Knee pain when walking – causes and how to treat it

It’s not uncommon to experience knee pain when walking, particularly if you are starting to increase the level of physical activity you are doing. There are several reasons why you might find yourself experiencing knee pain and identifying the type and cause of your injury will be key to treating it.

holding knee in pain whilst walking

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. Here are some of the most common knee injuries or problems and the symptoms associated with them:

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.

Runner’s knee

Although the name might suggest that this is a knee injury you only get from running, runner’s knee can also be caused by any exercise or activity that outs repeated strain on the knee – including walking! Overuse of the joint and inadequate stretching are both causes of runner’s knee that could come as a result of walking.

Symptoms of runner’s knee:

The main symptom of runner’s knee is a dull ache around or behind the kneecap, where it meets the lower part of your femur. The pain tends to be worse when walking, bending, or moving the knee after sitting for long periods.

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 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, this could be the sign of a serious injury and you should contact your doctor to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.

Exercises to help with knee pain

Exercises can help to alleviate and avoid problems with knee pain. Doing lower body stretches to warm up before walking or doing other exercise that impacts your knees will help with improving your range of motion and flexibility. Heel, calf and hamstring stretches are all good exercises to help with knee pain.

Strengthening exercises that help build the muscle around your knee will also help to take the strain off the joint. Exercises such as calf raises, squats and hamstring curls are all beneficial for this.