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Your knee is the largest joint in your body, formed where your femur and tibia meet. Injury or discomfort in and around your knee can result from either wear and tear or traumatic accidents.

You may experience pain directly on your knee from an injury, such as a fracture or torn meniscus. But pain above your knee — whether in the front or back of your leg — may have a different cause.

Common causes of pain above your knee include quadricep or hamstring tendonitis, arthritis, and knee bursitis.

Quadricep or hamstring tendonitis

Your tendons attach your muscles to your bones. Tendonitis means your tendons are irritated or inflamed.

You can experience tendonitis in any of your tendons, including in your quadriceps. The quadriceps are located in the front of your thigh and extend toward your knee, or your hamstrings, which are located in the back of your thigh.

Quadricep or hamstring tendonitis can be caused by overuse or improper form during physical activities, such as sports or exertion at work.

Symptoms include:

  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • pain or aching when moving or bending your leg

Treatment for tendonitis focuses on relieving pain and inflammation. Common treatment options include:

  • resting or elevating your leg
  • applying heat or ice for short periods several times per day
  • performing light stretches and exercises to improve mobility and strength

In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend providing temporary support through splints or braces. They may even recommend removing the inflamed tissue through surgery.

Arthritis

Arthritis in your knee occurs when the cartilage supporting your knee joint wears away.

Common types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus can all cause pain around your knee and the surrounding joints.

Arthritis is generally treated with exercise prescribed by your doctor or pain medications and injections. Some forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can be treated with drugs that reduce inflammation.

Knee bursitis

Bursae are sacs of fluid near your knee that soften the contact between the bones, tendons, muscles, and skin. When bursa becomes inflamed, they can cause pain above your knee, especially when walking or bending your leg.

Treatment generally focuses on managing symptoms while the condition improves. Medications and physical therapy exercises can be beneficial.

Surgery is often necessary to remove the bursae, but doctors typically consider surgery only if the condition is severe or does not respond to common treatments.

Many causes of pain above your knee can be prevented by proper stretching before exercise and preventing overexertion or poor form during physical activity.

Other causes like arthritis or knee bursitis are not as easily preventable. However, your doctor or other healthcare provider may have recommendations for relieving symptoms and preventing further injury.

There are causes of pain above your knee — especially if that pain is also experienced in the rest of your leg — that require immediate medical attention.

Feeling numbness or pain in one of your legs is one symptom of a stroke. Additionally, pain or tenderness in your leg could indicate a blood clot, especially if the swelling is not reduced by elevating your leg.

If you experience either of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Pain above your knee and in the surrounding areas of your leg could be a symptom of a number of possible conditions. Many are related to wear and tear or overexertion.

If symptoms persist or worsen over time, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.