Pain Behind Knee: What’s Hurting the Back of My Knee 

Overview

Pain behind knee is called posterior knee pain. The knee joint is the most important and complex joint of our body, thus a knee injury may result in a temporary or prolonged pain in the knee or behind the knee. Although, pain behind knee is less likely to occur and can have various reasons for happening. So, is it the topic of concern? 

Whereas, your knee is the biggest joint and one of the more injury-prone parts. Bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments altogether made up the knees. Bones can move out of the joint during a severe hit as well as the other parts can strain or tear. Sometimes a mild or moderate knee injury is treated on its own with proper care and rest, while some severe ones have to be treated by surgery or medical assistance. 

At times the severe pain in the knee may be a sign of any chronic illness like arthritis that can damage your knee gradually. 

So, here are some common signs and causes due to which you are feeling pain in the knee or behind the knee. 

Pain Behind Knee Signs

Pain feels in different ways

The pain can vary according to the cause of it. Pain could be sharp, tiresome, or burning. It can come all of a sudden or may gradually or either stay constant. This is why the intensity and timing of your pain can help your doctor to diagnose your problem. 

Swelling and stiffness 

You may have swelling or stiffness in the knee or you could feel pain in the back of the knee when straightening the leg. Along which you may feel a pop, or collapse while putting weight over it. The symptoms are telling you that you are sustaining a knee injury. Exceptions could be there. 

Feeling redness and warmth 

Due to some reasons, you may feel hot while touching behind the knee or redness may be visible. A slight fever could also be felt. Though these symptoms can be signs of some other cause than only pain behind knee.  

The pain may vary according to the affected part, such as tendon ligament and cartilage. So, we will see how many types of pain you may feel due to an injury in a particular part. 

Pain behind knee cap

Most cartilage breakdown happens underneath the kneecap or patella. As a result, when the cartilage is damaged, the knee bones start scraping against each other and cause you pain behind kneecap. 

Tendon pain behind knee

Hamstring tendonitis is when soft tissues that connect the muscles of your thigh, knee, and lower legs get inflamed, causing tendon pain behind the knee. 

Nerve pain behind knee 

The muscles wrapping your knees are powered by the nerves originating in your lower spines. Any compression or irritation to these nerves may result in sciatica, which may include knee pain and weakness. 

Let’s see them in a more detailed form and you may relate your pain with any of the given causes and signs associated with them. 

Causes For Pain Behind Knee 

 

Leg cramps

Cramps are usually the tightening of muscles. Calves muscles are more likely to cause cramps, though other leg muscles may also cause cramps- including muscles behind the knee. 

You feel leg cramps often after exercise, running, or during pregnancy. The other points may help you get to know it more, if these aren’t the causes for your injury.

  • Nerve problems in your leg
  • Some infections like tetanus
  • Dehydration
  • Liver disease
  • The heightened levels of lead or mercury in your blood

When you have leg cramps, you may feel a muscle spasm and contraction abruptly. The pain will stay more severe for about a few seconds to a few minutes. Once the cramp goes, the muscle may feel a little sore for few hours.  

Baker’s cyst

A baker’s cyst is usually a sac filled up of synovial fluid that forms behind the knee. The synovial fluid-filled sac is normally the fluid that provides lubrication to your knee joint. Cyst happens when the synovial fluid forms too much than needed and the extra fluids result in a cyst under a few conditions like arthritis. 

Symptoms associated with baker’s cyst are:-

  • Pain in and behind the knee
  • Swelling back of your knee
  • Stiffness and loss of flexibility 

However, the stress from arthritis or any knee injury might trigger your synovial fluid to accumulate. Symptoms kick you worse while you are active. Baker’s cyst may go on its own either may take other treatment options like steroid injections and would need physical therapy or need to drain out the cyst. Diagnosis should be done first to know if there is an underlying problem causing the pain, like arthritis. Treatment will first clear up the cyst and then the main cause. 

Jumper’s knee

Jumper’s knee is a tendon injury. Tendon-a cord connecting your kneecap to your shin bone. Tendon is also called patellar tendonitis. It may happen when you are playing or jumping like while playing football or basketball. 

