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The human body is a miraculous machine. But even the most amazing machine can falter at times. One reason that many people falter is due to a knee injury, specifically on the inner side of the knee.
Do you have medial knee pain when bending your leg? If so, you are in the right place. In this blog post, we will discuss the knee joint, what may be causing your inner knee pain, and present possible treatment options for how to recover from your knee problems.
The Knee Joint
The knee is one of the most complex joints in the body. Before understanding the possible causes of pain, it is necessary to understand the joint as a whole.
The knee is a hinge joint that allows forward and backward movement and is comprised of the thigh bone (femur), shin bone (tibia), and knee cap (patella) on the front of the knee. The ends of the long bones are covered in articular cartilage to prevent excessive rubbing in collaboration with the synovial fluid.
Inside the knee joint, there are soft tissues that are necessary for everyday life. The first are ligaments, which connect bone to bone. There are four main ligaments inside of your knee:
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL)
- Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
These four ligaments keep the joint safe by providing stability and limited movement.
The next type of connective tissue is the shock absorbers of the knee, which are the lateral meniscus and the medial meniscus. These disk-like structures are crucial for everyday activity and support our body weight.
Tendons connect muscle to bone. In the knee joint, there are three primary tendons:
- The patellar tendon
- The quadriceps tendon
- The hamstring tendon
Surrounding the joint capsule are the leg muscles. These muscles help move and protect the joint. There are the hamstring muscles, which are:
- Biceps femoris.
The quadriceps muscles, which are:
- Rectus femoris
- Vastus lateralis
- Vastus medialis
- Vastus intermedius
The lower leg muscles, which are:
- Tibialis anterior
All these structures work in unison to provide the movement you and I take for granted every day. But if you have medial knee pain when bending your leg, the underlying cause will likely be an acute injury or medication condition.
Common Causes of Medial Knee Pain When Bending
Knee pain is frustrating and can be debilitating to everyone, not just older adults or those who have endured a sports injury. Below is a list of common knee injuries or medical conditions that you could have if you are struggling with medial knee pain:
- Meniscus tears: a meniscal tear is an injury that occurs to the shock absorbers of the knee. The medial and lateral meniscus can be torn during contact sports by a direct blow to the joint, or in combination with a ligament injury.
- Ligament injuries: ligament tears, specifically ACL tears, are one of the most common injuries in sports. These injuries can occur as non-contact injuries due to a sudden change of direction or from a direct impact on the joint. The second most common type of ligament injury is a medial collateral ligament injury. Due to the origin and insertion of this ligament and the medial knee pain, this injury could be the underlying cause of your severe pain.
- Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS): PFPS, or runner’s knee, is a common cause of discomfort. This condition is common in active individuals, particularly young adults and females. Rubbing between the femur and patella causes PFPS. Climbing stairs or squatting can exacerbate this condition.
- Anserine bursitis: Throughout the body, there are bursa, which are fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions between the ligaments, bones, tendons, and skin. One such bursa that may be causing pain on the inner side of your knee is called the anserine bursa. This bursa is located between your tibia and the insertion point of the sartorius, gracilis, and semitendinosus muscle tendons. If this bursa is inflamed, it can cause severe or sharp pain in the inner part of your joint.
- Plica syndrome: Per Cleveland Clinic A plica is a fold in the membrane that protects your knee joint. Most people have four folds in each knee. Sometimes the plica located in the middle of your knee becomes irritated. This is called plica syndrome. Overuse of the knee is generally thought to cause plica syndrome.
- Arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis of the knee are some of the most common causes of inner knee pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where your body attacks healthy cells, normally in the joints. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition where the tissues break down over time as we age.
- Loose body: Sometimes a small piece of bone or cartilage can break off and be suspended in the synovial fluid. These synovia can sometimes impede the movement of the knee joint and cause pain and dysfunction.
While all of the above aren’t necessarily life-threatening, depending on the severity of the injury or condition, it is very important to get medical advice. Getting feedback from your healthcare provider will ensure your treatment plan addresses the causes of knee pain associated with your situation.
