Physiotherapy for Knee Pain Articles
Understanding Lateral Knee Pain: Causes and Treatment Options

Understanding Lateral Knee Pain: Causes and Treatment Options

Lateral knee pain affects a significant portion of the adult population and can have a substantial impact on the quality of life of those affected, leading to pain, limitations in activities, and decreased knee-related quality of life.

In this article, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of the causes of lateral knee pain and available treatment options to help individuals better manage and overcome the challenges associated with this condition.

How Does Lateral or Outer Knee Pain Feel Like?

Lateral knee pain is characterised by a sharp, stabbing discomfort on the outer side of the knee. It may also be accompanied by a dull ache or swelling. The pain can worsen during activities that involve bending the knee, such as walking downhill, running, or climbing stairs. Some individuals may also experience a popping sensation or a feeling of instability in the knee.

It's also important to note that the severity of pain can vary from person to person, depending on the underlying cause and individual factors.

Risk Factors for Outer Knee Pain

While lateral knee pain can affect anyone, certain factors may increase the likelihood of experiencing this condition. Understanding these risk factors can help individuals take preventive measures and minimise the chances of experiencing lateral knee pain.

One common risk factor is engaging in repetitive activities that put strain on the knee joint, such as running, cycling, or squatting. Individuals who have a history of knee injuries, such as sprains or fractures, are also more susceptible to lateral knee pain.

Factors such as obesity, muscle imbalances, and improper footwear can also contribute to the development of this condition.

Conditions Associated With Pain On the Outer Side of the Knee

Lateral knee pain can be attributed to various underlying conditions. By recognising these conditions that are common causes of outer knee pain, we can gain a better understanding of the root causes and seek appropriate treatment. Some common conditions associated with pain on the outer side of the knee include:

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

The iliotibial (IT) band is a thick band of tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh, connecting the hip to the shinbone. When this band becomes tight, causing friction, or inflamed, it can cause lateral knee pain. IT band syndrome is often seen in runners and cyclists due to the repetitive nature of their activities.

Lateral Meniscus Tear

The lateral meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage located on the outer edge of the knee joint. A tear in this structure can result from various activities or injuries, leading to lateral knee pain and potential functional impairment.

Lateral Collateral Ligament Knee Injury

The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) is a band of tissue that provides stability to the outer side of the knee joint. An injury to the LCL can result in lateral knee pain, swelling, and difficulty with weight-bearing activities.

Knee Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can affect any joint in the body, including the knee. When osteoarthritis affects the lateral compartment of the knee joint, it can lead to lateral knee pain. This condition is more common in older individuals and is characterised by joint stiffness, swelling, and reduced range of motion.

Lateral Tibial Plateau Fracture

A lateral tibial plateau fracture is a break in the upper surface of the shinbone that affects the outer side of the knee joint. This type of fracture can cause significant pain, swelling, and difficulty with weight-bearing activities.

Knee Contusion or Bruised Knee

A knee contusion, commonly known as a bruised knee, occurs when the soft tissues around the knee are injured due to a direct blow or impact. This can result in localised pain, swelling, and discolouration on the outer side of the knee.

Peroneal Nerve Injury

The peroneal nerve runs along the outer side of the knee and is responsible for controlling certain muscles in the lower leg. An injury or compression of this nerve can lead to lateral knee pain, weakness, and numbness. Treatment for peroneal nerve injuries may involve physical therapy, bracing, and in some cases, surgery.

Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis

Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE) is a condition that primarily affects adolescents, where the thighbone slips off the hip joint. Although the main symptom is hip pain, SCFE can also cause referred pain to the outer side of the knee. Treatment for SCFE usually involves surgical intervention to improve stability and to make sure that the thigh bone no longer slips off the hip joint.

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing persistent lateral knee pain that interferes with your daily activities or if the pain is accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as fever, severe swelling, or inability to bear weight, it is important to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional can evaluate your condition, diagnose the underlying cause, and recommend appropriate treatment options. Early intervention can help prevent further damage and improve the chances of a successful recovery.

Diagnosing Your Lateral Knee Pain

To determine the cause of your lateral knee pain, a healthcare professional will conduct a thorough evaluation, which may include a physical examination and medical history review. In some cases, laboratory tests like blood tests and imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI scans, or ultrasound imaging may also be requested by the physician to better understand the underlying cause of the patient's pain on the outside part of the knee.

Treatment Options for Lateral Knee Pain

The lateral or outer knee pain treatment depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. In most cases, a conservative approach is initially recommended, and if necessary, more invasive interventions may be considered. Some common treatment options for lateral knee pain include:

"POLICE and HARM" Procedures

The "POLICE" (Protection, Optimal Loading, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and "HARM" (Heat, Alcohol, Running, Massage) procedures are commonly used to manage acute injuries and reduce pain and swelling. These procedures involve protecting the injured knee, optimising loading through controlled exercises, applying ice or heat, using compression techniques, and elevating the leg when resting.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may be prescribed to help reduce pain and inflammation associated with lateral knee pain. These medications can provide temporary relief and support the healing process.

However, these over-the-counter drugs must not be relied on solely for knee pain relief, and it's important to complement these with other treatment options or consult a healthcare professional especially in instances of persistent, severe pain.

Corticosteroid Injections

For individuals with severe or chronic lateral knee pain, corticosteroid injections may be considered. These injections deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly into the affected area, providing targeted relief.

For example, administering corticosteroid injections must already be considered in patients with iliotibial band syndrome with persistent swelling and pain in ambulation that don't go away three days after conservative treatment.


Knee physiotherapy in Singapore offers a comprehensive approach to managing lateral knee pain, addressing both the symptoms and underlying causes through a combination of manual techniques, therapeutic exercises, and patient education.

It's also important to note that physiotherapy aims to not only alleviate current pain but also prevent future occurrences by addressing biomechanical issues and muscle imbalances. Physiotherapists in Phoenix Rehab, for instance, aim for improved muscle strength, flexibility, and joint stability, which can contribute to long-term pain relief and enhanced function.


In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to address the underlying cause of lateral knee pain. The specific surgical procedure will depend on the diagnosed condition, such as meniscal repair, ligament reconstruction, or joint replacement. Surgical treatment is typically reserved for cases where conservative measures have failed or when there is significant damage to the knee joint.

Final Words

Lateral knee pain can significantly impact our daily lives and hinder our ability to engage in physical activities. By understanding the causes and treatment options for this condition, we can take proactive steps towards managing and alleviating the pain.

Remember, early intervention and seeking medical advice are essential for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. So, if you are experiencing lateral knee pain, do not hesitate to consult a healthcare professional who can guide you towards a path of recovery and improved knee health.

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