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7 Causes of Burning Knee Pain

Knee pain is one of the most troublesome conditions and causes considerable inconvenience, affecting normal movements and routines even if you are healthy otherwise. The burning sensation can result from several problems ranging from gout to arthritis to muscle and ligament injury. Visit Redefine Healthcare, New Jersey’s top spine and joint care practice, to have your burning knee pain accurately diagnosed and treated by an experienced and board-certified pain relief doctor. Dr. Eric Freeman narrows down the potential causes of pain by evaluating your symptoms and identifying which areas of the joints they are bothering. The specialist helps you understand your condition and works with you to address the source of pain for long-term relief.      

Burning pain in the knee is an unanticipated and highly unpleasant experience. You may feel if the joint is on fire, something sharp is sticking to it or poking it. Constant burning sensation in the knee makes it difficult for you to walk, relax or even sleep. In case of fatigue or injury, this pain can worsen significantly.

In most cases, burning pain in the knee is a pressing issue with the joint. However, it can also be a warning sign of some other complications and must be diagnosed accurately to prevent disability. Sometimes it is just a matter of overuse or an injury that was not treated and requires adequate rest.

Read on to learn some of the most common causes of a burning knee, and what is the reason behind pain in different parts of the joint.

Location of Burning Knee Pain – Where Is It Occurring?

Our knees take on a lot of stress every day. Every movement we make impacts the knees and puts a strain on them, but this strain is not created equal and may affect the joint in an unpredictable manner. Pinpointing the location of burning pain in the knee can help to determine the causes behind it.

Knowing where the pain is occurring can help you seek a better solution for your problem.

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The Front of the Knee

Consistent burning in the front of the knees could develop from excessive stress or tension on the patella tendon, which is attributed to overuse. However, this is not all and it could be a warning sign of something much more severe such as a dislocated patella, a deteriorating or softening patella, or an accumulation of fluids and swelling.

The Back of the Knee

A sharp, stabbing pain behind the knee may result from inflamed tendons that lead to hamstring tendonitis from overuse. In addition, swelling and tightness indicate a cyst, which occurs due to mechanical abnormality producing excess fluids.

A torn knee cartilage or meniscus can also cause pain at the back of the knee.

The Side or Outside of the Knee

Burning pain that occurs on the outer side of the entire knee or off to one side could be due to a condition known as Iliotibial band syndrome. This condition occurs when the outside of the thigh or knee area is inflamed and irritated.

A tear in one or two of the menisci, pieces of cartilage found where two bones meet, can also result in pain and swelling outside the knee. It feels as if the knee is locking up or giving way. A burning sensation in the knee, from the outside, is also a warning sign of pressure from a fluid-filled cyst.

The Inside of the Knee

Burning pain on the inside of the knee usually refers to the tissue fold, medically known as medial plica, becoming irritated due to overuse or some injury. It is a common condition and remains undiagnosed as it cannot be detected on an MRI scan.

Why Does the Knee Burn – 7 Common Causes of Knee Pain

Knee pain with a burning sensation usually points towards underlying nerve involvement, but there are various causes of burning knee pain. The burning sensation can be felt in different areas of the knee, such as the front, side, and back.

Some of the common causes include:


Knee trauma refers to ligament or cartilage tears. Sudden twisting of the knee, a blow to the joint, an RTA, or a fall can injure the bones and cause a fracture or damage the tissues resulting in cartilage tears around the knee. Tearing of cartilage can result in bleeding into the joint, which puts pressure on the nerve endings and causes a burning sensation in the entire knee.

Ligament tears can range from partial to severe. While in some cases, the cartilage can heal on its own with proper care, severe cases may require steroid injections or surgery. Other leg or knee injuries can also cause burning pain, accompanied by symptoms such as instability, stiffness, popping, or locking.


Gout is a common cause of burning knee pain that can develop rapidly within a few hours, usually at night. It is an inflammatory condition caused due to high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream.

As gout flares up, the entire joint becomes swollen and feels hot to the touch. It feels as if the knee is on fire and burning. This condition is extremely painful and makes it difficult to walk or move around. These flare-ups generally settle within a few weeks, but they can return after some time. Doctors recommend various medications to reduce inflammation and pain. Simple changes to diet can also help prevent gout attacks and keep them from recurring.

Runner’s Knee or Chondromalacia

Chondromalacia is a knee pain condition characterized by softening of the cartilage of the knee cap, known as the patella. It results from cartilage deterioration, or overuse of the knee, leaving less tissue or cushioning for the joint during activities.

Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFS), it is common among runners and people who consistently put physical stress and pressure on their knees. In this condition, a burning pain is felt in the front of the knee, and it feels as if the entire knee is on fire, but it only affects one leg. Abnormal muscle balance and overuse can lead to deterioration of the kneecap and painful symptoms. As this pain occurs in athletes and players, it is termed runner’s knees. Almost all athletes complain about the sensation of burning pain in the front of the knee and knee cap.

