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How to Deal with Knee Pain When Sleeping

by Patty Weasler, RN February 21, 2020 0 Comments

Seeping with Knee Pillow

Are you having trouble sleeping at night because of knee pain? Joint pain at nighttime can be caused by multiple conditions and injuries making it difficult to determine the right type of treatment. Here we’ll discuss the common causes of knee pain when sleeping, some home remedies that you can try, and finally simple tips for improving your sleep. No one should have to live with knee pain that prevents them from getting a good night’s sleep, so read on to find out how you can resolve that pain once and for all.  

Why is Knee Pain Worse at Night?

There are a couple of reasons why your knee pain is worse at night:

  1. Pain is perceived to be worse at nighttime. As you climb into bed and start to quiet your mind pain becomes more pronounced than when you were active during the day distracted by your activities.

  2. An active day may cause your knee joint to swell. When you lay down to rest your muscles and surrounding tissue tighten up. The synovial fluid that moves around your knee joint will slow down causing further swelling.

Common Causes of Knee Pain While Sleeping

Multiple conditions can cause knee pain while sleeping. If you’re wondering what might be causing your pain at nighttime check out the conditions below to see if your pain fits into one of these categories. As always, talk to your doctor to get a diagnosis for any injury or condition.

Torn Meniscus

A torn meniscus is a tear in the cartilage in the knee that happens after a quick twisting movement. It’s common among athletes who play football, hockey, or tennis. The symptoms are a popping sound followed by knee pain and swelling. People who have suffered a torn meniscus may feel like their knee is going to give out or like their knee is locked in a bent position and are unable to straighten it.

Learn more about meniscus tears here.


Chondromalacia also known as runner’s knee is a condition when the cartilage under the kneecap becomes damaged and irritated. Knee pain worsens after sitting for a long period of time, when using the stairs, or standing up from a sitting position. Sufferers may also feel a grinding sensation when they straighten their knee.

Knee Osteoarthritis

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. With knee osteoarthritis being the most common form of arthritis. In knee osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the knee wears away from everyday use causing the bones to rub together. Symptoms are pain, swelling, and knee stiffness. Arthritis pain in the knee can be debilitating if not treated properly.


Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis where too much uric acid builds-up in the blood. The uric acid then forms sharp crystals within the joint causing the gout symptoms. This can happen in any joint, including the knee. The unique characteristics of gout symptoms are that the pain is sudden, often called an attack, and usually includes pain, redness, and tenderness in the joint.

Knee Bursitis

Knee bursitis is inflammation in the bursa, a fluid-filled sac in your knee joint. You have multiple bursae in your knee, the one that typically becomes inflamed sits over your kneecap. The bursae reduce friction in the knee and cushion the joint. Knee bursitis is mildly painful with pain increasing when kneeling. Sufferers also experience swelling, stiffness, and pain when walking. 

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

If you are a runner or participate in an activity that requires repeated bending of the knee you are at a greater risk for developing iliotibial band syndrome. The IT band runs from the outside of your hip down past the outside of your knee to the top of the shin. When the IT band becomes tight it rubs against the knee. This causes both the IT band and the bursa, the structure that is being rubbed, to swell.

Symptoms of iliotibial band syndrome include pain on the outside of the knee or between the hips and knees. You may also experience swelling, burning, or tenderness on the knee joint.

Home Remedies for Knee Pain at Night

When you can’t sleep because of acute or chronic pain you’ll do just about anything to ease it. In this section, we cover home remedies for knee pain that are easy and effective at improving your sleep quality and providing pain relief.

  • Hot or Cold Pack

    A hot pack warms the knee joint which relaxes muscles, easing pain, and improves healing by increasing blood flow to the area. Whereas ice packs reduce swelling, numb the area, and constrict blood vessels reducing blood flow. People with knee pain find pain relief with hot or cold packs when used before bedtime for pain management. Try hot or cold therapy if you suffer from any of the conditions listed above. Just be sure not to sleep with a heating or cooling device.

  • Medication

    Medication for knee pain falls under two categories, over-the-counter or prescription. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen reduce pain and swelling. They work well for mild to moderate pain caused by a torn meniscus, iliotibial band syndrome, knee bursitis, gout, and chondromalacia. Some people with knee osteoarthritis may find relief with an NSAID but will likely need a prescription from their doctor to help manage this chronic condition.

  • Massage

    Massage to reduce knee pain when sleeping is something that you can have done during a physical therapy session or done through self-massage on your knee before bed. Massage eases muscles, works out knots, and reduces tension. Conditions like iliotibial band syndrome, torn meniscus, knee bursitis, and chondromalacia can benefit from massage therapy.

  • Support and Comfort

    Finding pain relief can be as simple as using a support tool to modify your sleeping position. A comfort tool like a knee pillow is designed to relieve pressure on your hips, back, and knees. If you suffer from a torn meniscus, iliotibial band syndrome, knee bursitis, knee osteoarthritis, or chondromalacia you’ll likely find the greatest benefit. But just about anyone will find that knee pillows increase their comfort at nighttime.

  • Compression

    At nighttime, your knee can swell from lack of movement. Wearing a compression device will combat the inflammation and stiffness that so many people experience after laying in bed all night. If your knee is swollen during the day, compression devices can typically be worn throughout the day as well. Compression will benefit any of the conditions we mentioned above but might be uncomfortable for those with gout and knee osteoarthritis.

Tips for Improving Sleep With Joint Pain

When knee pain just won’t give up here are a few extra tips to help you sleep soundly through the night.

Take a Warm Bath Before Bed

Just like using a heating pad a warm bath will soothe your muscles and with the added bonus of a relaxing atmosphere. Try taking a warm bath before bed to get your mind and body ready for the night.

Check Your Sleeping Posture

Sometimes it takes a new sleeping position to offload pressure on your knee. If you normally sleep on your back try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees.

Time Medications Appropriately

If you are taking medications for pain relief adjust the timing so that you are due for a dose close to your bedtime. This will time it so the medication is working while you are sleeping. Talk to your doctor before changing the timing of your prescription medications.

Lose Excess Weight

Extra pressure from excess weight can cause knee pain and injury. Losing weight can take some of the pressure on your joints. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to lose weight.

Change Daily Routines

Most people have heard the saying, nothing changes if nothing changes. Change up your daily routine to reduce walking or activities in the evening to give your knee a chance to cool down before bed.

Elevate Legs

Swelling follows the path of least resistance. By elevating your legs it makes it more difficult for the soft tissues in your knees and legs to fill with fluid.

Improve Sleep Hygiene

Come up with a sleep routine that is easy to follow and works with your schedule. Carve out time to unwind with a bath, a good book, or yoga. This gives your body and mind a chance to relax before bedtime.

Safely Managing Knee Pain

Knee pain can be caused by many different conditions or injuries. If you are experiencing knee pain, talk to your doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. Often times knee injuries have similar symptoms like swelling, redness, and pain. These symptoms can interfere with sleep causing you to toss and turn. With the help of your doctor and the home remedies suggested in this article, we hope you can sleep more soundly and pain-free.



Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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