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Inner Knee Pain - Injury Overview

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT December 10, 2020 0 Comments

Inner knee pain

The knee is a remarkable yet complicated joint and is vulnerable to pain and injury. Inner knee pain can impede our ability to move and carry out the activities we enjoy. Identifying the exact location of pain in the inner knee is the first step toward a diagnosis, which is crucial to an effective treatment plan and a full recovery. This guide will provide information and guidance on the types and causes pain on the inner side of the knee and the best treatment for pain on the inner side of the knee. Whether you are young or young at heart, your knees are crucial to your overall health and well being. Read on to learn how to keep them healthy.

What You Need to Know

  • The most common causes of inner knee pain are MCL tear, runner's knee, torn meniscus, synovial plica irritation, arthritis or knee bursitis.
  • Symptoms most often occur when running, walking, bending, cycling, or squatting.
  • Treatment includes rest, ice, compression, stretches & exercises, OTC medication for pain and sometimes physical therapy. Learn More
  • Surgery is usually not necessary to resolve pain, unless underlying injury requires it.

Pain on the Inner Side of the Knee

Pain on the inner side of the knee often comes on gradually. However, in some cases—particularly if caused by a sudden impact or injury—the onset of pain is immediate. 

Medial knee pain is the term most commonly used to describe this type of pain, which can be experienced either as a dull, aching pain, or a sharp pain. Given the importance of the knee joint in our daily lives, the impact of pain can be significant.

Location of Inner Knee Pain

The exact location of inner knee pain can differ depending on the underlying problem. 

  • Lower inner knee pain occurs just below the inside of the knee joint. Pain around this area suggests a problem with the tendons, ligaments, or other connective tissue that attach to the lower part of the leg. 
  • If inner knee pain occurs near the center of the joint this is often due to a meniscus,  ligament, or patellar (kneecap)  injury. 
  • Pain above the knee is usually due to tendon or muscle issues in the upper thigh region. 

Types of Inner Knee Pain

Your inner knee pain could stem from existing knee injuries or conditions. Here are the most common issues that create pain in the inner knee.

MCL Injury

An MCL injury, or medial ligament sprain, is often caused by a sharp twisting of the knee or a direct impact. For this reason, it is commonly experienced by athletes or people who participate in certain sports. It is also possible to sustain these knee injuries through a fall or deep squat, meaning that older adults can also be at risk.

Patellar Pain

Patella or kneecap pain can also contribute to inner knee pain. The term patellofemoral pain syndrome refers to pain in the kneecap and at the front of the knee. Other people refer to this sort of pain as runner’s knee.

Meniscus Tear

A meniscus is a chunk of supportive wedge-shaped cartilage within the knee that cushions the joint and absorbs shock. There are two menisci in the knee: the medial meniscus (on the inner side) and the lateral meniscus (on the outer side). Knee pain on the inner side often indicates damage to the medial meniscus. In the event of a tear, you will typically experience pain, swelling, and instability.

Learn More About Meniscus Tears


Arthritis is a catch-all term referring to joint pain or joint disease. Arthritis symptoms range from mild to severe and can affect the inner knee joint.  

  • Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is also known as “wear and tear”, overuse, or degenerative joint disease. It affects the articular cartilage within our joints, which can impair our movement and cause pain. 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which causes the immune system to attack the body’s joints. The ensuing inflammation causes a thickening of the tissue in the joints and deformation. Early diagnosis and treatment is key to managing rheumatoid arthritis, so consult a doctor or rheumatologist as soon as possible.

More on Arthritis of the Knee

Synovial Plica Irritation

Pain on the inside of the kneecap could indicate synovial plica irritation or plica syndrome. The synovial plica is a fold of synovial membrane (connective tissue that secures the entire knee joint capsule) located on the inside of the kneecap. It can become inflamed or irritated following a sudden twist. Synovial plica irritation may occur in conjunction with other conditions, including meniscal knee injuries.

Pes Anserine Bursitis

A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac found in joints throughout the human body to reduce friction between tendons with movement. The pes anserine bursa, in the medial lower side of the knee, may become inflamed, causing inner knee pain. This condition, known as knee bursitis, results in pain, swelling, and stiffness. It often occurs in runners or athletes and can cause inner knee pain when running.

Sprain or Tear

Although less common, it is also possible to tear muscles or tendons that cross or attach to the inner knee. The muscles associated with the medial knee are known collectively as the adductors. Injury to these muscles is often felt near the hip but can cause knee pain as well.

Inner Knee Pain Causes

There are a number of causes of inner knee pain, not all of which are as obvious as a direct blow to the knee. Often, what causes inner knee pain is not easy to identify, particularly when the pain has come on gradually.

A meniscus injury, for example, might happen during a sporting event. However,  normal overuse of the cartilage can lead to a breakdown of the meniscus, particularly as we age.

Among the most common causes of inner knee pain are:

  • Repetitive stress
  • Wear and tear
  • Poor technique during everyday activities, sports, or exercise
  • Dysfunctional lower body or core mechanics
  • Weak leg muscles
  • A direct impact or injury

Risk Factors for Knee Pain

Certain groups of people are at greater risk of developing knee pain—and inner knee pain, in particular:

  • Seniors and older adults
  • Athletes
  • Runners
  • People who are overweight
  • People who are inactive or sedentary
  • Weekend warriors

Inner Knee Pain Symptoms

The exact location of inner knee pain varies from person to person and depends on the underlying condition. The severity of the pain will also vary.

Among the most common symptoms of inner knee pain are: 

  • Pain in the inner side of the knee
  • Inner knee pain while running
  • Inner knee pain while walking
  • Inner knee pain when bending, cycling or squatting 
  • Weakness of the thigh muscles
  • Loss of knee range of motion
  • Poor coordination with lower leg movements

Treatment for these symptoms will likely include rest, ice, exercise and even the use of knee braces.

Learn How to Treat Inner Knee Pain

Although inner knee pain is not always accompanied by swelling, you may have a number of other symptoms, including swelling, discomfort, and stiffness.

Diagnosing Inner Knee Pain

If you experience consistent pain, speak to your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will ask questions about the pain and other symptoms and will perform a physical examination with special tests specifically for the knee. 

He or she may also order a diagnostic test, such as an MRI or X-ray for more conclusive results or ruling out certain injuries. It is also important for your doctor to rule out other possible issues such as a low back injury-known as lumbar radiculopathy. 

Recovering from Inner Knee Pain

Inner knee pain can stop us in our tracks. If you are experiencing pain on the inside of your knee, consult your doctor immediately. Determining the underlying cause of your pain is the first step toward developing an effective treatment plan and getting back to the activities you love.




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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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