What Can Cause Pain Behind the Knee?



Causes of pain behind the knee

Pain behind the knee can be simple or difficult to diagnose, depending upon the cause. Here are some of the most common causes of posterior knee pain:

Baker’s Cyst

A lump-like swelling behind the knee is characteristic of Baker’s cyst, making it fairly easy to diagnose. This type of cyst is also called a popliteal cyst because it is located in the popliteal fossa, a small hollow at the back of the knee.

It forms when synovial fluid gathers at the back of the knee. Injury or stress from arthritis can trigger the accumulation of fluid.

Different Forms of Arthritis

Arthritis is the generic name given to diseases that affect the joint. Arthritis can cause pain anywhere in the knee joint, including the back.

Knee pain is most often associated with osteoarthritis, the type that is related to aging or overuse. Knee pain can also occur with rheumatoid arthritis, but it will occur in both knees at once.

Gout is a type of arthritis that first attacks the big toe, but later attacks may strike the knees. Septic or infectious arthritis is caused by an infection that lodges in a joint, usually a knee.


Besides infection in the knee joint (infectious arthritis), posterior knee pain could result from several other infections, including:

These infections have different causes and symptoms, although pain, redness, heat, and swelling are typical of most infections.


Damage to a muscle, tendon, ligament, or other connective tissue could cause posterior knee pain. Such injuries can be acute or caused by overuse. Hamstring injuries, meniscus tears, and injuries to the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) are three injuries that may cause pain in the back of the knee.


It is rare that knee pain is caused by a tumor, but both malignant and benign tumors can occur near the knee. Three types of cancer that could cause posterior knee pain are:

  • Liposarcoma, cancer that grows in fat tissue and can occur behind the knee
  • Osteosarcoma, cancer that can appear in the long bones of the leg
  • Synovial sarcoma, a misnamed cancer occurring in large joints that doesn’t actually occur in synovial fluid

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is caused by a blood clot deep in a vein. In most cases, the clot is in the pelvis, thigh, or calf, but it can cause pain anywhere in the leg, including the back of the knee.

DVT can be a life-threatening condition. If part of the blood clot breaks loose and travels to the lungs, it can block blood flow. If the clot stays in place, it can damage the valves in the veins, causing pain, swelling, ulcers, and serious symptoms.


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