A stiff knee is a common complaint, especially among older adults and those who are very physically active.

Knee stiffness can occur as a result of poor flexibility or muscular imbalances in the legs. Injury and arthritis are other common causes of knee stiffness.

In this article, learn more about the causes of knee stiffness. The article will also outline some treatments and home remedies that may help alleviate this symptom.


The following are some common causes of a stiff knee.

The menisci are two shaped pieces of cartilage that sit inside the knee joint. Their role is to act as a cushion, or shock absorber, between the bones that make up the joint.

A person can injure or damage a meniscus by suddenly moving or twisting the knee. This is most likely to occur during sports or other types of physical activity.

The menisci are also prone to degeneration with age. Specifically, as the menisci degrade, they become more prone to tearing.

A person will likely hear or feel a pop when a meniscus tears. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the knee will then start to feel stiff. In many cases, people can still walk on the knee, though they may also experience symptoms such as:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • locking knee
  • loss of full range of motion
  • a feeling that the knee is giving out

Injury to ligaments

Ligaments are bands of fiber that connect bone to bone. Ligaments that run through the knee connect the thigh bone, or femur, to the lower leg bone, or tibia.

A person may sprain, tear, or rupture their knee ligaments. If this occurs, a person may experience:

  • pain in the knee joint
  • instability of the knee
  • swelling in the knee

Treatment options

The treatment options for a stiff knee depend partly on the cause.

If the cause is a minor injury, the following home treatments may be enough to alleviate pain and stiffness until the injury heals:

  • resting the knee.
  • applying an ice pack to the knee at regular intervals.
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • wearing a knee brace to stabilize the knee and help prevent further injury.

For more severe injuries and knee stiffness that is severe or persistent, a person may need to see their doctor. The doctor will work to diagnose the cause of knee stiffness and will recommend appropriate treatments.

Depending on the cause of the knee stiffness, these treatments may include:

  • taking prescription pain medications
  • using corticosteroids
  • taking rheumatoid arthritis medications, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologic surgery
  • physical therapy, to improve knee function and overall mobility.

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