Those hard movements can bring small tears in your tendon causing them to swell and weaken. Usually, a jumper’s knee results in pain below the knee cap. The pain may get worse over time.

Other associated symptoms include:-

  • Weakness
  • Stiffness in the knee
  • Difficult to straighten your leg 

Gastrocnemius tendonitis/ calf strain 

The gastrocnemius muscle and soleus muscle form up your calf, that is the back of your lower leg. These muscles help in bending your knees and pointing your toes. 

Sports that require a sudden shift from standing to run position such as tennis or squash might put pressure on gastrocnemius muscle. You could feel it after straining your muscle after the pain in the back of your leg. 

Other associated symptoms include:-

  • Swelling and pain in the calf, or back of your leg
  • Injury in the calf
  • Can’t stand on tiptoe

Nonetheless, the pain will heal depending on the size of the injury. By following rest, elevating the leg and cold compression over the affected area will heal it soon.

Biceps femoris tendonitis- hamstring injury

The hamstring consists of three of the muscles- semitendinosus muscle, semimembranosus muscle, and biceps femoris muscle that allow you to bend your knees. 

Also read: tibial plateau fracture|features, classification and treatment 

Consequently, injury in any of these muscles is known as a hamstring strain and a pulled hamstring. Such stains happen when the muscle is stretched too far. If the muscle is completely injured it may take months to heal. 

When you have a hamstring injury, you will feel a sudden severe pain. Pain behind knee can be caused due to an injury to the biceps femoris. 

The other associated symptoms include:-

  • Swelling
  • Injury
  • Weakness in behind your leg

Such injuries are quite common in athletic fields when the individuals have to run fast in sports like basketball, tennis, soccer, or track. A little warm-up before going to the field might help in preventing the chances of getting injured like stretching. 

Meniscus tear 

Each of your knees has two meniscus- one on either side of your knee. Particularly meniscus is a wedge-shaped part of the cartilage which shields your knee joint. sometimes athletes tear meniscus while squatting or twisting the knee. The meniscus weakens and degenerates and more commonly tear during a twisting motion. 

It may sound like a pop while tearing your meniscus. the first injury might not hurt you that bad, walking with it for days can increase the pain. 

Other associated symptoms include:-

  • Swelling
  • Weakness
  • Stiffness
  • Lock up of the knee

You will need rest for some days after you get an injury, cold compression, and a little elevation of the leg to heal the leg. If the suffering isn’t treated even after several days of injury it may need surgery to heal it. 

Anterior cruciate ligament injury 

This ligament consists of a group of tissue running through the front of your knee joint and connects your thigh bone to the shinbone and provides a stabilized movement to your knee.  

Anterior cruciate ligament injury happens when you suddenly change your direction while running like slowing down or stopping. You may also be hit by the injury if you had hit the long jump wrong or a hit by contact sports like football. 

Again a pop sound may indicate the injury and afterward, it may show swelling and pain. Consequently, you will feel difficulty in moving your knee and will feel difficulty in walking. 

Physical therapy and rest can help the injury. Or if the ligament is damaged, you will need surgery to repair it. 

Posterior cruciate ligament injury 

So as you get it it’s the partner of the anterior cruciate ligament which is another group of tissues that connects your thigh bone to your shin bone. Thus, cushions your knee joint. Fortunately, this injury is not as likely to happen as ACL. 

A severe car accident can blow hard on your posterior ligament and can cause an injury. At times knee twisting or missing a step while walking can result in a bad hit to the knee. 

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Moreover, stretching the particular ligament too far causes a strain. If the pressure exceeds its tolerance then it may break into two parts. 

Other associated symptoms include:-

  • Swelling in the knee
  • Stiffness 
  • Weakness 
  • Inability to walk 

For a mild, to moderate injury, cold compression and try of elevation of the leg might help in healing the injury soon. Or either if more than one ligament is affected, cartilage damage or instability surgery would be an option. 

Arthritis 

It’s a degenerative disease, which gradually damages your knee joints. However, the cartilages which provide support to your knees slowly wear away. Different types of arthritis can affect your knee joints. 

Osteoarthritis:- it affects a large population and gradually degrades the cartilage as you age. 

