Everything You Need to Know About Inner Knee Pain

A man in a grey t-shirt and dark pants sits on a beige couch as he cups his right knee with both hands.
  • Inner knee pain — also known as medial knee pain — is a medical occurrence that can be sudden or gradual, depending on the cause.
  • Sudden inner knee pain usually results from direct trauma, such as that caused by strains, injury, and sprains, whereas gradual knee pain is caused by overuse and gets worse with time.
  • Depending on the cause and severity of your inner knee pain, doctors may recommend home remedies, physical therapy, and over-the-counter (OTC) medication. For more severe inner knee pain, you might need to undergo surgery.
  • Although not all causes of inner knee pain can be prevented, most doctors agree that physical exercise that focuses on strengthening the leg muscles and the stabilizing ligament in the knee joint is the most effective way to avoid long-term problems.

Inner knee pain is a common medical occurrence. It is usually caused by overuse that leads to injury, or by irritated muscles and tissue that cause the joints to become inflamed.

Although this occurrence is rarely an indication of a life-threatening disease or condition, not treating it properly can have serious long-term effects that can impact your quality of life.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the causes and treatment options for inner knee pain, as well as steps you can take to prevent issues in the future.

What Causes Pain on the Inside of the Knee?

There are many common causes of inner knee pain. The discomfort is often caused by injury or overuse.

Many causes of pain on the inside of the knee will require some form of professional treatment.

Let’s take a closer look at the different causes of inner knee pain.

MCL injury

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) runs along the inner knee and helps to stabilize the joint. Overstretching the ligament can either cause a sprain or a more severe MCL injury.

Serious injury may also cause partial or full tears in the MCL that usually require surgery.

Aside from inner knee pain, symptoms of an MCL injury may include:

  • Instability while standing or walking
  • Locked knees
  • Swelling
  • A popping sound at the time of injury

Medial plica irritation

Plica are small folds found in the joint lining that covers the inner knee. Overuse — caused by actions like repeatedly flexing the knee — can irritate the plica.

When irritation occurs, the folds thicken and become stuck between the bones. This causes a dull pain in the inner knee.

You may also experience cracking sounds and locking knees.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative bone disease that causes the cartilage between joints to break down.

Without their protective covering, joints begin to grind together, causing pain and inflammation.

Pain caused by knee osteoarthritis is usually present when you put pressure on your joint, like when climbing the stairs, walking, or sitting down.

Symptoms may also become worse as the day goes on.

A man in a light blue shirt and jeans walks up a set of stairs. His left hand is resting on his left knee as if he's uncomfortable or in pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that’s another common cause of pain on the inside of the knee.

This disease causes inflammation of the joints, often causing severe pain in the mornings. Your symptoms may become more bearable during the day.

If you suspect you have RA, look out for other symptoms such as:

  • Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint
  • Stiffness present in multiple joints
  • Joints that appear deformed
  • Decreased joint function or mobility

Medial meniscus injury

The meniscus is part of the cartilage that cushions the bones in a joint. There are two of these cushions in each knee that protect the thigh and shin bones from rubbing against each other.

Your meniscus can become injured or torn if the knee is rotated at an odd angle or put under severe pressure.

Meniscus injuries — or meniscus tears — are common occurrences in sports and athletics.

If you have a meniscus tear or injury, you may also experience:

  • A sharp pain when the knee is twisted
  • A sense of imbalance
  • Stiffness in the affected joints
  • Locking knees

Pes anserine bursitis

A bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that helps reduce the amount of friction between joints.

In the knee, the bursa is located between the MCL and other tendons, collectively known as the pes anserinus.

If the bursa is overused, it can become irritated and start to produce excess fluid.

This fluid causes swelling that in turn puts pressure on the knee and then leads to inflammation, known as pes anserine bursitis.

Bursa irritation can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Medial meniscus tears
  • Obesity
  • Tight hamstring muscles
  • Turning out your knee or lower leg while walking or standing

Knee contusion

Direct blows to the knee, like falling or being hit by a blunt object, can cause the knee bone to bruise. This is called knee contusion.

