Can’t Bend Knee Without Pain? Here’s What You Need to Know
Written By Kobi Nathan, Pharm.D., M.Ed., CDP, BCGP, AGSF
Sleep Disorders
January 19, 2023

Do you find yourself unable to bend your knee without experiencing pain? If so, you’re not alone. Many people suffer from this same issue, and it can be both frustrating and uncomfortable.

But what causes the pain in the first place? And how can we treat it or prevent further damage?

Here are 10 reasons why you can’t bend your knee without pain:

  1. Kneecap Dislocation
  2. Knee Bursitis
  3. ACL Tears
  4. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
  5. Meniscus Tear
  6. Rheumatoid Arthritis or Osteoarthritis
  7. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (“IT Band” Syndrome)
  8. Hamstring Tendonitis
  9. Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper’s Knee)
  10. Baker’s Cyst

In this article, we will look at all of these causes of knee pain as well as diagnosis and treatment options, and when to see a doctor about your condition.

So if you are having difficulty bending your knee without pain, read on for more information!

Causes of Knee Pain

Knee pain is a common complaint among people of all ages. There are many causes for knee pain, ranging from minor injuries to more serious conditions.

Knee cap Dislocation

Knee cap dislocation occurs when the kneecap moves out of its normal position and becomes misaligned with the thighbone.

Symptoms include severe pain in the knee joint, swelling, and difficulty bending or straightening the leg.

Treatment typically involves rest, ice packs, seeing a physical therapist to strengthen muscles around the knee joint, and bracing or splinting to keep it in place until healed.

Knee Bursitis

Knee bursitis is an inflammation of one or more fluid-filled sacs that cushion bones near joints called bursae.

It can cause tenderness and swelling around the affected area as well as stiffness when walking or running.

Treatment includes rest, icing the affected area several times a day for 10 minutes at a time, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to reduce inflammation, and pain relief medications like acetaminophen if needed for additional relief from discomfort.

Physical therapy may also be recommended to help improve the range of motion in your knee joint after recovery has begun.

ACL Tears

A tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL tear) occurs when there is excessive force placed on this ligament which connects your thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia).

Common symptoms include intense pain immediately following injury along with instability in the knee joint while walking or running due to weakened ligaments supporting it.

The end result is that the knee joint is not able to hold itself together properly without assistance from the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding it.

Surgery may be required depending on severity but usually, treatment consists of immobilization using crutches followed by physical therapy exercises.

The aim is to strengthen surrounding muscles and tendons so they can support the injured ligament better during the healing process.

Eventually, you want to regain mobility again without any restrictions whatsoever.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner’s Knee)

This syndrome occurs when there is too much pressure put on the patella (kneecap), resulting in irritation and localized discomfort behind or around the kneecap.

This is usually accompanied by a clicking sound coming from inside the joint whenever you move your leg up or downward, especially during activities involving repetitive motions such as squatting down.

Initially, treatment typically involves reducing the amount of weight-bearing activities. This is followed by stretching exercises designed specifically to target tight muscle groups located around the patella region.

Then, the intensity level is gradually increased over time while progress is closely monitored via regular checkups with a doctor until the desired outcome is achieved.

Meniscus Tear

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury that occurs when the cartilage that cushions the knee joint is torn.

Symptoms of meniscal tears include knee pain, swelling, stiffness, difficulty moving the knees, and popping or clicking sensations.

Treatment for a torn meniscus typically starts with rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medication.

Physical therapy and exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the knee can also be helpful.

In some cases, an orthopedic surgeon will perform surgery to repair or remove the torn tissue. Recovery time can vary depending on the severity of the injury and the treatment used.

Rheumatoid Arthritis or Osteoarthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints, as well as in other parts of the body.

Some common symptoms of RA include joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. This is especially evident in the hands, feet, and wrists.

Fatigue, fever, and loss of function in the affected joints can also accompany the other symptoms.

Management of RA is multimodal and includes medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Medications used to treat RA include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologic medications.

Physical therapy and specialized exercises can help to improve joint mobility and muscle strength. Surgery may be a last resort in some cases to repair or replace severely damaged joints.

RA is a life-long, chronic condition. However, its symptoms can be managed with an individualized, targeted treatment plan.

Response is better when the disease is diagnosed early and treatment is started promptly.

The evidence shows that adopting this approach can help to slow the progression of the disease and prevent long-term joint damage.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that results in the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the joints. The most common symptoms are pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion in the affected joint.

Other symptoms may include swelling, crepitus (a grating or crackling sound when the joint is moved), and bone spurs.

Treatment options for osteoarthritis include non-surgical methods such as physical therapy, exercise, weight management, and pain medications.

