Lateral Knee Pain Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Lateral Knee Pain Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Lateral knee pain is pain that occurs on the outer side of the knee.  It is the least common place to experience pain and there are a variety of causes.

The development of the lateral knee pain is gradual and there is a possibility of experiencing a sudden knee pain as a result of an injury. Sharp pain, general ache and the restriction of movements can be the normal symptoms of a this knee pain.

Common causes of lateral knee pain

Common causes of lateral knee pain

Iliotibial band friction syndrome is inflammation of the Iliotibial band on the outside of the knee as it rubs against the outside of the knee joint. Symptoms include pain over the outside of the knee which will come on gradually over time getting progressively worse until running must stop. Typically the athlete will rest for a period of time until symptoms go only for them to return so far into a run when training resumes.

Lateral ligament injury is a sprain or tear to the ligament on the outside of the knee. It is usually caused by an impact to the inside of the knee which over stretches the lateral ligament on the outside of the knee joint. Lateral ligament injuries are graded 1 to 3 depending on severity with symptoms ranging from mild tenderness on the outside of the knee to severe pain.

Lateral cartilage meniscus injury is an injury to the semi circular cartilage on the outside of the knee joint which can be a minor tear or degeneration which happens over time through repeated pressure. Symptoms of a lateral meniscus tear include tenderness and pain around the outside surface of the knee, particularly along the joint line.

Less common causes of lateral knee pain

Osteoarthritis of the knee is wear and tear on the knee joint and when it occurs in the lateral compartment or outside of the knee then symptoms can include a deep aching pain in the inner knee that is worse after exercise. Stiffness in the joint is common, particularly first thing in the morning however this may reduce with movement as lubricating synovial fluid is produced in the joint. There is likely to be swelling in the knee and sometimes a clicking or cracking noises when moving the knee.

Synovitis of the knee occurs when the synovial membrane which lines and lubricates the knee joint, becomes inflamed. Symptoms include pain, swelling and tenderness in the knee joint. The cause of inflammation can vary and include rheumatoid arthritis or gout or simply develop on its own.

Superior tibiofibular joint sprain also known as proximal tibiofibular joint injury is a tear to the ligament which connects the tibia fibula bones at the top near the knee. It occurs most commonly when the athlete sustains an impact or falls with their knee in a fully bent position.

Biceps femoris tendonitis is inflammation of one of the hamstring muscles at its point of attachment at the back and outside of the knee. Symptoms include tenderness and swelling where the tendon attaches to the bone. There may be pain when bending the knee against resistance with stiffness after exercise and in the mornings.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is usually in the anterior knee pain category causing pain at the front of the knee. However it can cause pain on the outside of the knee as the outside of the patella rubs on the bone underneath. There is likely to be swelling over the knee with pain coming on gradually over time.

Referred pain from the lumbar spine is where an injury or problem in the lower back results in pain in the knee. This is likely due to pressure on the sciatic nerve causing pain to radiate down in the the leg and knee.

Lateral Knee Pain Symptoms

Knee Makes Unusual Noises

A sudden popping noise at the time of injury usually indicates a ligament injury but sometimes indicates a cartilage tear. 

Pain When Kneeling

Thinking about your specific symptoms helps make an accurate diagnosis eg do you get knee pain when you are kneeling down.

Locking (knee gets stuck)

This happens when something gets wedged in the joint, stopping you moving the knee. You generally have to wiggle the knee around before it will then move. 

Running Knee Pain

Knee pain from running is hardly suprising when you think that forces up to 550% body weight go through the joint when running.

Pain When Sitting for Long Periods

It is not just activity which aggravates knee pain. Some conditions tend to get worse with prolonged inactivity eg office workers sitting for long periods – the pain may start while you are sitting or when you first get up.

Knee Pain Going Down Stairs

This usually indicates a problem with the knee cap, as the force going through the knee cap when you come down stairs is 3.5x bodyweight.

Knee Stiffness in the Morning

Stiffness in the knee when you first wake up that settles once you’re moving about, is a classic feature of Osteoarthritis.


Swelling is a common problem with knee pain. If the swelling comes up immediately or within the first 48hours, it usually indicates a ligament or cartilage injury.

Lateral Knee Pain Treatment And Prevention

Knee joint pain treatment aims to reduce pain, instability, swelling and weakness. Some treatments work well in the initial stages after a knee injury whereas some are more appropriate for longer term conditions.

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Unfortunately, lateral knee pain is typically treated in a way that does little to fix the origin of the problem. To be effective, treatment should look to cure not just the symptoms of the problem but also what is causing it in the first place, otherwise the problem may return. For example, the symptoms you are suffering from may be pain and inflammation but the actual cause may be weakness or instability.