Knee pain is common and can be a symptom of many different knee conditions or injuries. The inside of the knee, also called the medial knee or the medial compartment, is the area of the knee that’s closest to the opposite knee.
Medial knee pain typically occurs because of a deterioration of cartilage, or follows a sports injury or other type of trauma to the knee. The knee is easily injured because it’s one of the most complex joints in the body. The knee consists of the intersection of four bones, four ligaments, several tendons, two menisci, and cartilage.
There are a variety of causes of inner knee pain. Many of them can be linked to an injury. Some of the most common incidents that cause knee injury and pain include falls, collisions in sports, or increased activity.
Adults and adults older than 60, in particular, are most likely to experience knee pain. However, inner knee pain can also occur in children or adolescents. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the most common causes of inner knee pain in children are patellar subluxation, patellar tendonitis, and tibial apophysitis.
Here are seven of the most common possible causes.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease that breaks down cartilage, causing the bones in your joints to grind together. If you experience inner knee pain while putting pressure on the joint, such as walking up and down stairs or sitting down in a chair, you may have OA. Because this pressure causes the pain, your symptoms may get more severe as the day goes on.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can also cause inner knee pain. RA causes inflammation in the joints, so people with RA may experience severe inner knee pain in the morning, with symptoms decreasing throughout the day.
3. Medial collateral ligament injury
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) runs along the outside of the inner knee to stabilize the joint. If the ligament overstretches, you may have an MCL sprain. The MCL can also tear partially or fully. An MCL injury most commonly occurs after force is applied to the outer knee, such as in contact sports.
Symptoms of an MCL injury include:
- instability while standing or walking
- locking knees
- a popping sound at the time of impact
4. Medial meniscus injury
The meniscus is cartilage that provides a cushion between bones in a joint. There are two menisci in each knee. They serve as cushions between the thigh and shin bones. The meniscus can tear or become damaged if the knee is rotated or put under pressure, most commonly during sports or athletic activities. There are four major types of meniscus tears:
- bucket handle
Depending on the severity of the injury, you may also feel:
- stiffness of the knee
- a sharp pain when twisting the knee
- locking knees
- sense of imbalance
5. Pes anserine bursitis
A bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that helps reduce friction between joints. There are several bursas located throughout the body. Bursas are also located in the knees between the MCL and three tendons: the sartorius, gracilis, and semitendinosus. They’re collectively called the pes anserinus.
If the bursa becomes overused or irritated, it can produce extra fluid that causes swelling and pressure on the knee. This inflammation is known as pes anserine bursitis.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, there are several causes of pes anserine bursitis:
- a tear of the medial meniscus
- if a person turns out their knee or lower leg while standing or walking
- tight hamstring muscles, which may be caused by poor athletic training habits or a lack of stretching following strenuous physical activity
6. Medial plica irritation
Plica are small folds in the joint lining. Medial plicae cover the inner knee. Overuse, such as from repeatedly flexing the knee, can irritate the medial plicae. This causes the folds to thicken and become stuck between the bones. In addition to dull inner knee pain, you may experience locking knees and possibly a cracking sound.
7. Knee contusion
If you suffer a direct blow to the knee, such as a being hit by a blunt object or falling hard on the knee, you could bruise your knee bone. This is also known as a knee contusion. A knee contusion could cause inner knee pain, depending on where you were hit. Other symptoms of knee contusions include:
- black and blue skin
- trouble bending the knee
Knee injuries are fairly common, and many can be resolved at home. If you have symptoms for more than three days, you may have incurred a more serious injury and should visit a doctor. Doctors may recommend more involved treatment methods. Your treatment will vary based on the cause of the pain.
Minor knee pain is very common and can often be treated at home with inexpensive supplies. One of the most common remedies for minor knee pain is rest, ice, compression, and elevation, or RICE. RICE methods include the following:
- Avoid the activity that causes pain, such as running or taking the stairs.
- Use crutches to keep weight off of the knee.
- Ice the area three or four times per day for 20 minutes at a time.
- Wrap the knee using an elastic compression bandage.
- Place pillows underneath the knee to elevate it to the same level or higher than the level of your heart.
You may also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil) to alleviate swelling. If symptoms persist after 72 hours despite this treatment or the pain worsens, talk to your doctor.
Other inner knee pain treatments
If your inner knee pain worsens after several days, or if basic at-home remedies don’t alleviate symptoms, you should go see your doctor. Some treatment methods for more serious knee injuries include:
- Steroid injection. An injection is used to treat pes anserine bursitis.
- Physical therapy. Therapy often involves stretching, exercises, and ultrasound therapy.
- Assistive device. Wearing a knee brace during athletic or everyday activities can help.
- Surgery. Arthroscopic surgery of the knee is most commonly used after a meniscus tear.]
While not all causes of inner knee pain are preventable, doctors and physical therapists recognize strengthening the leg muscles as one of the most effective ways to treat and prevent knee injury. Specifically, the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and hamstrings (back thigh muscles) should be strengthened.
According to one 2008 study from the University of Minnesota’s department of orthopaedic surgery, helpful exercises include:
- straight leg lifts
- leg presses
- mini squats
- stationary or recumbent biking
- walking or running on the elliptical machine
- leg extensions
In addition, you should always begin and end exercising of any kind with stretching all the muscles involved, especially the quadriceps and hamstrings. Check out these quad and hamstring exercises to strengthen bad knees.