Knee Pain

How does the knee work?


The knee joint is where the thigh and shinbones meet. The end of each bone is covered with cartilage allowing them to move smoothly against each other. It has 2 other pieces of cartilage, called menisci that help to spread load evenly across the knee.

The knee joint is held in place by four large ligaments. Together with the capsule, the ligaments prevent the joint from dislocating or moving in the wrong direction. The thigh muscles (quadriceps) also help to keep the knee joint stable.



A normal knee joint

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What causes knee pain?

There are many different causes of knee pain. A common cause is osteoarthritis, a condition that affects the body’s joints. The surfaces within the joint are damaged so the joint doesn’t move as smoothly as it should. Your doctor or physiotherapist will be able to tell you what has caused your pain. The information and exercises here are relevant in most cases.

What can be done to help?

Pain relief

Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are both available from the chemist and can be effective in relieving knee pain enough to allow you to exercise.

Hot and cold packs can also help when applied to the effected area. Heat is usually more effective for stiffness whereas cold is used to reduce inflammation in the acute phase of an injury. You can use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel for a heat pack or a packet of frozen peas wrapped in a towel for a cold pack.


If your knee is affecting your activity and is persisting, ask for a referral to a physiotherapist. Physiotherapy can help you manage pain and improve your strength and flexibility. A physiotherapist can provide a variety of treatments, help you understand your problem and get you back to your normal activities.


Surgery may be recommended if your pain is very severe or you have mobility problems. Your doctor will discuss with you what the surgery may involve.


What can I do to help myself?

  • lose weight (if you are overweight)
  • exercises – low impact activities such as swimming, cycling and using a cross-trainer are good.

Simple exercises 

Straight-leg raise (sitting)

Sit back in the
chair with good posture. Straighten and raise one leg. Hold for 10 seconds then slowly lower your leg. Repeat this at least 10 times with each leg. If you can do this easily, try it with light weights on your ankles. Try doing this every time you sit down.

Straight-leg raise (lying)

Bend one leg at the knee. Hold the other leg straight and lift the foot just off the bed. Hold for 5 seconds then slowly lower your leg. Repeat 5 times with each leg. Try doing it in the morning and at night while lying in bed.

Leg stretch

Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front. Keeping your foot to the floor, slowly bend one knee until you feel it being comfortably stretched. Hold for 5 seconds. Straighten your leg as far as you can and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times with each leg.

Leg cross

Sit on the edge of a table or bed. Cross your ankles over. Push your front leg backwards and back leg forwards against each other until the thigh muscles become tense. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax. Switch legs and repeat. So 4 sets with each leg.


Sit on a chair. Without using your hands for support, stand up and then sit back down. Make sure each movement is slow and controlled. Repeat for 1 minute. As you improve, try to increase the number of sit/stands you can do in 1 minute and try the exercise from lower chairs or the bottom two steps of staircase.

Step ups

Step onto the bottom step of stairs with the right foot. Bring up the left foot, then step down with the right foot, followed by the left foot. Repeat with each leg until you get short of breath. Hold on to the bannister if necessary. As you improve, try to increase the number of steps you can do in 1 minute and the height of the step.

Knee Squats

Hold onto a chair or work surface for support. Squat down until your kneecap covers your big toe. Return to standing. Repeat at least 10 times. As you improve, try and squat a little further. Don’t bend your knees beyond a right angle.


  • Knee pain can be caused by a number of different things. Whatever the cause, exercise and keeping to a healthy weight can reduce the symptoms.
  • You can take painkillers to ease pain. Taking them before exercise can help you stay active without causing extra pain.
  • Try the exercises here to help ease the pain and prevent future symptoms.