The knee carries a lot of responsibility as it helps you locomote and carry out daily chores. Enabling you to bend the legs and serving as a cushion for the lower limbs, this hardworking joint is prone to friction and wear and tear owing to its anatomical structure. Multiple soft and hard tissues make up the knee, and abnormalities with these structures can lead to burning knee pain.
Burning sensation paired with knee pain can seriously hamper you and interfere with your day-to-day activities. Knee burning pain can be the manifestation of a number of conditions ranging from gouty arthritis to nerve abnormalities.
Causes Of Burning Knee Pain
Knee pain with burning sensation mostly points towards underlying nerve involvement, but there are various causes of burning knee pain. Burning sensations can be felt in the different regions of the knee which are the front, side, and back of the knee.
The most common knee pain causes are discussed below:
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Chondromalacia Patella)
Also known as runner’s knee, chondromalacia patella is a knee pain condition characterized by the softening of cartilage (inner side) of the patella (knee cap). Patellofemoral pain syndrome is commonly seen in athletes and is usually the outcome of overuse injuries.
The development of this pain is attributed to abruptions in the patellar tendon strap (patella tendon) that provide support to the knee joint.
In this condition, the burning sensation is felt in the anterior region (front of the knee) and only affects one leg (unilateral). Runner’s knee occurs in individuals carrying out hectic activities. Abnormal muscle balance and overuse can lead to deterioration of the kneecap and the development of PFPS.
As knee pain due to PFPS (chondromalacia) occurs in athletes and players, it is termed runner’s knee. Almost all athletes complain about burning knee pain in the front of the knee (and knee cap).
Research indicates an underlying neuropathic abnormality in PFPS that might explain the burning pain in the knee.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) as a cause of stabbing pain in the knee
When knee burning pain is experienced in the lateral aspect i.e. side of the knee, the condition is termed Iliotibial band syndrome. Knee overuse disorders include PFPS and ITBS.
Trauma or overuse can irritate and swell up the iliotibial band tendon which can further cause compression of the nerves. It can affect one or both knees.
Burning pain in the knee (lateral aspect) is a common symptom of this syndrome, thus, it is easily diagnosed. This is one of the most common conditions that cause a burning sensation in the knee.
The syndrome usually manifests itself in the form of a burning sensation with knee pain in the lateral femoral epicondyle of the knee. A 2020 study indicates that conservative treatment might be helpful in alleviating this location-specific knee pain.
Athletes exposed to physical stress suffer from this syndrome and often complain of burning knee pain, a study suggests.
Inflammation of knee soft tissues as a cause of burning pain in the knee
A common cause of burning pain in the knee is inflammation of the soft tissues that make up the joint. Connective tissue of the knee (knee cartilage, ligaments, tendons, etc.) and muscles can undergo wear and tear leading to knee pain.
Different soft tissue complications that can trigger pain include:
Knee bursitis is the inflammation of small fluid-filled pockets or sacs (bursa)present in the joint. The bursae get inflamed in response to injury or overuse.
Pain due to knee bursitis is more pronounced when kneeling down and is pretty common in individuals exposed to heavy loads. This type of pain is felt in the front of the knee.
Patellar tendinitis is another condition that is the outcome of overuse injury. Also known as jumper’s knee, patellar tendinitis is common in volleyball players. Just like PFPS, it is also a common overuse injury characterized by burning knee pain.
Pain due to patellar tendinitis is almost always felt on the outside of the knee.
Hamstring tendonitis may also contribute to burning knee pain with pain signals running into the legs as well.
Arthritis as a cause of sharp stabbing pain in the knee that comes and goes
Arthritis pain can be associated with burning pain especially when there is nerve involvement. There are two types of arthritis affecting the knee:
Arthritis pain due to knee arthritis may be accompanied by a burning sensation. Studies show that OA patients are more prone to knee cartilage tear. The extent of cartilage tear/defect depends on the severity of osteoarthritis.
Surgical intervention becomes inevitable in cases of extensive knee joint damage. Such patients experience persistent knee pain.
Patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (autoimmune disorder) might also experience burning knee pain.
Injury/Trauma And Tearing as a cause of sharp stabbing pain in the knee that comes and goes
A knee injury might be a penetrating cause of burning knee pain. Blunt force trauma to the knee joint can have a grave impact on knee cartilage, and knee bones leaving behind damaged cartilage.
A torn piece of cartilage can also be the source of burning knee pain. Trauma or sports injury can be the possible causes of cartilage damage and consequent causes of knee pain.
Ligament tears are a common cause of pain in the body. A torn ligament or a torn meniscus can seriously affect your day-to-day activities. A lateral collateral ligament tear or a lateral meniscus tear can induce pain in the side of the knee.
High uric acid levels in the blood can lead to the build-up of uric crystals in the knee joint. These crystals lead to evident inflammation that eventually impinges the nearby nerves causing burning pain.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Narrowing of the arteries in the limbs is a condition that might trigger pain in the leg and the knee region. The malady is known as peripheral artery disease.
The compromised blood flow to the limbs can lead to resting pain and even gangrene in the legs.
