Sudden and sharp knee pain is a very common ailment that may occur due to a variety of causes. This type of pain can arise from simple everyday activities like playing sports, overuse, jerking, stress, etc., or it may be due to some serious underlying condition like fracture, ligament tear, osteonecrosis, arthritis, etc. The knee is a complex joint, and by virtue of its location and function, the knees have a lot to deal with, and this makes them extremely susceptible to injury and other problems. Minor knee pain can be treated with home remedies, whereas severe pain may require medical aid. Sharp and sudden knee pain may result from trauma to the knees that may cause stretching out, wearing off, rupturing, and tearing of the joint and its structures.
What Is the Knee Joint and Why Is It Vulnerable?
The knee is the largest joint in the human body, and by its structure and functionality, it is also extremely vulnerable and susceptible to injuries and other problems that can cause pain in them. The knee is the joint that connects the bones of the upper part of the leg to the bones of the lower part of the legs. In more technical words, the knees are made up of two types of joints, which are the tibiofemoral joint and the patellofemoral joint. The tibiofemoral joint connects the tibia with the femur, and the patellofemoral joint connects the patella with the femur. These joints are a type of modified hinge joint which implies that the joining surfaces are shaped with each other in such a way that there will be movement in only one plane.
The knee joint can permit flexion movement (bending), extension, and internal and external rotation to some extent. The knees have a range of motions; they carry the whole weight of the body, they are constantly under stress, there is a production of torque from the twisting motions of the two bones, etc. All these points act as predisposing factors which can cause sharp and sudden pain in the knees.
What Are the Possible Causes of Sudden and Sharp Knee Pain?
There can be multiple causes of sudden and sharp knee pain, and they can vary from simple everyday malpractices to complex pathological conditions. The various causes of sharp and sudden knee pain are:
- Fracture: Knee fractures are a consequence of knee injury. A fracture can be defined as a breach in the continuity of the bone. Knee fractures can involve a patella fracture or the knee cap. It can be a small partial fracture or involve the complete knee cap and front of the knee. These fractures do not occur easily, and a strong high-speed collision or sudden trauma to the knee can cause them. Knee fractures cause immediate pain after injury and become swollen and bruised. There will be a presence of muscle spasms and difficulty in bending the knees, and inability to stand or walk with the affected knee. These fractures are medical emergencies and require immediate medical aid. The primary treatment modality for knee fracture is isolation and immobilization of the affected knee. However, a complex knee fracture may require surgical aid to secure the bones back to their normal position.
- Tendinitis: Tendons are bands of tissues that join bones to the muscles, and tendinitis refers to the condition of inflammation and irritation in one or more tendons. Tendons around the joint are commonly inflamed due to overuse, and it is common in middle-aged athletes. Patellar tendinitis is a very commonly occurring problem; the patellar tendon runs from the kneecap to the shin bone. The patellar tendon helps in movements like kicking, running, and jumping. Symptoms associated with tendinitis are tightness, pain, and swelling in the knee.
- Torn Meniscus: Meniscus is the C-shaped, rubbery cartilage present in the knee that acts as a shock absorber between the tibia and femur. It can be torn by injury or as a result of old age. A torn meniscus will present symptoms like difficulty in walking upstairs and downstairs and having a feeling of stiffness in the joint.
- Runner’s Knee: This condition is also known as the patellofemoral pain syndrome, and it is common in active adults. The condition is characterized by pain around the kneecap and behind the knees. The symptoms include a popping and grinding feeling in the joint and dull and throbbing pain behind the knee cap and near the thigh bone.
- Torn Ligament: A ligament is the band of tissues that connects one bone to another. The anterior and the posterior cruciate ligaments in the knee can get torn as a result of sports injury, sudden jumping and sudden change in direction, etc. The medial collateral ligament can also get easily torn by knee injuries. The symptoms of a torn ligament include a popping sound at the time of tear, severe pain, swelling, and inability to move the joint.
- Bursitis: Bursitis is a condition in which there is inflammation of the bursa. The bursae are fluid-filled sac-like cavities that are responsible for reducing friction in the joints. Although bursitis is more common in the shoulders, it can also occur in the knee joints frequently. Symptoms of bursitis include acute pain and swelling.
- Loose Body: Sometimes, there is a loose body or a piece of bone or cartilage floating in the joint space occurring due to injury to bone or degeneration of the bones. When this loose body interferes with the joint, sudden pain may occur.
- Dislocation of Kneecap: The kneecap is the thick, flat, and triangular one that covers the front of the knee. This dislocation may or may not be seen, and it causes sharp pain.
- Pain in Other Parts: Pain in other parts of the body like the hip or foot may cause a change in the walking style, which leads to altered gait, which can cause due to increased stress on the knees.
- Osgood-Schlatter Disease: In this condition, there is inflammation in the area where the tendon from the kneecap attaches to the tibia. This condition is prevalent in young adults, and it occurs due to growth spurts.
- Knee Osteoarthritis: Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints, and It is the most common type of arthritis. It is prevalent in elderly patients due to degenerative changes in the bone.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: It is an autoimmune condition (the immune system of the body attacks healthy cells of the body), and it is characterized by painful swelling in the joints. Long-standing rheumatoid arthritis can cause bone deformity and bone erosion.
- Gout: This type of arthritis occurs when there is a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. These crystals get collected in the soft tissues of the joint and cause sharp, excruciating pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the joint.
- Pseudogout: In pseudogout, there is calcium pyrophosphate deposition in the knee joints which can lead to sudden and sharp pain in the joints.
- Osteonecrosis: This condition occurs when the tissues of the bone die due to an inadequate amount of blood supply. Symptoms associated with the condition are pain, tenderness, and swelling in the joint. This condition is slow-growing and often associated with osteoporosis.
- Tumor in the Knee: This is a rare condition characterized by the development of a tumor in the knee, causing constant pain and swelling in the knees, which are more prominent at night.
What Are the Risk Factors for Sudden and Sharp Knee Pain?
Several risk factors may also induce sharp and sudden knee pain:
Sudden and sharp knee pain is a very common problem occurring in people of all ages. Sudden knee pain may be due to general everyday activities, or it can be a symptom of a severe underlying condition. In any case, sudden and sharp knee pain is a very discomforting condition, and consulting a doctor should be the first step in treating them. Several home remedies like exercise, physiotherapy, cold compression, and over-the-counter drugs may help provide relief. However, if the sudden knee pain is due to some serious condition like fracture, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, knee tumor, osteonecrosis, etc., then immediate medical help should be taken.
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