In most cases, an ice pack and rest can solve the problem, but severe cases require surgery to soothe the cartilage and help it heal better.


Osteoarthritis is the wear and tear of the knee bones and cartilage. Arthritis usually affects people above 65 years of age. It may impact either the knees together or any one knee, causing significant pain. The extent of cartilage tear or defect depends on how quickly the osteoarthritis is progressing. The pain is worse in the morning or after down for longer periods, but it gradually eases with movement. The knee may swell at times and knee movement may decrease with time.

As osteoarthritis results from the wearing down of protective cartilage, it is impossible to reverse this condition. Treatment can vary from pain and inflammation management medications to cortisone injections and even joint replacement surgery in extreme cases.

Patellar Tendonitis

It is an injury of the tendon, which connects the kneecap to the shinbone. When this tendon is overused, it can cause burning pain in the front of the knee. The patellar tendon works with the muscles at the front of the thigh to extend your knee so that you can kick, run and jump. Also known as jumper’s knee, patellar tendonitis is common in athletes whose sports involve frequent jumping, such as basketball and volleyball. Repeated abrupt or jumping motions slowly strain the patellar tendon over time.

Patellar tendonitis may get better on its own with rest and physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the knee, but extreme cases require more invasive therapy. Your doctor may recommend platelet-rich plasma injections or surgery to repair the damaged tissues.

Knee Bursitis

Knee bursitis is another common cause of burning knee pain. There are small fluid-filled pockets between soft tissue and bone, called the bursa. They reduce friction and help the body in smooth movements. There are 15 bursae around each knee, and if any of them becomes inflamed due to overuse or injury, it can result in burning pain. This condition is known as knee bursitis and usually occurs in the front part of the knee.

An inflamed bursa often resembles a small, squashy orange as there is considerable swelling around the knee. Symptoms of knee bursitis appear gradually as a result of repetitive friction on the bursa, but they can develop rapidly after an injury to the knee. Pain resulting from this condition is more pronounced when you kneel down and is common among people who lift heavy loads.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) most commonly affects runners. The iliotibial band is a ligament that runs from the top of the pelvic bone to the outside of the thigh, down to the outside of the knee. When the iliotibial band gets too tensed, it rubs against the outside of the knee or hip bone during physical activity. As a result, it becomes inflamed and causes a burning sensation and pain.

Trauma or overuse can irritate and cause swelling up the iliotibial band tendon, which can further cause compression of the nerves. It can affect one or both knees. Athletes exposed to physical stress suffer from this syndrome and often complain of burning knee pain outside of the knee. There is no specific treatment for ITBS. Rest, gentle massage, exercises that strengthen core muscles, and pain-relieving medications can ease the discomfort.

Burning knee pain can result from several different reasons. Some acute injuries can start causing pain immediately, while others are related to overuse and buildup gradually.

Read more:
5 Signs You Should See an Orthopedic Spine Specialist
Back Pain From Sitting | Possible Reasons and Treatments

When to See a Doctor for Burning Knee Pain?

Most burning pain knee issues can be treated at home with rest, applying ice packs, and exercises that focus on strengthening the muscles around the knee. However, if the burning sensation in your knee does not subside after a few days, or if the pain continues to build despite the care, it is time to visit a specialist.

Your knees are vital as they help your body stand, move around, sit and bend easily. Intense pain and inability to move are alarming symptoms that must be checked by a healthcare professional. The specialist may recommend additional therapies, such as physical or occupational therapies or even surgical options, to ensure your long-term mobility and well-being.

Warning signs to watch for

At times, burning pain in the knee can also be a sign of some serious underlying medical problem. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Progressive weakness and or numbness in your legs
  • Problems with bladder or bowel control
  • Slurred speech
  • Vision disturbance
  • High temperature
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Severe pain, particularly at night

If you cannot put any load on the knee or discomfort is accompanied by significant swelling, which is affecting proper flexion or extension of the joint, call your doctor. Also, if your pain or symptoms are disturbing more than one part of the body, get it checked by a professional.

Do not take for granted what your knees can do for you, as they can leave you with intense pain and the inability to walk, bent, or move freely. Call Redefine Healthcare today if you have sustained a knee injury or have ongoing burning pain to have it accurately diagnosed and treated. Dr. Eric Freeman is a board-certified pain and rehabilitation specialist and uses the most advanced noninvasive treatment methods to reduce pain by focusing on the problem. His team of skilled therapists and physicians helps you overcome a variety of pain conditions related to the knee and the surrounding muscles. You can look forward to the highest quality, comprehensive, cutting-edge care for your joint and get back to your routine life with the least downtime.

Read more:
Back Pain From Sitting | Possible Reasons and Treatments

Page Updated on Dec 12, 2022 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare


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Dr. Eric D. Freeman

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a “top pain management doctor in New Jersey” and one of “America’s Top Physicians” for advanced sports injury treatments.

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