Physiotherapist treating a man's chronic knee pain

Chronic Knee Pain: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

When you’re dealing with chronic knee pain, it impacts every part of your life. At home, at work, and during your favorite activities, you’re constantly interrupted by that sore, achy, swollen, or piercingly painful feeling in your knee. 

At first, you might hope it resolves itself, but after a few days or weeks, you realize this pain isn’t going anywhere. Knee pain can have a variety of causes, from injuries to illnesses and common age-related ailments. 

But no matter what the cause of your knee pain is, there are ways you can treat and manage it. Most of the time, these treatments are similar to each other.

But before you can put together a treatment plan, you need to know what the source of your pain is. You should consult your healthcare professionals – who can help you determine what the specific cause of your knee pain is and support you as you seek treatment. 

Today we will go over a few causes of chronic knee issues, and what you can do to mitigate your symptoms from the comfort of home. 

Common causes of chronic knee pain

The knee is a complex part of the body. It contains bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, muscles, soft tissues, and synovial fluid. Chronic knee pain is often caused when one or more of these pieces is inflamed, injured, or worn down.

Causes for knee pain can be genetic, lifestyle-based, and/or age-related, but they all have a few things in common. No matter what condition you have, you’ll likely experience some combination of: 

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Pain/soreness
  • Grinding, popping, or clicking sounds
  • Weak or wobbly feelings in the affected knee(s)
  • Difficulty standing or walking for long periods of time

These are all symptoms of several different knee conditions, so how can you and your healthcare team know which one you’re impacted by? 

Your team will help you look at specific medical history and risk factors to determine the root cause of your pain and diagnose you correctly. Here are some of the conditions they will look for:


Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of chronic knee pain. Also referred to as “wear and tear arthritis”, this condition is caused by a slow breakdown of cartilage in the knee over time. 

The cartilage in your knee doesn’t have any blood vessels in it. As a result, it can’t repair itself and it isn’t very good at regenerating. 

As you move through your life, the bones, ligaments, and tendons around that cartilage rub against it. This slowly wears the cartilage down, leaving you with chronic knee pain, inflammation, and lower functionality in your knee.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. This means that unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by your body slowly breaking down, your body’s immune response gets confused. The cells which normally attack viruses and bacteria instead start to attack healthy cells.

This autoimmune response causes inflammation and chronic knee pain as your body works to “fight” the healthy cells in your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect other joints and even internal organs throughout your body.

Patellar tendonitis

Patellar tendonitis specifically impacts a tendon in your knee. Tendons are stretchy, fibrous tissues that connect your muscles to your bones. Patellar tendonitis is commonly called “jumper’s knee”, since it can be caused by repeated jumping in sports like basketball or volleyball. 

Anyone can get patellar tendonitis, however, especially if you have a medical condition that impacts blood flow or have tight leg muscles. 

Tight muscles or reduced blood flow can increase the amount of strain on this ligament, causing inflammation, stiffness, chronic knee pain, and reduced range of motion.

Ligament injuries

Ligament injuries in your knee are usually caused by a movement that twists your knee side to side or something hitting your knee forcefully. 

Ligaments can take a very long time to heal, and even after they’ve healed, the ligaments are mostly scar tissue. Your body will eventually replace the scar tissue in your ligaments with more functional tissue, but this can leave you with chronic knee pain for years after the injury itself has healed.

Chronic knee pain treatment without surgery

While some conditions may require surgery, relief for knee pain without surgery absolutely exists. Many options for chronic knee pain treatment can be done at home, and they generally fall into two categories. 

First, you have treatment options that provide instant relief. These are things that don’t necessarily address the root cause of your pain, but do allow you to move through your life more normally. 

Second are treatment options that do address the root cause of your pain, but usually don’t make your knee feel better right away. Surgery is in this category, but it’s not the only path you can take.

Let’s take a look at a few options from both categories.

Ice and heat

One of the most popular home remedies for knee pain is ice, heat, or some combination of the two. In fact, many people find that incorporating both into their daily routine provides the most relief and comfort for chronic knee pain.

Ice is best for knees that are swollen and inflamed. If your knee is red, puffy, warm to the touch, and/or sensitive to touch, ice is the way to go. 

Make sure to ice your knee using a flexible ice pack wrapped in thin fabric for no more than 15-20 minutes at a time before you take a break. Leaving ice on your knee for too long can lead to tissue damage in your skin and muscles. 

Heat, on the other hand, is best for stiff and tired joints. If you’re struggling to move your knee, have been using your knee throughout the day by walking or standing, or if your tendons or ligaments feel tight, heat can help. 

Like ice, you’ll want to use heat for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Then, take a break for 40-60 minutes before applying more heat or ice. 

Unlike many other instant pain relief options, ice and heat can be used to treat chronic knee pain for days or weeks at a time with no negative effects!

