Knee Pain Location Chart

Zero in on the correct diagnosis of knee pain for your patients using our simple, visual knee pain location chart based on the photographic knee pain map developed by Elson et al (2011).

By Alex King on Jun 03, 2024.

Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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What causes knee pain?

Knee pain can arise from various causes, ranging from acute injuries to chronic conditions. Understanding the potential underlying factors is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Here are some common causes of knee pain:

  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other forms of arthritis can cause inflammation, joint degeneration, and pain in the knee joint.
  • Overuse injuries: Repetitive stress or overuse during activities like running, jumping, or sports can lead to conditions  in the knee bones such as patellofemoral pain syndrome, tendinitis (e.g., patellar tendinitis, quadriceps tendinitis), or bursitis.
  • Traumatic injuries: A traumatic injury like ligament tears (e.g., ACL, MCL, LCL), meniscus tears, or fractures can result in significant knee pain and instability.
  • Biomechanical issues: Abnormalities in the alignment or function of the knee joint, such as patellofemoral malalignment or gait abnormalities, can contribute to knee pain over time.
  • Muscle imbalances: Weaknesses or imbalances in the muscles surrounding the knee, such as the quadriceps, hamstring, or calf muscles, can increase strain on the joint and lead to pain.
  • Obesity: Excess weight places additional stress on the knee joint, increasing the risk of developing osteoarthritis and other knee problems.
  • Age-related degeneration: As individuals age, the cartilage and other structures within the knee joint can naturally degenerate, leading to pain and decreased mobility.
  • Referred pain: In some cases, knee pain may originate from other areas, such as the hip or lower back, due to nerve compression or muscle tightness.

It's important to note that knee discomfort and knee pain can also be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or certain types of cancer. Therefore, a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional is essential to determine the exact cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Printable Knee Pain Location Chart

Download this Knee Pain Location Chart and assess your client’s knee pain.

Common types of knee pain

There are various types of knee pain that healthcare practitioners frequently encounter. Understanding the common types of knee pain can aid in accurate diagnosis and effective treatment planning. Here are some of the most prevalent types of knee pain classified into their common locations:

Inner knee pain

When patients report inner knee pain (medial knee pain), the focus often turns toward medial structures like the medial meniscus, the medial collateral ligament (MCL), or pes anserine bursitis. The MCL can be stretched or torn during activities involving a quick change of direction.

Medial plica syndrome can also occur, which leads to pain, swelling, clicking, or catching in the inner part of the knee during movement. For example, knee osteoarthritis often affects the inner side of the knee, causing pain due to uneven wear and tear in the knee joints.

Outer knee pain

Conversely, outer knee pain can signify a lateral collateral ligament injury (LCL injury), usually due to a forceful blow to the inner knee that pushes the knee outwards, stressing the LCL on the opposite side.

This could also be associated with iliotibial band syndrome, an inflammation of the thick fibrous iliotibial band that can cause pain outside the leg. The lateral meniscus tear can also occur due to sudden twisting or direct impact on the knee, and it can also develop gradually over time due to wear and tear.

Anterior knee pain

This is frequently associated with patellar tendonitis, often termed "runner's knee," due to its prevalence in sports requiring repetitive knee movements. It's a condition born from stress on the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap (patella) to the shin bone (tibia). A dislocated patella can also cause pain in this area.

Severe pain in the anterior region of the knee might also indicate an ACL or anterior cruciate ligament injury. An ACL tear is common for athletes and can range from partial to complete. They can occur from sudden stops or changes in direction, such as twisting the knee while the foot is planted.

Posterior knee pain

This pain at the back of the knee could be a symptom of a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury, part of the knee's major ligaments. These injuries often result from a blow to the front of the knee while it's bent, like what might occur in a car accident or a football tackle.

Another possible injury in this area is the Baker's cyst, also known as a popliteal cyst. It is a fluid-filled swelling that develops in the space behind the knee joint where a synovial fluid-filled sac develops due to a tear or another underlying knee condition.

Sustaining knee injuries and describing symptoms as severe knee pain can span a broad spectrum of conditions, from a fracture in the thigh bone or shin bone to a runner's knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome), where dull pain around the kneecap emerges, often from overuse or misalignment.

When assessing knee injury, it’s critical to understand the anatomical location of pain and the nature of the pain itself. Distinguishing between an acute onset of sharp pain and a chronic, dull pain can indicate the injury’s nature—whether it's a recent traumatic event or a progressive condition like knee osteoarthritis.

What is a Knee Pain Location Chart?

When dealing with knee pain, it's crucial to understand the specific location of the discomfort, as this can provide valuable insights into the underlying cause and guide appropriate treatment. A knee pain location chart can be helpful for healthcare practitioners to precisely identify the area of concern and communicate effectively with their patients.

