The knee is an important joint in the body as it helps us to move around for our daily tasks. Throughout the day, we bend our knees many times during walking, running, and climbing up and downstairs.
Because of this, we may experience knee pain every so often due to normal wear and tear.
Although it is reinforced by muscles, ligaments, and tendons, the knee is still susceptible to injuries, causing pain and difficulties in performing normal activities.
What Is Wrong With My Knee If It Hurts To Bend It?
There are several possible reasons why bending your knee causes pain. They are as follows:
Patello-femoral Pain Syndrome / Runner’s Knee
Runner’s knee usually occurs due to overuse and is common among highly active individuals and those who engage in sports that require repeated knee bending.
It usually causes dull, aching pain in the front of the knee during walking, jumping, cycling, and stair negotiation. The pain may also be present after sitting for a long time.
Inflammation of the tendon (which connects the muscle to bone) usually occurs due to overuse or repetitive movements such as jumping, running, and walking on steep slopes. These create microtears in the tendon leading to pain and swelling.
Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper’s knee)
This is a condition wherein the patellar tendon, which is the tendon that connects your kneecap to your shin bone, becomes inflamed.
It is associated with pain and swelling just below the kneecap (around the patellar tendon).
Pain just above the knee cap can be caused by the inflammation of the quadriceps tendon, which is the tendon that attaches the thigh muscle to the knee cap. The pain usually worsens after prolonged sitting or vigorous physical activity.
This usually occurs when the hamstring tendon, which is the tendon that connects the muscle at the back of the thigh to the hip, knee, and shin bones, becomes inflamed.
It involves sharp, throbbing pain and swelling at the back of the knee, joint stiffness, and weakness of the hamstrings muscle. Both bending and straightening of the knee might be difficult and painful if you have this condition.
In between the thigh (femur) and the shin (tibia) bones are two soft tissue structures called the lateral meniscus and the medial meniscus. They are crescent-shaped cartilages that absorb shock and cushion the knee joint during movement.
Any of the menisci can tear when there is excessive knee rotation or it receives too much pressure such as during sudden twisting, deep squatting, and heavy lifting. It can also tear as a result of degenerative changes that are common among the elderly.
A torn meniscus is usually painful, swollen, and stiff. You may not be able to fully bend or straighten your knee and it will feel like your knee is buckling or giving out.
The knee joint is supported by the cruciate and collateral ligaments. The cruciate ligaments consist of the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments (ACL and PCL), which prevent the lower leg from moving forward or backward excessively.
The collateral ligaments consist of the medial and the collateral ligaments (MCL and LCL) which keep the knee from extremely moving sideways. All ligaments inhibit excessive rotation in the knee joint.
When any of the ligaments are stretched or torn, it can result in pain and swelling, difficulty in walking, the knee feeling unstable, and problems with bending and straightening the affected knee.
The kneecap or the patella is the small bone that you can feel prominently in front of your knee joint. This bone moves as you bend or straighten your knee.
When the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that hold your knee cap on the joint become injured, weak, or tight, the patella can become subluxated or dislocated.
The signs and symptoms of a patellar dislocation include pain in the front of the knee, the knee cap looking out of place or moving towards the outer side of the knee, pain after sitting for long periods, stiffness of the joint, a cracking or popping sound during dislocation, and locking of the knee.
Why Does my Knee Feel Like it is Ripping, Tight, and Hurts When I Bend it?
Ripping or tearing pain during knee bending can be a sign of a ligament sprain or meniscus tear. It can also indicate that your kneecap or patella is dislocated.
Tightness and stiffness of the knee are commonly associated with ligament sprain, meniscal tear, or simple muscle tightness.
To understand the cause of your pain, it is important to determine the location of the pain, the task or activity that triggers the pain, and how the injury occurred.
If the injury occurred after an accident or while engaging in sports and you heard a popping sound, it can indicate a ligament and/or meniscal injury. Knee injuries acquired in sports are likely to damage several soft tissue structures. Therefore, it is important to have your knee evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible in this case.
Muscle tightness or stiffness may also occur after an intense exercise, and this is commonly known as muscle soreness. This will only require rest and can resolve on its own in a few days.
When your knee feels stiff after you have not been active for some time such as when getting out of bed in the morning or getting up from a chair, it can be a sign of osteoarthritis.
Why do my Knees Hurt When I Put Pressure on Them?
When putting pressure on your knee hurts such as when putting weight, bending, or straightening the knee, this can indicate an injury of your ligaments, tendons, menisci, or muscles that support the knee joint.
If this happens, it means that the soft tissue structures that stabilize the knee joint are unable to fully support or hold the knee anymore.
Aside from pain, your knee may feel like it will give out and you will have difficulty walking, climbing up and downstairs, and bending or squatting.
Can you Bend your Knee with a Torn Meniscus?
It may be difficult to bend or straighten your knee fully if you have a torn meniscus. This is because bending or straightening the knee places pressure on the menisci located in between the thigh and the shin bones.
With a torn meniscus, it is best to rest and refrain from placing weight on the affected knee to give it time to heal and avoid the injury from worsening.
How Long will my Knee Pain Last and for my Injury to Heal?
Healing varies from person to person. It also depends on the type and severity of the injury, the lifestyle and overall health condition of the individual before the injury occurred, and one’s adherence to prescribed treatment intervention.
Pain from mild knee injuries should decrease within two to three days. Pain medications and cold compress during the initial stages of healing may be beneficial to lessen the pain and swelling.
As the pain lessens and the swelling subsides, a hot compress may be used to reduce joint stiffness and to prepare the injured part for exercise. If the pain remains the same or increases even after pain medications and home management, it is best to seek your doctor immediately as this may indicate a severe injury.
In general, a mild ligament sprain can heal between two to four weeks and severe ones that require surgery can take up to six months or more. For meniscal tears, under conservative treatment (without surgical intervention), healing can occur between four to eight weeks.
Meanwhile, recovery from mild tendonitis can take up to three weeks and severe ones can last for six to eight months.
How do you Fix Knee Pain When Bending?
To determine the best treatment management for your knee pain, you will need to seek your doctor for proper evaluation and diagnosis of your condition. Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury, where the pain is located, and the cause of the injury.
During the first few days after the injury occurred, rest is still the best way to manage the pain.
Resting the area by not placing weight or pressure on it and avoiding activities that trigger the pain will give enough time for the body to heal.
Home remedies such as taking over-the-counter pain medications, elevating the injured area above the heart, and placing a cold compress on the area during the first two to three days will help minimize the pain and the swelling.
Exercises for the trunk, shoulders, hips, ankles, and unaffected knee can still be done; however, avoid moving the injured knee, especially if the exercise produces pain.
In general, you may go back to your usual daily activities or routine when the injured knee is pain-free or feels the same way as your uninjured leg.
Dr Aarti is an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery) from Baroda Medical College (The Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda). Dr. Aarti has also completed her Masters of Medical Science and Technology from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.