Knee pain is unfortunately common, especially as we get older. If you’ve been in an accident, your knee pain may be clear-cut and easy to diagnose. But what can cause knee pain without injury?
Our knees are one of the most complex joints in our bodies. With so many components (bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and muscles) there are many potential culprits of what can cause knee pain without injury.
Experiencing knee pain without injury can be mystifying and frustrating, but it’s not hopeless. There are many causes for knee pain, and most of them are treatable or manageable once you understand what can cause knee pain without injury, and which cause (specifically) is affecting you.
Today we will go over a list of what can cause knee pain without injury, so you can find the proper diagnosis and begin your journey to healthy, pain-free knees.
What can cause knee pain without injury: 11 common culprits
Here is a list of what can cause knee pain without injury, so you can find the source of your joint troubles:
First on our list of what can cause knee pain without injury is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the bones in your knees wears down over time. This causes your bones to grind together, and results in painful inflammation of the joint.
Osteoarthritis affects many people as they get older, just through general wear and tear, but past injuries, poor posture, and excess can all increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis.
Next on our list of what can cause knee pain without injury is rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is not caused through general wear and tear. In fact, it is an autoimmune disease.
While the symptoms of stiffness, swelling, and pain are similar to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis causes your immune system to mistakenly attack your body’s own tissues, and affects all the joints in your body – plus internal organs, skin, and blood vessels.
If you think you have rheumatoid arthritis, it is essential to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
Gout is yet another form of arthritis, and is caused when uric acid crystals in your body are produced in excess. This condition usually only develops in people over age 55 who have an unhealthy lifestyle.
Gout can result in redness, swelling, and pain in your knee joints, so it is another culprit for what can cause knee pain without injury. You may experience these symptoms in one or both knees, as well as other joints.
Septic arthritis or infection
Septic arthritis occurs alongside fever and infection in your joint(s). There does not need to be any prior trauma for this condition to develop.
Septic arthritis can set in after viral, fungal, or bacterial infections. It often develops quickly and can cause significant damage to the cartilage in your knees.
If you are experiencing redness, swelling, heat, and pain in your knee joint, and think you may have an infection, it is important to contact a medical professional to prevent matters from getting worse.
Next on our list of what can cause knee pain without injury is bursitis. Even though we aren’t aware of them, there are tiny sacs of fluid surrounding our knee joint that cushion our bones, just like our cartilage does.
Sometimes, these sacs, called bursae, can get infected or inflamed. This is called “bursitis.” Bursitis can cause tenderness in your knee joint, redness, and in some cases, fever.
Sometimes, fluid collects where it shouldn’t in your body, and these pockets of fluid are called cysts. Cysts can absolutely be a cause of knee pain without injury. They can swell up, restrict movement, and cause irritation. If they pop, you may feel a sharp burning pain.
One common knee-related cyst is a Baker’s cyst. This is a cyst formed at the back of the knee. If you are experiencing pain and swelling behind your knee, it may be from a Baker’s cyst. These often go away on their own, but you may need the fluid to be drained by a doctor.
Another common culprit of what can cause knee pain without injury is tendonitis. Tendonitis occurs when tendons (the tissue that connects muscles to bones) become irritated and inflamed – usually due to overuse.
If you have tendonitis in your knee, you may experience pain, swelling, and a burning, aching sensation that increases with use.
Iliotibial band syndrome
Your iliotibial band, also referred to as your “IT band,” is a strong band of tissue that connects your outer hip to your outer knee. It helps to keep your joints stable and supports normal movement.
Just as with other tendonitis issues, your IT band can become irritated and inflamed from overuse. This can result in chronic pain in your outer knee, and is another culprit of what can cause knee pain without injury.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome
Not all knee pain without injury is cut and dry. If you are experiencing generalized pain in your knee that can’t be diagnosed as anything else, it is often lumped under the umbrella term of “patellofemoral pain syndrome.”
Patellofemoral pain syndrome often develops gradually and is common in younger children. It often has to do with the way your bone structure comes together at the knee joint, and the torque it puts on your knees.
Fortunately, patellofemoral pain syndrome can be managed well with physical therapy and NSAIDs.
Injuries to other leg joints
Your whole body is connected, so what can cause knee pain without injury might not have anything to do with your knees at all. If you have an injury to your hips, ankles, or feet, it can put undue stress and torque on your knees.
It’s important to speak with your doctor or physical therapist if you have a prior injury that is starting to affect the health of your other joints.
Last, but certainly not least, on our list of what can cause knee pain without injury – is cancer.