Cysts As A Cause Of Sharp Stabbing Pain in the Knee That Comes And Goes
The presence of a fluid-filled cyst may cause burning knee pain. Studies have revealed baker’s cyst to be a common cause of posterior knee pain (back of the knee).
Also known as the popliteal cyst, it is present in the space behind the knee. The burning knee pain from the baker’s cyst worsens when the patient extended or flexes the knee.
Treatment Of Burning Pain In Knee
Many of the structures in the knee have a poor blood supply, which is why they can struggle to heal on their own. It is the oxygen and nutrients in our blood supply that help to heal these structures.
Prolotherapy involves the injection of a regenerative solution into these structures to provide a direct supply of what is required to heal and repair.
As the treatment is helping to treat the root cause of the problem, it is deemed to be a permanent fix.
The main aim of the treatment in most cases is to reduce joint friction and provide pain relief.
Rest And Medications
Overuse injuries can be dealt with sufficient rest and over-the-counter pain medications (ibuprofen, etc.). In most mild cases, the pain goes away by these maneuvers.
You might also use an ice pack (cold therapy) to alleviate pain and inflammation in the knee.
Cortisone injections (steroid injections) into the pain site are employed to provide instant relief. Local steroid injections are the choice of treatment in cases of severe acute pain. These injections start working in a few hours.
Arthroscopic Surgery For Sharp Stabbing Pain in the Knee That Comes And Goes
Severe cases are managed by going for arthroscopic surgery. There are various types of surgical procedures that are performed to ease the patient.
Knee debridement works for most patients where loose cartilage is removed.
The doctor might opt for a knee chondroplasty surgery where damaged cartilage is smoothed. This reduces friction between bones (thigh bone and knee joint).
Severe arthritis patients having high levels of joint damage are advised to have knee replacement surgery to cure pain and discomfort.
Support And Strengthening
Patients suffering from burning knee pain due to knee ligament tears are diagnosed using X-rays.
Treatment comprises muscle-strengthening exercises after a period of rest. Exercises are carried out with protective/supportive knee braces to prevent complications.
Exercise And Occupational Therapy For Burning Pain In The Knee
Massage and occupational therapy can soothe the muscles and allow a better range of motion. Muscle strengthening exercises are helpful in reducing burning knee pain.
Massaging the leg and knee can be a beneficial step as it improves blood flow and reduces the tension of the muscles/soft tissues.
Burning pain in the knee can be the outcome of a number of underlying conditions. Burning sensations accompanied by pain are mostly indicative of nerve involvement. The major causes of such pain are patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) which cause burning knee pain in the front and side of the knee respectively. Apart from these overuse injuries, one might fall prey to inflammation of the soft tissues (bursitis, tendonitis, etc.) due to overuse or infection. Blunt force trauma may rupture the ligaments, tendons, and cartilages in the knee joint (femur and patella) leading to burning pain. Arthritis (osteo, rheumatoid, and gouty) and peripheral artery disease can disintegrate the joints and blood vessels of the leg causing pain and loss of mobility, Baker’s cyst in the back of the knee is another culprit. Treatment by healthcare providers includes rest, OTC pain killers, massage therapy, corticosteroid injections, ligament repair, and arthroscopic surgery for severe cases. Knee braces are part of medical advice for patients with ligament tears while total knee replacement is the only option for advanced knee osteoarthritis patients.
Frequently Asked Questions
What could cause burning in your knee?
Burning of the knee is a common symptom of runners’ knees, which is caused by overuse injury of the knee. This condition is also known as Chornromalacia or Patellofemoral pain syndrome. It may also be associated with tendonitis, specifically affecting the Patellar tendons. The burning pain is caused by the increased inflammatory activity in the knee and surrounding tissues.
How do I stop my knee from burning and hurting?
Burning and hurting of the knee may be treated by taking adequate rest. During the rest period, the individuals should try to avoid activities that involve jumping or running. They may also be advised to apply ice packs or cold packs to the affected area in order to reduce the swelling. While the reduction in swelling may improve the burning pain, the patient may be advised of over-the-counter pain killers in addition.
Does arthritis cause burning in the knees?
Arthritis affecting the knees may result in burning pain. Although there are several forms of arthritis, the two forms which are commonly associated with burning pain include Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis.
What is better for knee pain, heat, or cold?
Heat Therapy may be beneficial for individuals with knee pain caused by muscle spasms and tightening of the surrounding muscles. On the other hand, cold packs or ice packs may be recommended for individuals with swelling associated with knee pain. Most health experts recommend cold packs for the first 24 hours after injury, after which the individual may switch to warmth or heat therapy.
How do I know if my knee pain is serious?
The knee pain may be considered in need of immediate medical attention if the individual is unable to put any load on their knee or if it is associated with significant swelling. Due to tot the swelling, the individual may not be able to carry out proper flexion or extension of the knee. They may also be suggested to consult a doctor if the knee pain is associated with increasing redness and fever.
What is the best painkiller for knee pain?
The best pain killers for knee pain include over-the-counter NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, sold under the brand names Advil and Motrin IB. Naproxen Sodium is also commonly recommended by the doctor for Knee pain and is sold under the brand names Aleve, Anaprox, Anaprox DS, and Naprosyn.
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