In some cases, joint replacement surgery may be recommended. Other treatments that may be used include corticosteroid injections and viscosupplementation (injections of a lubricant into the joint).

Physical therapy and exercise can help to improve joint mobility, muscle strength, and endurance which can help to support the affected joint(s).

Weight management is also important because it can help to reduce the load on the affected joints.

Pain medications, such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help to relieve pain and inflammation.

In severe cases, where the joint is damaged beyond repair, joint replacement surgery may be recommended. This procedure involves removing the damaged joint and replacing it with an artificial joint.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (“IT Band” Syndrome)

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) is a common overuse injury that affects the iliotibial band, a thick band of fibrous tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin. It is most commonly seen in runners and cyclists.

Symptoms of ITBS include pain on the outside of the knee, especially when running downhill or on uneven surfaces, tightness or soreness in the iliotibial band, and sometimes a snapping or popping sensation on the outside of the knee.

Treatment for ITBS typically involves a combination of rest, ice, and stretching and strengthening exercises to improve the flexibility and strength of the iliotibial band and the muscles that support the knee.

Physical therapy can also be helpful. In addition, modifying activities that cause pain and addressing any biomechanical issues that may be contributing to the problem, such as overpronation or leg-length discrepancies, can be beneficial. In some cases, a brace or orthotic may be recommended.

It is important to note that ITBS can take weeks or months to heal, so patience is key in recovery.

Once the symptoms have resolved, it is important to continue with a maintenance program of stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent recurrence.

Hamstring Tendonitis

Hamstring tendonitis is inflammation caused by overuse or strain of the hamstring tendon connecting the muscles of the thigh to the knee, lower legs, and the pelvis.

Because this whole area is affected, symptoms include:

  • aching, dull pain
  • sharp, burning pain
  • stiffness and weakness in the affected soft tissue and joints
  • swelling and inflammation

Symptoms get worse immediately after the injury and after long periods of inactivity.

Pain also radiates to the knees, buttocks, lower back, and thighs, which makes sense because all of these areas are connected by the tendon.

Management involves using the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) for the 72 hours after the injury. The goal is to minimize inflammation by restricting blood flow to the area.

Ice constricts your blood vessels, as does elevating your legs. These actions in turn reduce inflammation.

Ice packs should be applied to the area for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-minute break. This process can be repeated 2 or 3 times during the day.

Over-the-counter NSAID medication can also be taken to control the pain and inflammation.

Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper’s Knee)

Patellar Tendonitis, also known as jumper’s knee, is an overuse injury typically seen in athletes, especially those who participate in sports that involve jumping, such as basketball and volleyball.

As the name suggests, the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap (patella) to the shinbone (tibia), is affected.

Pain and tenderness in the front of your knee usually accompany this problem. Pain is often worse when jumping or running and can be accompanied by stiffness and weakness in the knee.

Treatment for patellar tendonitis typically involves a combination of rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medication.

Physical therapy and exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the knee can also be helpful.

A brace may be used to support the knee and take some pressure off the patellar tendon. In some cases, a corticosteroid injection may be given to reduce inflammation.

It is important to note that recovery from patellar tendonitis can take several weeks or months and it’s crucial to allow enough time for healing before returning to sports or other activities that may have caused the injury.

In addition, addressing any underlying biomechanical issues or training errors that may be contributing to the problem, such as muscle imbalances or overtraining, can help to prevent a recurrence.

Baker’s Cyst

A Baker’s cyst, also known as a popliteal cyst, is a fluid-filled sac that develops behind the knee. It is caused by the accumulation of synovial fluid, which is the lubricating fluid that surrounds the joints. The cyst is named after the surgeon who first described it in 1877.

The most common symptoms of a Baker’s cyst include a bulge or lump behind the knee, pain or stiffness in the knee, and sometimes swelling in the calf.

However, some people may not experience any symptoms at all.

As with the previous injuries mentioned, treatment of a Baker’s cyst typically begins with non-invasive modalities such as rest, ice, and over-the-counter NSAIDs to bring down the inflammation.

Physical therapy, exercises, and stretching can also help to reduce symptoms and improve knee function.

In some cases, a corticosteroid injection may be given to reduce inflammation. If the cyst becomes large, and painful, or causes neurological symptoms, surgical treatment may be recommended to drain the cyst.

It is important to note that Baker’s cyst can occur as a result of knee conditions mentioned above, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or an injury.

Therefore, treating the underlying condition is important in managing the symptoms of a Baker’s cyst.

Knee pain can have many causes, ranging from injury to medical conditions. To determine the best treatment plan for your specific case, it’s important to seek professional diagnosis and advice from a healthcare provider.

Next, we’ll look at some of the available diagnosis and treatment options for knee pain.