Over-the-counter pain medication

There are several different over-the-counter medications you can use as treatment for knee pain. Of course, when you’re wondering what to take for knee pain, it helps to know what kind of problem you’re dealing with.

For inflammation and swelling, look for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). The most common are Tylenol (or Acetaminophen) and Motrin (or Ibuprofen). For knees specifically, though, you can also find NSAID gels or creams that you apply topically.

The main problem with NSAIDs is that they aren’t safe to use repeatedly for long periods of time. Their effectiveness will decrease when you take them regularly, and you’ll be at a higher risk for kidney and gastrointestinal problems, as well as ulcers and stomach bleeding.

If you aren’t dealing with inflammation, products like IcyHot or menthol will open up the blood vessels in your knee. This can help with stiffness and soreness, and the feeling of the gel or cream can also be a distraction from chronic knee pain.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy takes time, and you may find your pain gets worse before it gets better. Chronic knee pain treatments that include physical therapy often recommend pairing it with heat, ice, or NSAIDs to provide faster relief. 

Physical therapy strengthens your knees and legs. This takes pressure off the injured part of your knee so it can heal. For people with arthritis, physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles and ligaments around your knees so the cartilage is less affected. 

Typically, this treatment happens under the supervision of a physical therapist, but you can do basic strengthening exercises at home, too. Over time, you’ll find that your knees hurt less and your range of motion is much better, even if you haven’t received other treatment. 

Collagen supplementation

Of all the knee pain supplements out there, collagen is the best and most effective. 

There have been numerous scientific studies done on collagen and its effects on arthritis, tendonitis, and ligament injuries. These studies have all found that collagen has a huge positive impact as a chronic knee pain treatment.

Like physical therapy, it can take time for you to feel the effects of collagen supplementation. Unlike physical therapy, though, taking collagen is quick, easy, and completely painless. 

You might be most familiar with collagen in beauty products, proclaiming its ability to erase wrinkles or boost hair growth. So how can it help with knee pain? Let’s take a closer look at this powerful supplement. 

What is collagen – and how can it relieve knee pain?

Collagen can certainly help your skin and hair, but it does so much more than that. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It can be found in every part of your knee – ligaments, tendons, cartilage, muscles, and even bone are up to 90% collagen.

In the past, people usually got more collagen in their diets than we do today. This is because they would consume the bones and skin of animals more frequently, often in broth. 

Today, collagen supplements still use the bones and skin of cows, pigs, or fish, but the resulting collagen is delivered in powder or liquid form instead of as a meal. 

The best collagen for joints will go a step further and be hydrolyzed. Collagen is a very large molecule, and as a result, it’s difficult for your body to digest. Hydrolyzing collagen breaks the molecule apart so your body can absorb and use it more easily. 

When you take collagen regularly, it gets to the root of your knee pain, helping your body strengthen and repair itself. 

Collagen strengthens cartilage, tendons, and ligaments

Collagen has been shown to aid significantly in cartilage regeneration, especially in people with osteoarthritis. Cartilage is up to 95% collagen, so supplementing with collagen gives your body exactly what it needs to slow the long-term breakdown of cartilage in your knees. 

Chronic knee pain caused by tendons and ligaments can benefit from collagen supplementation, too. Your body needs to either consume or create more collagen to strengthen and repair your tendons and ligaments. 

Research is still being done to understand the specific role of collagen in healing ligaments and tendons, but early studies have been promising. 

Additionally, some studies have looked at improvement of pain and mobility, but haven’t examined precisely why collagen improves joint pain. Healthier ligaments and tendons can be the unsung heroes of knee pain relief!

Collagen can reduce inflammation

Collagen has a unique role in the body. As a protein, it quite literally holds us together, but it also interacts with many different processes in the body. One of these is the body’s inflammatory response. 

Daily oral consumption of collagen reduces inflammation, particularly in cases of osteoarthritis.

How can collagen reduce inflammation? Collagen is rich in two molecules called proline and glycine. These are amino acids that slow down the body’s production of inflammatory cells. 

When you supplement with collagen regularly, your body can use the additional proline and glycine to reduce inflammation and, with it, chronic knee pain.

Collagen can boost joint lubrication

Remember synovial fluid? Along with cartilage, this thick, egg-white-like liquid is responsible for lubricating your joints so they glide smoothly when you move them. In some cases, knee pain is caused by problems with synovial fluid, but collagen can help. 

Along with reducing inflammation, collagen can help improve the synovial membrane. Scientists are slowly uncovering a strong link between collagen supplementation and healthier synovial membranes.

Overcoming chronic knee pain with collagen

Chronic knee pain treatment can – and will – be very different from person to person. The source of your pain, the treatments you’ve tried in the past, and your lifestyle will all be part of your journey towards health. 

While recovering from knee problems is difficult, there’s one thing you can do for your knee health that’s very simple. Start supplementing with collagen. Use high-quality, hydrolyzed collagen to ensure that your body has the very best support available while it heals your knees.