Inner Knee Pain: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Ever struggled with pain on the inside of your knee? You're not alone. Inner knee pain (medically known as medial knee pain) is a common issue that affects people of all ages and activity levels. Your knees are constantly on the move, helping you walk, run, and jump. From sudden injuries to the slow wear and tear of time, there are plenty of ways your knee can develop aches and pains.

In this article, we'll take a deep dive into the world of inner knee pain. We'll explore what causes it, how it feels, how doctors figure out what's wrong, and what can be done to fix it. Whether you're dealing with a nagging ache or just want to prevent future problems, here’s everything you need to know.

Inner knee anatomy

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Your knee is a complex structure made up of bones, joint cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues. The inner part of the knee includes the medial meniscus, medial collateral ligament (MCL), and the inner part of the knee joint itself — where the tibia meets the femur. These structures work together to give your knee stability, shock absorption, and smooth movement.

Anatomy of knee

Your knee joint is wrapped in a fibrous capsule and lined with a synovial membrane, which produces lubricating fluid. Key muscles that support the knee include the quadriceps in the front of the thigh and the hamstrings in the back. Your lateral meniscus and medial meniscus are cartilage discs that act as shock absorbers, and ligaments such as the MCL provide stability to the joint.

What is inner knee pain?

Inner knee pain refers to discomfort or soreness in the inside portion of the knee. Depending on the underlying cause, this type of pain can range from a dull ache to sharp, intense pain. It may be accompanied by swelling, stiffness, and difficulty performing certain movements.

Symptoms of inner knee pain

Symptoms of inner knee pain can vary but often include:

  • Localized pain or tenderness on the inner aspect of the knee
  • Pain that worsens with activity or weight-bearing
  • Pain with fully extending or flexing the knee
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More severe inner knee pain is often accompanied by one or more of these symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Instability or a feeling of the knee giving way
  • Locking or catching sensations within the joint
  • Knee stiffness and limited movement

These additional symptoms provide clues about the underlying cause of your inner knee pain. For example, locking or catching sensations may indicate a meniscal tear in your knee.

Common causes of inner knee pain

Several conditions can lead to inner knee pain. Here, we’ll explore some of the most common causes in more detail.

Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury

Your MCL supports the inner side of your knee, and it is the ligament most likely to be injured during knee trauma. An MCL tear is often seen in contact sports, usually caused by a direct blow to the outer knee or a sudden change in direction. There are different grades of MCL injury, ranging from grade 1 (mild) to grade 3 (a complete tear known as a rupture).

Meniscus tears

A meniscus tear can be caused by trauma to the knee (an acute tear) or gradually develop over time (a degenerative tear). Symptoms of a meniscus tear include pain, swelling, and mechanical symptoms like locking or catching.

In severe cases, you may be unable to fully bend or straighten your knee. Meniscus tears that limit movement are often treated by knee surgery.

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In the past, surgeons would often remove the affected part of the meniscus. Although this is still a common procedure, research suggests that repairing the injured part of the meniscus has better long-term outcomes than removing it.

Knee bursitis

Your knee bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction between the tissues of your knee. When these become inflamed, they can cause pain and swelling of your inner knee. This condition is known as knee bursitis and is caused by overuse, trauma, or mineral deposits that can gather around your knee joint.

Knee osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis is very common in older adults. It can affect the inner knee, outer knee, kneecap, or all three. This condition leads to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion.

It often gets worse with time, but management techniques such as exercise, weight management, pain education, and medications can help. If you have severe knee osteoarthritis, you may be a candidate for a knee replacement.

Plica syndrome

Plicae around the knee are remnants of embryological tissue that normally don’t cause any symptoms. However, when irritated, they can cause pain and discomfort in the inner knee — known as plica syndrome.

Knee injuries

Knee injuries such as fractures or bruising can cause inner knee pain. These are often caused by accidents or sports, although some medical conditions can put you at a higher risk. For example, people with osteoporosis are more likely to suffer fractures in any areas affected by the condition, including the knee joint.

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Diagnosis and treatment options

Your doctor or physical therapist will start by taking a full history of your symptoms and any medical conditions. They’ll then perform a physical examination, which will help to determine whether you need imaging such as an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Knee pain treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause and severity of your symptoms but may include:

  • Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) protocol
  • Physical therapy for knee pain
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for knee pain relief and joint inflammation relief
  • Corticosteroid injections for severe inflammation
  • Using knee pillows to sleep comfortably on your side
  • Bracing or supportive devices to stabilize the knee
  • Surgery, in more severe cases or where non-surgical treatments have failed

Prevention and management of inner knee pain

Keeping your knees as healthy as possible can help to reduce inner knee pain or stop you from developing it in the first place. Here are some knee health prevention measures that will help most people:

  • Exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles supporting the knee, particularly the quadriceps and hamstrings.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to reduce stress on the knee joint.
  • Use proper techniques during physical activities and sports — seek advice from a coach or personal trainer if starting a new form of exercise.
  • Wear comfortable, supportive footwear.
  • Incorporate strengthening and knee mobility exercises into your daily routine.
  • Avoid activities that hurt your knees or put excessive strain on them.

It’s also important to listen to your body and seek advice from a specialist in orthopedic knee care if you develop knee pain. If you’ve recently had an injury or surgery, a structured knee rehabilitation program may help you regain full use of your knee and prevent future problems.

The takeaway

Inner knee pain has many potential causes, from sports injuries to degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis. While many cases of inner knee pain can be managed with nonsurgical treatments and lifestyle changes, more severe cases may require surgery.

Keeping your knees as healthy as possible may protect against inner knee pain, but you must take a proactive approach. This includes regular exercise, learning proper form when training, and seeking healthcare advice promptly if you develop pain or discomfort. Combining preventative measures with an active role in your own healthcare can help to reduce your chance of developing inner knee pain or speed up any existing issues on their way to recovery.

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