Bad Knee – Causes of Chronic Knee Problems in Adults

Knee problems are not an uncommon issue, especially for adults and in particular the elderly. Apart from knee injuries that can occur at any age, the wear and tear of daily life leads to chronic knee problems in the senior years. The knee is a hard working joint that has to content with stresses and strains on a daily basis. Despite its strength and stability, there is a limit to the knee’s ability to withstand injuries and various diseases that can affect this joint.

What is a bad knee?

A bad knee is a broad term that is often used to describe any type of chronic knee problem that results in pain, instability, limited range of motion or other symptoms with or without physical activity. The knee is a joint that is constantly under strain but has developed to contend with a wide range of forces. However, with severe injury and prolonged stresses and strains, the knee joint can be compromised.

The type of “bad knee” condition can vary drastically. Some conditions may be due to inflammation or degeneration of the structures of the knee joint. In other conditions, there may be inflammation or damage like tears of surrounding structures such as muscle tendons or ligaments. Collectively these conditions can compromise knee structure, stability and function to varying degrees.

Bad Knee Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a “bad knee” may differ depending on the underlying condition and even the mechanism of injury or disease. However, there is a large degree of overlap of these “bad knee” symptoms. Some of these signs and symptoms may include:

  • Knee pain (arthralgia)
  • Swelling of the knee
  • Heat and redness of the knee
  • Limited range of motion at the knee joint
  • Clicking, grating or popping sounds with knee movement

In some severe acute and chronic knee problems there may also be deformity of the knee joint with abnormal lesions such as lumps.

Causes of Bad Knee

Although the term “bad knee” refers to chronic knee problems, some acute knee conditions have been discussed. These acute conditions can recur or cause the knee to be more prone to other knee conditions. It is important to note that most of these knee conditions can present with similar signs and symptoms. Therefore a professional diagnosis is necessary by a medical doctor to confirm the exact cause. This may require diagnostic investigations.

Read more on low impact knee exercises.


Arthritis is inflammation of a joint and this may involve any joint, not only the knee. However, the knee is commonly affected in most types of arthritis. It is important to understand the different types of arthritis.

  • Osteoarthritis is a condition where the joint cartilage degenerates due to wear and tear during the course of life. It can start earlier in life but symptoms become most prominent after the age of 60 years.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system malfunctions and targets the joint lining. The immune activity causes the joint lining to become inflamed.
  • Post traumatic arthritis is a problem that arises after a physical injury to the knee which causes it the knee structures to wear out. It is considered as a form of osteoarthritis.
  • Septic arthritis is a type of arthritis that arises with an infection. Most of these infections are bacterial in nature and occurs when bacteria are able to gain entry into the joint.
  • Gouty arthritis is where uric acid crystals form in the joint spaces usually due to a problem with maintain the uric acid balance in the bloodstream.
  • Pseudogout is similar to gout but occurs due to calcium pyrophosphate crystals in the joints. It tends to occur with advancing age, mineral imbalances, genetic factors and previous joint injury.

Read more on knee arthritis.


Fractures are a common type of injury where there is a break in a bone as a result of force. The patellar is particularly prone to fractures with knee injuries as compared to the thigh bone or shin bone. This is more likely to arise with falls or during motor vehicle collisions.

Loose Body

A loose body is where a portion of cartilage or even bone breaks off and remains in the joint space. It may not cause any problems unless the loose body affects joint movement. This type of bad knee problem is more likely to occur with injury or degeneration of the joint cartilage.

ACL Injury

This is where the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is injured as a result of sudden change in direction or twisting of the knee. The ligament is responsible for providing stability to the knee joint. ACL injuries are more common when playing sports that requires running, such as with soccer, football or basketball.

Torn Meniscus

A torn meniscus occurs when the wedge-shaped cartilage in the knee tears with sudden twisting at the knee. This cartilage works both as a shock absorber and joint stabilizer. Most of the time this type of tear occurs when playing sports. The elderly may experience a tear with any twisting of the knee, even if it is not during a high impact activity.

Read more on torn meniscus.

Knee Bursitis

Bursae are small fluid-filled pockets that help reduce friction for ligaments and tendons during movement. There are several bursae located throughout the body. Inflammation of these bursae is known as bursitis. It is more likely to occur with repetitive movements but even sudden force can cause inflammation.

Patellar Tendinitis

Patellar tendinitis is inflammation of the patellar tendon. This tendon is a continuation of the tendon that attaches a few thigh muscles to the patella. The patellar tendon continues to attach to the shinbone. Patellar tendinitis is also known as jumper’s knee. It tends to occur with repetitive actions and jumping is one possible cause.

Read more on jumper’s knee.

Dislocated Kneecap

Like any bone, the patella (kneecap) can become dislocated. This is where the patella shifts out of its normal position. This may be a partial or complete displacement and is more likely to occur with a fall or hard blow to the knee. The dislocated kneecap can slip back into place on its own.

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