Common symptoms of knee contusion — other than inner knee pain — vary, depending on where you were hit. You may also experience:

  • Swelling
  • Trouble bending the knee
  • Joint stiffness
  • Bruised skin

Other causes

Other, less common causes of inner knee pain may also be the source of your discomfort. These causes include:

Tumors caused by cancers of the bone (usually osteosarcoma or Ewing’s sarcoma). Perthes disease Slipped capital femoral epiphysis

These causes can be serious and lead to long-term mobility issues that may affect your quality of life.

It’s important to seek medical attention if you suspect that any of the above factors are the cause of your inner knee pain.

Key Point: When is Inner Knee Pain Serious?

If you experience any of the following symptoms, your knee pain might be caused by something more severe and you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Being unable to put any weight on the affected leg
  • Experiencing severe pain even when no weight is on the affected leg
  • The knee gives way, clicks, or gets stuck (locks)
  • You are unable to move your knee
  • The joint appears very swollen, red, and hot
  • You have a fever

How is Inner Knee Pain Treated?

Depending on the cause and severity of your inner knee pain, there are a few ways you can treat it. Let’s take a look at what those are:

At-home treatments

For many causes of knee pain, home treatments are helpful for reducing your discomfort. Your doctor might recommend the following:

  • Apply ice to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time, four times a day. This can help reduce inflammation, pain, and swelling.
  • Rest the knee, especially if the injury is sports-related. Avoiding intense activity can help reduce irritation and inflammation, as well as give the body time to heal itself.
  • Use crutches to help keep weight off the knee and avoid irritating the joints even more.
  • Use an elastic compression bandage to keep the knee stable and reduce swelling.
A pair of crutches against a grey background. The crutches are silver grey, and the handles are grey as well.

Medical treatments

If home treatments are ineffective or if inner knee pain is caused by something more severe, your doctor may recommend other approaches:

Over-the-counter and prescription medication

Besides the at-home tips provided above, over-the-counter and prescription medication may also help you alleviate discomfort at home. The following medications are helpful for treating knee pain:

Anti-inflammatories like aspirin or ibuprofen reduce pain and swelling to help the joints heal.

Painkillers like acetaminophen can also help alleviate discomfort by treating pain and reducing inflammation.


If your knee pain is the result of a severe injury that caused physical and structural damage to the joint, bones, or cartilage, you may need surgery to fix the issue.

Typically, if the cause is this severe, you will need a professional medical diagnosis that could involve X-rays and other scans.

Your doctor will inform you of the diagnosis, next steps, and what you can expect afterward.

Physical therapy

For ligament injuries and minor sprains or strains, physical therapy may be an adequate treatment for inner knee pain.

Physical therapy involves gentle exercises and stretches designed to strengthen and stabilize the knee to prevent future injuries.

Can Inner Knee Pain Be Prevented?

Although not all types of inner knee pain are preventable, most medical professionals agree that focusing on strengthening your leg muscles is one of the most effective ways to avoid injury.

Research shows that helpful preventative exercises include:

  • Leg presses
  • Stationary biking
  • Swimming
  • Walking or running
  • Leg extensions
  • Squats or squat pulses
  • Straight leg lifts

These exercises focus on strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings, largely recognized as the stabilizers of the leg and, therefore, the knee.

You should also incorporate a regular stretching routine into your exercise regimen to prevent inflammation.

A woman in a grey workout shirt and grey workout pants pedals on stationary bike.

When Should I See a Doctor About Pain on the Inside of My Knee?

Although inner knee pain isn’t a life-threatening condition, it can indicate an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.

If you’re unable to put any weight on the knee or move it normally, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. The same goes for if your knee is red, swollen, and hot, as these symptoms may be signs of severe injury, inflammation, or in some cases, bone cancer.

If the pain persists for three weeks or more, it’s also a good idea to seek medical attention.

Where Can I Learn More About Inner Knee Pain?

If you are experiencing or are worried about your inner knee pain, you can speak to a board-certified physician or nurse practitioner from the comfort of your home. Head over to LifeMD to make a telehealth appointment.

LifeMD makes it easy to stay on top of your health because talking to a doctor, filling your prescriptions, getting your labs done—and more—are all easy and cost-effective. Come discover a healthcare solution built around you and your life.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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