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What are the Most Common Causes of Sharp Knee Pain?

By Matthew Brodsky
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sharp knee pain can be a symptom of something seriously wrong with one of the most important joints in the human body. The sharp pain could indicate any number of issues with the knee, including a torn ligament, arthritis, runner's knee, or the development of a cyst within the joint. Whatever the cause of the pain, the affected person should generally seek immediate medical attention.

One of the most common causes of sharp knee pain is a tear in one of the four ligaments of the knee, which can occur during sports, recreation or other physical activity. Tears occur most often in the anterior cruciate ligament, the posterior cruciate ligament or the medial collateral ligament. Symptoms of a torn ligament include the sudden and strong onset of pain, an inability to use the knee and a sense of instability in the joint.

Other injuries to the soft tissues of the knee can cause sharp pain. These can include tears in the knee cartilage, which can occur in people of all ages. For patients in their teenage and young adult years, the cartilage behind the kneecap can soften due to a condition called chondromalacia patella, which can also lead to knee pain. Resulting from tendinitis of the patellar, or kneecap, tendon, patellar tendinitis can also cause pain around the knee. Other knee injury-related causes of pain are Baker's cyst, which leads to swelling in the back of the knee, and bursitis, which often results in pain right above the kneecap.

So-called runner's knee and gout are the two main causes of sharp knee pain that comes and goes. Gout is a form of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. Rarely, it affects the knee and leads to the onset of pain. A more common form of temporary knee pain is runner's knee, which is a sharp pain caused by overtraining on hard surfaces leading to the irritation of the iliotibial band. Runners can relieve the pain through rest and by treatment with cold and heat compresses.

Perhaps the most common form of sharp knee pain, especially for older adults, is arthritis of the knee. As an individual gets older, the cartilage in the knee breaks down, removing the knee's cushioning and leaving bone to rub on bone. The pain can be severe enough to slow a person or even prevent them from walking or standing for long periods.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Jul 08, 2011

Gout really is awful, my father had it and he said it was the worst disease he's ever had. I can remember him just sitting in his chair and if one of us even brushed lightly past him, he would be in pain from his feet and knees.

Now I know that gout is often caused by people eating really rich foods, like offal (liver and kidneys) and just red meat in general can cause it, as can alcohol (although dad wasn't really a drinker). Dad loved liver and had it all the time. So, I wish I could have told him back then, that he was making the knee and leg pain worse.

I've heard that eating blueberries and just a lot of fruit and vegetables in general is good for gout, although there are also medications you can take.

I'll have to keep up with it because it's genetic as well, so I have a chance of developing gout.

By pleonasm — On Jul 08, 2011

Tearing the ligaments of your knee is no picnic. I had a friend manage to do that and he ignored it for a long time. He would feel quite bad knee pain when running, but he pretended it was just everyday wear and tear.

When he eventually went to the doctor, he had made it worse than it had to be. And even then we couldn't keep him off the knee. He would still do things like play volleyball.

Eventually he had to have surgery on it, and keep it in a cast for a while. I think the doctors gave him the cast just to slow him down!

So, if you feel a sharp pain in your knee, don't ignore it. You could be making your condition worse, and it's not certain that there's nothing wrong.

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