or it can be the only cause.  This can be as an easy of fix as putting orthotics in your shoes or just going and buying the appropriate shoes. But it could also involve strengthening and stretching exercises.  This is where an evaluation with a medical professional is needed.  When the foot is flat, the knee tends to collapse inward when walking or going down the steps.  A demonstration of this can be seen in the video. But this constant inward movement of the knee can cause strain on the muscles and therefore can bring on a sharp sudden pain.
  3. Weak muscles. Have you ever pulled your hamstring?  This is a sign of having weak muscles.  Weak muscles, in the abdominals, hips, calves and so on can cause sudden knee pain without injury.  When some muscles are weak there are other muscles that must work harder to make up for the weaker muscles causing compensation issues.  Muscles that are above and below the knee have an impact on the health of the knee.  If you are trying to fix knee pain adjust doing knee exercises, the treatment will not be a long-term success.

What do you do?

  1. Loosen tight muscles.  Making sure that loosen the tight muscles in the hips, and the lower legs, like the IT Band, the hamstrings, the calves, the gluts, and the foot.  You can loosen them by foam rolling.  Refer to our You Tube Channel, Total Performance Physical Therapy, to see videos of foam rolling exercises to loosen everything up.  You may also do stretches, which also can be found on the Total Performance Physical Therapy You Tube Channel.   You can also use your hands to start to loosen up the muscles.  Take your knuckles and slowly slide them down the side of your leg, along the IT Band (Iliotibial band) and stop when you feel tight spots.  Push on those tight spots for about 10 seconds.  Now most likely there will be many tight spots, so just pick 5 or 10 and focus on those one day and then the next day focus on another one.
  1. Strengthen muscles.  It is important to strengthen muscles in the legs, hips, and abdominals.  Ignoring one of these groups of muscles can lead to failure in the treatment of the knee.  You can reference Total Performance Physical Therapy You Tube Channel to find out abdominal, hip and knee exercises.
  2. Make sure that you are wearing proper shoe wear. Sometimes you do no need orthotics you just need a proper fitting shoe.

I understand that as we get older pain starts to happen more and more. I wake up every day and something is achy or hurts. So, you do not want to have to run to the doctor with every ache and pain so most of us wait until we cannot bear it anymore. My rule is 2 weeks, if you feel the pain for more than 2 weeks straight or you can remember the last time that body part was achy or hurt then it is time to address the issue. The longer you wait to deal with it, the more time and money you will have to spend to fix it. For many of us the reasons we do not address the pain when it comes on is because of lack of time and money but, it will cost us more time and money to ignore it and deal with it later.

Make sure that you find the cause of the pain to solve the problem. Do not just put ice on your knee or a knee brace or tape on your knee. While it may make it feel better right away it does not fix the problem and makes it worse because it allows the compensation to worsen.

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