Behind Knee Pain

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What is behind knee pain?

Behind knee pain is discomfort or soreness behind the knee joint. It may occur with or without movement and can be severe enough to limit movement. People may describe behind knee pain as discomfort, inflammation, increased warmth or burning, soreness, stiffness, or pain.

Behind knee pain is a common sign of a Baker’s cyst, which is a buildup of synovial fluid behind the knee. Synovial fluid lubricates the joints and reduces friction between the joint cartilages. The symptoms associated with a Baker’s cyst tend to come and go, and the condition will not cause any long-term damage to the knee.

However, behind knee pain may be a symptom of deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg), which is a serious and life-threatening condition. The blood clot can break loose and cause a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even stroke. Deep vein thrombosis has similar symptoms to a Baker’s cyst.

If you experience pain behind the knee and calf with painful swelling and bruises, seek immediate emergency medical care. If your symptoms persist or cause you concern, contact a medical professional.

What other symptoms might occur with behind knee pain?

Behind knee pain often occurs along with other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. These symptoms include swelling or edema, inflammation and redness, soreness, or pain. If you are experiencing other symptoms along with your behind knee pain, be sure to tell your health care provider. This additional information can help your doctor make a diagnosis.

Symptoms that may occur along with behind knee pain

Behind the knee pain may occur with other symptoms including:

  • Inability to put weight on the knee

  • Pain when stretching your leg

  • Reduced knee mobility (range of motion of the knee)

  • Stiffness

  • Swelling

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, behind knee pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Symptoms that may indicate a serious or life-threatening condition include:

  • Bruising on the back of the knee or calf

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Redness behind the knee of one leg

  • Warmth behind the knee of one leg

  • Painful swelling on the back of the knee or calf

Remember, deep vein thrombosis most often occurs in the calf, but it can occur in the other areas mentioned as well.

What causes behind knee pain?

Behind knee pain can be due to a fairly mild condition, such as a torn hamstring that responds well to rest and self-care measures. However, behind knee pain can result from a Baker’s cyst or deep vein thrombosis. With both conditions you may have pain, swelling, and bruising behind the knee and calf. In contrast to a Baker’s cyst, deep vein thrombosis is a life-threatening condition that needs to be treated as soon as possible.

Chronic degenerative conditions that cause behind knee pain include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is also an autoimmune disorder.

Common causes of Baker’s cyst and behind knee pain

Behind knee pain may arise from an injury or an inflammatory condition, such as:

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Overuse injury

  • Repetitive motion

  • Torn ligament or cartilage

  • Torn hamstring muscle

  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg which can break loose from the leg causing a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even stroke)

  • Peripheral vascular disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

Serious or life-threatening causes of behind knee pain

  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg which can break loose from the leg causing a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even stroke)

  • Peripheral vascular disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which can limit blood flow to the extremities)

What are the potential complications of behind knee pain?

Because behind knee pain may be a sign of a serious disease, failure to seek treatment can result in complications. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience any kind of persistent pain, redness, warmth, or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important that you follow the treatment plan outlined by your health care provider to reduce your risk of potential complications related to behind knee pain, including:

  • Loss of mobility

  • Disability

  • Poor quality of life from constant pain

  • Pulmonary embolism associated with deep vein thrombosis

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 20
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Baker’s cyst. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001222.htm
  2. Deep vein thrombosis. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000156.htm
  3. Knee problems. Family Doctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/542.printerview.html