Although it’s not common, some types of cancer, like osteosarcoma, can cause pain in your knees. Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that causes pain and swelling in the knee and leg. The pain is usually worse at night, or when performing weight-bearing activities.
As with many of the conditions on this list, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you think you may have cancer in your knees.
When should you see a doctor for knee pain?
Now you know what can cause knee pain without injury – but how do you know which problem you are dealing with, and how can you stop your knee pain in its tracks for good?
Some knee pain is easy to manage and treat at home, but other types of knee pain can be signs of serious issues. If you have knee pain without injury that doesn’t go away, or worsens over time, it’s important to visit a doctor.
Serious issues like cancer or rheumatoid arthritis shouldn’t go undiagnosed. While in the majority of cases knee pain without injury is not a big cause for concern, it’s better safe than sorry when it comes to your health.
Because what can cause knee pain without injury is an extensive list, and symptoms are often similar, it is difficult to properly self-diagnose. A doctor will be able to tell you exactly where your knee pain is coming from, and help you form a plan to manage it.
Delaying care could prolong your symptoms, or cause your pain to turn into a worsening, chronic condition.
After you have received a proper diagnosis from your doctor, you will know the best route to a pain-free life. And fortunately, there are many ways to find relief for knee pain without surgery.
How to treat your knee pain from home
You can find a lot of home remedies for knee pain on the internet – and some work better than others. As long as you don’t have a degenerative condition or infection that needs immediate treatment from a doctor, these remedies can be beneficial at managing knee pain.
As you’ve seen, inflammation is usually what can cause knee pain without injury, so if that is what you are dealing with, there are many methods for reducing irritation and swelling in your knees. Here are some of our favorite remedies for knee pain that you can try right now:
One of the most proven methods for reducing inflammation is the R.I.C.E. method, which stands for: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.
Resting your knee is the first step to reducing pain and inflammation. If you keep using your joint, it will be difficult to fight swelling. Try to rest as much as possible, and elevate your knee above your heart level when possible.
You can also use an ice pack or compression sleeve to battle inflammation – just make sure to keep a towel or cloth between the ice and your skin so you don’t cause irritation.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are a great way to reduce pain and inflammation short-term. Ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen are all examples of NSAIDs.
NSAIDs can be useful for pain management while waiting for more slow-acting methods (like taking supplements and vitamins for knee pain) to take effect. That being said, it isn’t good to take NSAIDs long-term unless overseen and prescribed by your doctor.
Stretching and strengthening
You want your knee joint to be as healthy as possible to reduce pain and inflammation, and stretching and strengthening are great ways to ensure your connective tissues are in top form.
A physical therapist can help give you an at-home routine of exercise to reduce knee pain and promote strength and stability in your inflamed joints.
Focus on nutrition
Believe it or not, your diet can play a huge role in your health – including your joint health. Some foods are naturally anti-inflammatory, and may help to reduce swelling and pain in your knees.
In addition, proper nutrition may help you to shed some of the excess weight that could be putting undue pressure on your knees.
Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet include:
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens)
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines)
- And some fruits (strawberries, cherries, blueberries, oranges)
You should also try to limit foods that cause inflammation, such as:
- Red & processed meats (burgers, hot dogs, steak)
- Refined carbs (white bread, pastries, cake)
- Soda & sweetened beverages
- Fried foods
- Lard, margarine, or shortening
Take daily collagen supplements
One of the best supplements you can take for knee pain is collagen. Collagen for knees works by providing your body with the building blocks it needs to create new, healthy cartilage and connective tissues.
Collagen is one of the few treatments that can actually help with cartilage repair, making it one of the best home remedies for arthritis pain. Taking a daily collagen supplement can greatly reduce knee pain, but like other supplements, it may take a few months to see full results.
That’s why, although collagen is one of the most effective methods of treating knee pain from home, it’s a good idea to combine collagen supplementation with other methods on this list to assist with your knee pain in the short-term.
The best collagen for knee pain
Most supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so if you want the best collagen for knee pain, you need to do your own research. Companies don’t have to back up their claims, so look for a product that is well-reviewed by customers, and ideally backed by scientific studies.
To get the most out of your collagen supplement, you also want to find a hydrolyzed supplement. This is collagen that has gone through a chemical process that breaks it down into tiny, easily digestible pieces.
Taking hydrolyzed collagen protein, alongside effective methods like R.I.C.E., physical therapy, and NSAIDs, can help you get your knee pain under control, and get you back to the life you love.