Pain behind the knee, or posterior knee pain, is a form of knee joint pain that many people experience. It can develop in a large number of athletes, people who work physical jobs and older patients with degeneration of the knee. Pain and swelling in the back of the knee can also be caused by a buildup of joint fluid in the back of the knee. 

While the source of pain is often a minor injury that gets better in a brief amount of time with minor treatment, it can also develop into chronic pain for many. Any knee joint pain that lasts for longer than a few days at the most should be diagnosed and treated by a qualified physician. 

By learning about the potential sources of pain behind the knee you can work more closely with your treatment team and make confident care decisions that can get you back to healthy activity. 

The caring and dedicated team at Outpatient Joint Replacement Center of America (OJRCA) is sharing the following guide to pain behind the knee so you can take a more proactive role in your treatment. If you want to learn more about how we can help or have questions, please get in touch with us today. 

What Are the Major Sources of Pain Behind the Knee?

Pain behind the knee is often described as pain and swelling that occurs behind the knee joint. It can be felt during movement or at rest, and many patients report the pain as severe enough to limit movement. Other related symptoms of pain behind the knee include sensations of warmth or burning, stiffness, aches and general soreness behind and around the knee joint..

Like knee injuries in other locations, behind the knee pain may be caused by a strain of the surrounding muscles, particularly the calf or hamstring muscles. This may be caused by overuse, muscle imbalance, or misalignment of the knee joint. Issues with mechanics and gait in the lower extremities often contribute to knee pain as well. It’s important to be proactive with injuries to avoid them developing into a more serious tear or rupture. 

The following sports and physical activities can be associated with an increased risk of pain behind knee:

  • Gymnastics
  • Running and jogging
  • Cycling, road or stationary
  • Basketball and tennis due to the rapid direction changes involved 
  • Any physical activity that involves repetitive stair climbing or squatting

One condition that is a very common source of pain and swelling behind the knee joint is called a Baker’s cyst. This is a buildup of synovial fluid, or joint fluid, behind the knee. This can limit movement and may result in pain and swelling that is experienced at the back of the knee joint.

A Baker’s cyst may have similar symptoms to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which is a blood clot in the leg with potentially life-threatening complications. Pain behind the knee that is accompanied by calf pain, swelling and visible bruising requires immediate medical attention and is why any form of pain behind knee should never be ignored.    

Yet another source of pain behind the knee is natural knee degeneration that can result in joint inflammation and arthritis. 

Symptoms of Pain Behind Knee to Watch For

Signs of more serious pain behind knee that require diagnosis and treatment by a physician include:

  • Inability to put weight on the knee
  • Pain and swelling inside the knee or in the back
  • Reduced range of motion in the back of the knee or throughout
  • Aches and stiffness
  • Popping and grinding sensations that may be accompanied by catching
  • Any type of bruising, redness, and warmth in the back of the knee and calf may be a sign of DVT, particularly if accompanied by shortness of breath, and requires immediate medical care

Often, mild aching pain that does not cause catching or locking can be helped by basic treatment. However, delaying this treatment can lead to increased risk of the pain worsening or a new injury developing. 

How Physicians Diagnose and Treat Pain Behind the Knee

When you schedule an appointment with a physician to diagnose persistent pain behind the knee, you will typically undergo the following steps: 

  • A review of your medical history
  • A thorough conversation about your specific symptoms and how they affect your normal activity level
  • A physical hands on examination to test for painful areas and range-of-motion
  • Diagnostic tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, if needed

After diagnosis of the source of pain behind the knee, treatment will typically start with an array of conservative therapies. Often, pain behind the knee related to a minor muscle injury or ligament sprain can be improved with physical therapy, periods of rest and modifying activities. Over-the-counter medication and using an ice pack alternated with a heating pad can help with pain and swelling. 

If the pain behind the knee joint is related to an injury or degenerative condition such as arthritis, doctors will still recommend fully exploring conservative therapy before exploring surgery. Although there is no way to stop age-related knee joint degeneration, it is possible to manage symptoms and slow the rate of degeneration. 

Considering Surgical Options for Pain Behind the Knee

If a full course of nonsurgical treatments have not been able to bring relief for pain behind the knee relief, surgery may represent the best chance for a good quality of life. 

The recommended method of surgery for pain behind the knee will depend on the nature of the diagnosis. While surgery is rarely needed for minor strains and sprains, procedures to repair ligament or tendon tears are very often performed. 

In patients where the source of pain behind the knee pain is caused by severe knee joint damage from arthritis or another form of joint degeneration, a partial knee replacement or total knee replacement surgery may be the best course of treatment. This where all or part of the damaged joint surface is carefully removed and replaced with an artificial joint. 

What to Know About Outpatient Knee Replacement Surgery

Many patients considering a procedure put off traditional knee replacement surgeries because of the  larger incision and overnight hospitalization that can be associated with high costs and increased risk and recovery time. Fortunately, new approaches and developments in technology have enabled a less invasive approach to knee replacement that can be performed in an outpatient ambulatory surgery center. This type of procedure helps patients enjoy a shorter recovery time, reduced scarring and decreased infection risk. 

If you’re suffering from pain behind the knee related to joint damage and you have exhausted conservative treatments, contact OJRCA today. Our highly skilled and compassionate team will perform a thorough consultation and evaluation to help you better understand the full range of treatment options. If you have any questions or just want to learn more about our state-of-the-art facilities, and our advanced pain protocols, we’re here to help.

Call us at 813-492-4412 or reach out online.


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