Diagnosis of Medial Knee Pain When Bending
When you go to your healthcare provider, you can be sure they will do a few routine things. These include a physical examination to go over your medical history and various assessments of your injured joint, including the type of pain you are feeling, etc., and imaging.
The type of imaging chosen will depend on the physical examination and what the doctor deems appropriate. Generally, this is either an MRI scan, x-ray, or CT scan to confirm what is going on within your inner knee. Once the physician has confirmation of what your condition is, they can make recommendations for your treatment options and make any referrals necessary.
Treatment Options For Medial Knee Pain
The treatment best suited will depend on the recommendation of the physician, but generally, the following are common treatments for pain on the inside of the knee:
- Rest and ice: Sometimes your knee can act up due to overuse, and the best thing you can do is elevate and use an ice pack on your knee. While this seems straightforward, many people ignore the possibility that they could be overdoing their training or overall activity.
- Anti-inflammatory medication: Another possible treatment is using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to limit the irritation of the joint. This treatment can be done in combination with the previous one for the best effects.
- Physical therapy: Utilizing a physical therapist can help you return to your prior level of activity by addressing the possible causes of your condition.
- Knee brace: For those who are stubborn, it may be a viable option to use a knee brace. Knee braces will provide extra support and stability to the knee joint while also preventing further damage.
- Surgery: If none of the above treatment options work, it may be time to contact an orthopedic surgeon. If the surgeon deems it necessary, they will perform the appropriate surgery on the affected joint. Surgery is performed using small incisions and a small camera that allows medical professionals to see inside the joint less invasively.
Once you have received the appropriate treatment for your condition, the journey has just begun. In my opinion, the most important part is how to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. As someone who has gone through four knee surgeries, I know how important prevention is to knee health.
Preventing Knee Pain
While fully preventing knee pain is impossible, it is prudent to take the necessary steps to minimize the likelihood of a recurrent injury. What I have learned through my experience is that the following is a baseline template for preventing knee pain of all kinds:
- Don’t avoid activity: Nowadays, adults are very sedentary. With never-ending new streaming services, remote work, and food or grocery delivery, it is becoming less and less necessary to move. While technology is fantastic for many things, it is not for keeping you active. Monitor your daily step count and notice what it says. Before I started monitoring my step count, I logged roughly 1,500 to 2,000 steps daily as someone who lifted weights multiple times weekly. To protect your knees, you need to be more active, and that requires more movement. Try to improve your step count to eventually get to 8–10,000 steps a day. Do not try to achieve this all at once if you have a very low step count; it will deter you from making progress. Increase your daily steps by 500 a week until you get closer to this milestone.
- Strengthen your knee joint: Most people when they go to the gym do the “sexy” exercises that target their biceps or chest. You must stress the knee to make it stronger and more resilient. It is important to never work through pain, but unless you increase what your joint can do, it will always fail you. You wouldn’t expect to get stronger arms without targeting them throughout workouts, so why would your knees be any different? Take a look at these articles on the type of training I am referring to here and here.
- Bodyweight: I know most people won’t say it, but I will. Having excess weight is very difficult on your knee joints, particularly, and has been correlated with negative outcomes for the knee. Having a diet that is full of unprocessed foods is everyone’s ticket to a better life. I am not advocating for “eating less.” I am advocating that the food you put in your body is natural. Coincidentally, unprocessed food also has fewer calories, which will help you lose weight and take unnecessary pressure off of your knees.
While these seem trivial, they are very important for maintaining healthy joints and living your best life for your family, friends, coworkers, and community.
I have noticed a huge change in my life since prioritizing the above. At the age of 25, I was told that I would require at least one total knee replacement by the age of 30. Now, at the time of writing (31) I have never felt better. I go snowboarding, run 5K’s, and learn new things I can do all of the time free of pain. You, too, can change your life for the better and create the active life you need to overcome knee pain.
If you have medial knee pain when bending your leg, it can be detrimental to your quality of life. You must visit your primary care physician as soon as possible (if the pain persists) so that you can be treated appropriately as soon as possible. Make sure to stay active, strengthen your joints, and eat healthy to maintain the lifestyle you want for yourself and those closest to you.
For more of my content surrounding knee injuries, health, and emotional well-being, visit my website here.
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.