A knee pain diagnosis chart can be a really tool to help you work out why you have pain in your knee. There are lots of different structures in and around the knee that can cause pain.
Knowing which ones typically cause pain in which particular areas of the knee help make it much easier to get an accurate knee pain self diagnosis.
Front Knee Pain Diagnosis Chart
This knee pain diagnosis chart focuses on pain at the front of the knee.
A. Pain Above the Knee Cap (yellow)
Quadriceps Tendinopathy: Damage to the quadriceps tendon causing pain above the kneecap that is worse with activity
B. Outer Knee Pain (blue)
Iliotibial Band Syndrome: Most common. Irritation of the thick band on the outer leg. Pain may be extend up towards the hip on the outer thigh
Lateral Meniscus Tear: Damage to the lateral portion on the knee cartilage. Can make it difficult to straighten the knee
Lateral Collateral Ligament Injury: Overstretching and tearing of the LCL usually from awkward knee twisting or a large force through the side of the knee
C. Pain At The Kneecap (red)
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: Most common. Caused by a problem with how the kneecap moves
Chondromalacia Patella: Damage to the cartilage on the back of the kneecap. Typically affects healthy people under the age of 40
Arthritis: Wear and tear and degeneration of the knee bones and cartilage. Typically affects over the 60’s
Housemaids Knee: Inflammation of the prepatellar bursa, often causing localised swelling at the front of the knee. Can occur at any age, most commonly in people who spend lots of time kneeling
D. Inner Knee Pain (purple)
Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Sprain: Most Common. Overstretching or tear of the MCL from knee twisting injury. Typically affects the under 50’s
Medial Meniscus Tear: Damage to the knee cartilage either through injury (typically under 50’s) or wear and tear (typically over 50’s). Often associated with knee locking and swelling
Arthritis: Gradual onset of knee pain due to wear and tear of the knee cartilage and bones. Typically affects the over 60’s and more common on medial side of the knee than lateral
E. Medial Knee Pain Below The Knee (green)
Medial Plica Syndrome: Inflammation of the synovial membrane in the knee joint. Often associated with knee clicking
Pes Anserine Bursitis: Inflammation of the pes anserine bursa. Pain felt approximately 2 inches below the knee, often associated with a pocket of swelling
F. Pain Below The Knee (orange)
Patellar Tendonitis: Most common. Damage to the patellar tendon, thickening of the tendon, pain worse with repetitive activities e.g. jumping
Osgood Schlatters Disease: Affects adolescents and children typically after a growth spurt. Pain is felt at the top of the shin bone and there is often a hard bony lump.
Osteochondritis Dissecans: Decreased blood flow to the knee bones leads to degeneration, thinning and tearing of the knee bones and cartilage. Most common between the ages of 10-20
Sinding-Larsen-Johansson (SLJ) Disease: Affects adolescents and children. Pain similar to OSD but slightly higher, just below the kneecap
Posterior Knee Pain Diagnosis Chart
This knee pain diagnosis chart focuses on pain at the back of the knee.
A. Pain Behind The Knee (red)
Bakers Cyst: Most common cause of pain and swelling behind the knee. Inflammation of the popliteal bursa
Arthritis: Degeneration of the knee cartilage and bones causing pain and stiffness, especially in the morning
ACL Tear: Injury to the anterior cruciate ligament from twisting or force through the knee. Usually associated with knee instability
PCL Tear: Injury to the posterior cruciate ligament – less common than ACL Injury. Typically injured in RTA, fall or sports
Hyperextension Injury: Where the knee bends too far backwards causing pain, swelling and restricted movement
B. Posterolateral Knee Pain (blue)
Biceps Femoris Tendinopathy: Inflammation, degeneration or a tear in biceps femoris, one of the hamstrings muscles. Common problem for runners, frequently misdiagnosed as ITBS
C. Posteromedial Knee Pain (yellow)
Hamstring Tendinopathy: Inflammation or degeneration of semimembranosus or semitendinosus, the two hamstring muscles on the inner side of the knee. Fairly uncommon, usually affecting long distance runners or climbers
D. Lateral Pain Below The Knee (purple)
Lateral Head of Gastrocnemius Injury: Tear of the lateral head of the superficial calf muscle. Rarely injured in isolation, usually associated with ligaments and/or cartilage damage
E. Medial Pain Below The Knee (pink)
Medial Head of Gastrocnemius Injury: Tear of the medial head of the superficial calf muscle. Usually happens when the pushing off through the foot when the knee is straight and ankle flexed
F. Pain Below The Knee (green)
Calf Muscle Cramps: Sudden spasming of the calf muscles. May be extremely painful but usually settle within a few minutes
Calf Tear: Overstretching or tearing of one of the calf muscles, usually during sports. Typically instant pain with immediate swelling and bruising
DVT: A blood clot in one of the deep leg veins. Associated with intense pain, swelling, redness, heat and tenderness. A DVT is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical intervention.
Understanding Knee Pain Diagnosis
Understanding what is causing your knee pain is the first, crucial step to overcoming knee pain. The knee pain diagnosis charts here are very useful visual tool to help you work out what is wrong.
You can find out loads more about these conditions by using the links above. Alternatively, if you want some more guidance, visit the knee pain diagnosis section.
There are lots of other causes of knee pain that don’t appear on either of these knee pain diagnosis charts e.g. gout knee. They tend to cause more general, widespread knee pain, rather than pain in a specific locations so haven’t been included here on these knee pain diagnosis chart. You can find out more in the common knee conditions section.
Page Last Updated: 09/24/2019
Next Review Due: 09/24/2021
1. American Family Physician Journal. Evaluation of patients presenting with knee pain: Part II. Differential diagnosis. September 2003
2. British Medical Journal Best Practice. Assessment of Knee Injury. June 2018
3. Medscape. Evaluating Knee Pain: The Latest in Diagnosis and Management. June 2017