Knee Pain When Walking – Causes And How To Treat It

If you love to go for walks or hikes and are often planning the next walk whilst you’re already out and about, then you will probably be walking along rough terrain and up hills and down dales. This activity level can mean that your knees take on a lot of pressure and are doing a lot of work and you can develop knee pain over time.

However, there are lots of different types of pain in the knees, especially at the back of the knee and it is important to make sure whatever pain you have, is treated properly, and you should always see a doctor or physical therapist if the pain persists. 

Types of knee pain: 

  • Bursitis
  • Tendonitis
  • Runner’s Knee
  • Meniscus Tear

What are the symptoms of knee pain?

Is your knee in pain whilst walking? The symptoms you might experience from knee pain can vary depending on the injury some people have posterior knee pain whilst others have pain in the front of your knee.

In this article, we’ll run through some of the most common causes of pain of knee pain that you may get when walking, what the causes of that pain might be, the symptoms and any treatment that you can do yourself. We’ll also advise when it is a good idea to see a doctor. 

Bursitis 

Bursitis is an inflamed joint, when the fluid-filled sac (synovial fluid) that surrounds your knee joint becomes inflamed, it’ll push against the joint and this is what causes the swelling and pain associated with it. 

Causes of Bursitis 

There are a few different causes for bursitis – mainly involving putting too much pressure on the joints, for example, if you are overweight or if you do not use padding protective wear when kneeling, walking or climbing. Not warming up properly before walking or taking part in exercise can also mean that your joints can become inflamed and painful. 

Symptoms of Bursitis: 

The 4 most common symptoms are:

  • A dull, aching pain
  • The skin around your knee may become tender or warm
  • The knee joint swells up
  • It becomes more painful when moving or if you press it

Treatments for Bursitis

The good news is that bursitis can be treated by yourself at home. The best way is to treat it by rest, you can raise the leg to help and avoid any activity that puts more pressure on, so no long walks or technical hikes. Use ice packs – yes, you can use frozen peas – wrapped up in a tea towel for just 10 minutes throughout the day. Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen will also help the inflammation and pain to ease. 

Bursitis can go away quite quickly, especially if you look after yourself and rest. However, if the symptoms do not ease after 12 weeks, you develop a high temperature, or you cannot move the knee then you will need to go to the doctor to get it checked. 

Tendonitis

After a knee injury, your tendon can become inflamed and swollen. This can cause it to stiffen and become sore and painful and also affects how your tendon moves. Tendonitis can affect people of all ages, but they are mainly caused by a sports injury. 

Causes of Tendonitis

As tendonitis is caused mainly by repetitive movements and or sharp, sudden movements so making sure that you are not going over the same exercise routine over and over again is important. Also make sure that you stretch before and after exercise and wear supportive insoles or shoes. Make sure that you rest between exercises and don’t do multiple long walks without taking breaks and resting tired muscles properly. 

Symptoms of Tendonitis

The 4 most common symptoms are:

  • Having difficulty moving the joint;
  • A pain that gets worse or a sudden pain when you move the tendon; 
  • Having a grating or crackling sensation when moving the tendon;
  • Swelling that can also include warmer skin or some redness. 

Treatments for Tendonitis

Treating an inflamed tendon can be done without a doctor, but if it gets worse over a period of two to three weeks then getting to a doctor is advised. 

As usual, the best treatment is to rest. Try not to move too much and try to avoid walking for long periods of time for 2 to 3 days. Put ice on the inflamed tendon for around 20 minutes every 3 hours. Finally, putting a support bandage or brace can help with the inflammation, make sure that it is only snug not tight, or it will get worse over time and make sure not to wear it in bed. 

Paracetamol or ibuprofen can also help ease pain and swelling. 

Runner’s Knee

We know this is a walking post, but runner’s knee doesn’t mean you have to be a runner to get this type of injury. It’s a broader term used for a common complaint in the knee found in runners called patellofemoral pain syndrome (which is not nearly as catchy as runner’s knee). 

Causes of Runner’s Knee

This injury is caused by overuse (or by doing lots of lunges, climbing lots of steps etc) or a direct hit to the knee from a fall. Runner’s knee can also be caused by having weaker thigh muscles due to the fact that quadriceps keep the knee in place when you bend or stretch and if you’re thigh muscle is a bit weaker, the kneecap can move more easily. 

Symptoms of Runner’s Knee

The 4 most common symptoms are:

  • Pain around the knee but usually in front or behind the kneecap; 
  • Sharp pain when bending your knee when walking or running;
  • Feeling it gets worse when you go downstairs or downhill; 
  • A grinding or popping sound in the knee. 

Treatments for Runner’s Knee

It is best to get professional medical advice for an accurate diagnosis for runner’s knee and get the best course of treatment. However, if you wish to treat it yourself then we advise plenty of rest and using straps, supports or a brace to protect your knee and give it that extra bit of support. 