One standard method of visualizing knee pain locations is using a knee diagram divided into sections. This diagram typically features anterior (front), posterior (back), medial (inner), and lateral (outer) views of the knee joint.

Using a Knee Pain Location Chart can streamline the diagnosis process, allowing for swift identification of injuries such as lateral collateral ligament injuries or a posterior cruciate ligament injury, facilitating prompt and appropriate management strategies tailored to the patient's condition.

How does this Knee Pain Location Chart work?

This knee pain diagnosis chart features the diagram of the left and right knees based on the photographic knee pain map developed by Elson and colleagues (2011).

Step 1: Annotate the knee diagram

This diagram includes a simplified visual representation of the left and right knees and small labels for the different knee regions. Each region was identified as clinically relevant to certain common knee pathologies1. While the pathologies below are not always limited to these regions, they can be a good starting point for narrowing down diagnoses. 

Some of the common pathologies and their associated regions of the knee are:

  • Superior lateral (SL) and superior medial (SM): Patellofemoral arthritis and IT band syndrome (lateral aspect)
  • Quadriceps tendon (QT): Quadriceps tendonitis
  • Lateral patella (LP) and medial patella (MP): Patellofemoral pain syndrome, patellofemoral arthritis, plica syndrome, ACL injury
  • Lateral joint line area (LJLA): Lateral meniscus tear, LCL injury, and iliotibial band syndrome
  • Medial joint line area (MJLA): Medial meniscus tear and MCL injury
  • Patella tendon (PT): Osgood-Schlatter disease, patellofemoral instability, and osteochondritis dissecans 
  • Tibia (T): Shin splints (medial aspect)
  • Back of the knee pain: Hamstring tendonitis, PCL injury, posterior cruciate ligament injuries, and Baker's cyst

In addition to these pathologies, certain conditions may also result in pain across two or more of these regions of the knee. These conditions include cruciate ligament pathology, extensor tendinopathy, or osteoarthritis. 

Step 2: Add extra notes in the space provided

Once the knee diagram has been annotated to represent the patient's knee pain accurately, any additional notes can be added in the provided space. These could include any other relevant information, referral plans, or next steps for the patient.

Step 3: Store the chart securely

The last step is to store the chart securely as part of your patient's medical record. This can also be further used as a reference when monitoring progress throughout treatment.

Knee Pain Location Chart example (sample)

Take a look at our example knee pain location chart to see how it can help your patients identify where they have pain. In this example, the patient is experiencing knee pain localized to the medial joint line area and medial patella. Read the example below or download it as a PDF. 

Download this Knee Pain Location Chart example (sample) here:

Knee Pain Location Chart example

Who is this Printable Knee Pain Location Chart for?

This knee pain location chart is a visual tool that can help patients and clinicians localize the patient's pain on a two-dimensional illustration of a knee. While knowledge of common knee pathologies and anatomical terms is required to interpret the result of the knee pain location chart, the activity of circling/shading the area that hurts on the illustration is not.

As such, this chart can be completed independently by patients, but a healthcare practitioner will be required to interpret the results and determine the best cause of action. Some of these professionals might include:

  • Physiotherapists
  • Physical therapists
  • Sports medicine physicians
  • Paramedics
  • Orthopedic surgeons and nurses
  • Occupational therapists

Why use this Knee Pain Location Chart in Carepatron?

Carepatron is a simple-to-use and comprehensive software solution that saves time on your practice's administration work. Automate your patient's email or SMS appointment reminders, utilize our innovative medical dictation software, and offer your patients their own Carepatron portal to book appointments with you and access their medical records.

Carepatron offers all the modern features you'd expect from state-of-the-art practice management software, such as superbill automation, telehealth appointment functionality, and integrated medical coding. In addition, we have curated a library of pre-made, customizable resources for practitioners, including this knee pain location chart, which can all be accessed from within Carepatron's template library.

When you sign up to Carepatron, you can access all these templates seamlessly and join a community of passionate healthcare practitioners committed to delivering the best possible service to their patients. Sign up for a free trial today!

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Elson, D. W., Jones, S., Caplan, N., Stewart, S., St Clair Gibson, A., & Kader, D. F. (2011). The photographic knee pain map: locating pain with an instrument developed for diagnostic, communication, and research purposes. The Knee, 18(6), 417–423.

How can a knee pain location chart assist in diagnosis?
How can a knee pain location chart assist in diagnosis?

Commonly asked questions

How can a knee pain location chart assist in diagnosis?

It links the location of knee pain to common conditions affecting that specific area, allowing for a more focused examination and a quicker route to the correct diagnosis.

Is a knee pain location helpful chart for all types of knee pain?

Yes, it can be helpful for various types of knee pain, including acute injuries, chronic conditions, and overuse injuries.

Are knee pain location charts only used for diagnosing knee problems?

No, they can also help monitor the effectiveness of treatments and guide rehabilitation exercises or therapy.

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