Key Takeaway: Knee pain can have various causes, ranging from minor injuries to more serious conditions. Treatment typically involves rest, icing the affected area, taking medications for inflammation and pain relief, physical therapy exercises to strengthen muscles around the knee joint and bracing or splinting if needed.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

When it comes to knee pain, the first step is to visit a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. The doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history in order to determine the exact cause of your knee pain.

Once the cause has been identified by your doctor they can recommend treatment options that are best suited for you. Treatment options are similar for most of the conditions, as has been stated above.

In most instances, using the RICE method will help greatly.

Physical therapy exercises help improve flexibility and strength in the muscles around the knee joint which helps reduce pain while improving mobility.

NSAIDs can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain while injections such as corticosteroid shots can provide temporary relief from severe inflammation or swelling in the joint area caused by an injury or condition like arthritis.

Surgery may be recommended when other treatments have not provided adequate relief from symptoms associated with certain conditions like meniscus tears or ACL injuries.

It is important to discuss all available treatment options with your doctor before making any decisions so that you understand what each option entails and how it could potentially benefit you in terms of relieving symptoms associated with knee pain.

This will help ensure that the best course of action is taken for your individual situation.

Now let’s look at some self-care strategies you can use to help manage the condition.

Self-Care Strategies


Regular exercise is important for knee health. Low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, and cycling can help strengthen the muscles around your knees while reducing pain and stiffness.

Stretching exercises like yoga or tai chi can also be beneficial in improving flexibility and range of motion.

Weight Loss

If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can reduce stress on your joints and decrease inflammation in the knee area.

Losing just 10% of your body weight may significantly improve knee pain symptoms. Talk to a doctor about safe ways to lose weight if needed.


Rest is important for knee health. Take breaks between activities when possible and avoid standing for long periods of time if it causes discomfort in your knees.

Strenuous activities should be avoided to give your knees an opportunity to heal without further damage being done by overuse or strain on them from physical activity such as running, jumping, lifting heavy objects, etc.

Self-care strategies, such as rest and stretching, can help alleviate pain in the knee.

However, if symptoms persist or worsen over time, it’s important to seek medical advice for further evaluation and treatment.

Next, we’ll look at when to see a doctor about your knee pain.

When to See a Doctor

If the knee pain is severe and does not improve with rest or over-the-counter medications, it may be time to see a doctor. Other signs that indicate you should see a doctor include:

• Swelling in the knee joint that persists for more than two days

• Inability to bear weight on the affected leg

• Redness around the knee joint

• Fever accompanied by knee pain

• Pain that wakes you up at night or disrupts your sleep

When seeing a doctor about your knee pain, make sure to provide as much information as possible.

This includes details such as how long you have been experiencing symptoms, any activities that worsen or improve your symptoms, and if there has been any trauma or injury associated with the onset of your symptoms.

Your doctor will likely perform physical exams and imaging tests such as X-rays and MRIs in order to diagnose what is causing your discomfort.

After diagnosis, they may recommend the appropriate treatments as outlined above.

It is important not to wait too long before seeking help if you are having persistent issues with knee pain, as early intervention can often lead to better outcomes and faster recovery times.

Key Takeaway: If you experience persistent knee pain, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Symptoms that should prompt immediate medical attention include swelling, inability to bear weight on the affected leg, redness around the joint, fever accompanied by pain, and pain that disrupts sleep.


Why does my knee hurt and can’t bend?

Knee pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, including arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, ligament or cartilage tears, and meniscus injuries. It is important to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis so that the best treatment plan can be determined.

Treatment may include rest, physical therapy exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint and improve flexibility, medications such as NSAIDs or corticosteroids to reduce swelling, and pain relief injections.

Surgery may also be recommended in some cases if other treatments do not provide sufficient relief.

Why is my knee so painful when I bend it?

Arthritis is inflammation of the joint that causes pain and stiffness. Bursitis is an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs around joints which can cause pain with movement.

Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendon surrounding a joint which can lead to pain and swelling.

A meniscus tear occurs when there’s damage to one or more cartilage discs in your knee causing sharp pains during movement.

Treatment for these conditions may include rest, physical therapy exercises, anti-inflammatory medications or surgery depending on severity.

What should I do if I can’t bend my knee?

If you cannot bend your knee, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

This could be a sign of an underlying condition that needs to be addressed.

Your doctor can evaluate the cause and provide treatment options such as physical therapy or medications.

They may also recommend lifestyle changes such as stretching exercises or weight loss if necessary.

It is important to follow their advice in order to reduce pain and improve mobility in the affected area.


If you are experiencing knee pain that prevents you from bending without pain, it is important to speak to a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. With the right self-care strategies and lifestyle changes, you can take control of your knee health and get back to living life on your own terms.

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