Painkillers and ibuprofen are also going to help with any pain and swelling if your knee hurts, and there are also strength and stretching exercises that you can do to help, as well as gentle yoga and pilates to help strengthen your thigh muscles. 

If it doesn’t seem to get any better over a period of a few weeks, then we suggest seeing a doctor as you may need help with physical therapy or even some surgery. 

Meniscus Tear

The meniscus are little bits of cartilage inside your knee and act like shock absorbers in your knee so if you do get a tear, it can lead to other problems. 

Causes of Meniscus Tear

When walking, if you’re doing a more strenuous hike then you’re probably going over rougher ground and doing a bit more scrambling or climbing over hills or rocks. A meniscus tear is commonly caused by a twist of the knee which can be done easily when walking or hiking. 

Symptoms of Meniscus Tear

A common symptom is a small pop that you may hear when the meniscus tears. However, 6 other common symptoms are:

  • You may get some swelling which will start several hours after the tear happens;
  • You may not be able to bend or fully extend the knee;
  • It could feel tender along the joint line;
  • Your knee could feel unstable or like it’s due to give way; 
  • A clicking feeling or that it is catching – usually when it’s bending;
  • Pain in the knee. 

Treatments for Meniscus Tear

Meniscus tears will need medical treatment options, but we recommend following the POLICE method first to help with symptoms whilst waiting to be seen. POLICE stands for protect, optimal loading, ice (cold pack), compression and elevation so make sure it is supported and protected, that you use ice and keep it elevated. 

You may need an x-ray or MRI scan if it continues so make sure you do get checked out and seen. A meniscus tear can be serious, and you could need surgery, physiotherapy and certain medicines so a good treatment plan is essential.

Sprained knee

Sprained knees are a common injury, particularly in runners, but can also occur as a result of walking and other sports and activities that bear weight on the knees. A sprain occurs when one or more of the ligaments within the knee gets stretched or torn, causing pain, and making it difficult to walk in some cases. Exercising without warming up adequately and sudden bends and twists can all cause sprains.

Symptoms of a Sprained Knee

Sprains can vary in severity from mild to severe. Symptoms of a mild sprain may include mild swelling, pain, and bruising, whereas a severe sprain may cause instability in the knee join or even inability to put weight on the knee. If you are experiencing severe pain, swelling or are unable to walk on your knee you should make sure to speak to your doctor.

Fractured knee

Another cause for knee pain when you walk could be a stress fracture in your kneecap. A fracture can range from a small crack in the bone to a total break, and tends to be caused by an overload of pressure or force on the bone. A fracture from walking could be the result of tripping on uneven terrain, or bearing too much weight on the knees for a prolonged period.

Symptoms of a Fractured Knee

If you have a knee fracture, you’re likely to experience one or more of the following symptoms – pain, swelling, bruising, difficulty straightening your leg and difficulty or inability to walk. Fractures can cause serious issues if not allowed to heal properly so if you think you may have fractured your knee, you should see your doctor immediately so they can perform an x-ray and properly diagnose your condition.

How to treat knee pain

If you are experiencing mild knee pain when walking or as a result of walking, you will likely be able to treat it at home using the RICE method. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

For the first step, rest, you should rest your knee and avoid walking and any other strenuous activity for at least a couple of days. Step 2, ice, helps to reduce pain and swelling. You should gently press an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas against your knee for 15 minutes every couple of hours in the first instance of your knee pain occurring. Step 3, compression, will also help to reduce swelling by wrapping your knee snugly (but not too tightly) in a bandage. Finally, try to keep the knee raised above your chest to further reduce swelling and throbbing pain.

For severe knee pain, especially where you are unable to put weight on your knee or walk, could be a sign of a serious injury or medical conditions you should contact your doctor to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.

Exercises to Help with Knee Pain

We always recommend stretching your lower body before doing any exercise but it’s also important before you start on a long walk so your body is warm, and you reduce the risk of injury. Why not try some heel, calf and hamstring stretches to get you started? 

Strengthening exercises are also worth looking into as they will help build the muscles around your knees. Calf raises, squats and hamstring curls will all be good ones to do for strengthening

There are other cause of knee pain that can include;

  • Calf strain
  • Hamstring injuries
  • Ligament injury
  • Nerve damage
  • Baker’s cyst
  • Leg cramps
  • Jumper’s knee
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

We obviously hope you don’t get any knee pain in the front or back of your knee, but if you do then this guide can help you understand some of them and get help with treating them. We would always recommend seeing a doctor if any knee problems persist, you get severe pain or if any there is a sudden change in how your knee feels in its range of motion. 

For other articles on walking, head over to our walking home page.

Search our site for more of the content you love...

We hope you enjoyed this blog, read more of our walking guides and advice