Rheumatoid arthritis:- it’s an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly starts attacking the joints.

Lupus:- it’s another example of auto-immune disease that causes the knee and other joints to inflamed. 

Psoriatic arthritis:- it’s related to skin disease, causes joints, and forms scaly patches over the skin. 

Deep vein thrombosis 

Thrombosis refers to the formation of blood clots, and as the name says it refers to the blood clots inside the vein of the leg, especially while standing. 

Associated symptoms include:-

  • Swelling of the leg
  • Feeling hot in the affected area
  • Redness 

Early treatment is necessary if possible. As the formed clot can freely break and may enter the lungs. And when the clots present in the lung’s artery it’s called pulmonary embolism which can be dangerous. 

Deep vein thrombosis is treated with blood thinners which prevent the clots from further growth and stop the new clots as well. 

Conclusion 

Pain behind knee can be caused due to various reasons, knee or leg injury is one of the common reasons for it. The knee is made up of various muscles, tendons, and ligaments and any damage to any three of them would cause severe pain and injury to the knee. However, mild to moderate injuries can be treated by icing, rest, and elevation of the leg. While in severe injury or displacement of knee bone surgery would be the only option. To prevent such kinds of injury or breakdown do a stretching exercise before you go into the field, especially for the athletes and players. 

Pain Behind Knee FAQs 

 

What causes nerve pain behind the knee?

The muscles around the knee are connected to the lower spine, and compression of those nerves could lead to knee pain. 

The common causes of nerve pain behind knee include:-

  • Baker’s cyst
  • Arthritis
  • Infection
  • Injury
  • Deep vein thrombosis 

What helps nerve pain behind the knee?

You can use the following things to combating nerve pain behind the knee:-

  • Cold compression
  • Hot compression
  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injection
  • Over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen and naproxen for relieving extreme pain
  • Orthotic boot
  • Surgery 

What does it mean when the back of your leg hurts behind the knee?

Well, pain behind knee can be caused due to a variety of conditions like baker’s cyst, deep vein thrombosis, or torn hamstring which response well to household measures. The causes can result due to a mild to moderate condition and bring common symptoms like pain, swelling, injury, and pain behind the knee and calf. 

What nerve runs behind the knee?

The sciatic nerve runs behind the leg that supplies the muscles of the back of knee and lower leg. This nerve also serves sensation to the back of the thighs, lower leg, and the sole.

What does a blood clot feel like behind the knee?

A blood clot may be recognized by spotting a redness in the knee or calf. Swelling could be felt in the leg or knee. A hot sensation also can be felt behind the knee or in the leg. Intense pain is similar to cramps. 

What causes tight tendons behind knee?

 Tight tendons behind knee occur due to the torn hamstring or hamstring tendonitis when the soft tissues connecting the muscles of thighs to the pelvis and lower legs get inflamed. However, the condition results from the overuse of the leg muscles and sudden change in directions of the leg. The pain and discomfort will decrease with rest in the minor case.

Will walking on a torn meniscus make it worse?

Yes, walking puts pressure on the muscles and may make the pain worse, but you can still walk. Swelling occurs while it gets worse with time. Stiffness or tightness at the site of injury could be felt. 

How do you stretch the muscles behind your knee?

To scratch, the muscles behind your knee, lie on either the ground or a mat, with fully stretched legs. Stretch your right leg by grasping the back of your right knee and pull the leg towards the chest, slowly straight the knee until it feels stretched. And hold on to stretch for 10-30 seconds and the same is for the left leg as well. 

Is sciatic nerve on the right or left?

The five nerve roots altogether form a right and left sciatic nerve. One on each side of the body, a sciatic nerve runs along your hips, buttocks, and down leg, ending below the knee. The nerve then breaks into other branches which continue down your leg, and into your foot and toes. 

Do you test for femoral nerve damage?

One can diagnose femoral nerve damage, your doctor will perform a physical examination and will ask you frequent questions about any recent injury or medical history of the issue as if you have had any surgery before or gone through the symptoms earlier. To check the fragility of muscles, they will check the particular muscles that respond to the sensation from the femoral nerve. 

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