A burning pain or sensation can occur in the knee after a trauma, overuse injury, or strain. Rest, ice, over-the-counter medication, and a knee support may help relieve symptoms, but some people may need medical treatment.

Burning pain can occur in many places in the knee. For many people, the fronts and backs of the knees are the most common spots to feel a burning sensation. However, the sides of the knees can also feel as though they are burning.

A burning sensation in any part of the knee typically indicates that there is a more significant problem that may require investigation and treatment.

This article explores some common causes of burning pain in the knee, their treatments, and when to see a doctor.

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The location of burning knee pain may give some clues as to the cause. Below are some potential causes of location-specific knee pain.

Front of the knee

Burning pain in the front of the knee may occur due to injuries such as:

Side of the knee

If a person has burning pain on the side of the knee, it could be due to iliotibial band syndrome or pes anserine bursitis.

Behind the knee

Burning pain behind the knee may be due to:

The following sections detail some potential causes of burning knee pain and how to treat them.

1. Knee cartilage tear

Knee cartilage, or meniscus, helps cushion the joint during physical activities such as walking, running, and jumping. If a person sustains a blunt force injury to this area or twists it forcefully, it can tear the knee cartilage, causing pain or a burning sensation.

There are various treatment options for a knee cartilage tear. Often, the first steps in treatment involve taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief, such as ibuprofen (Advil), resting, and trying muscle strengthening workouts.

If symptoms do not improve, a doctor or healthcare team may recommend steroid injections in the knee or surgical options such as:

  • Knee debridement: This procedure involves removing any loose cartilage and flushing the area with saline.
  • Knee chondroplasty: This procedure involves smoothing the cartilage to reduce friction.
  • Autologous chondrocyte implantation: This procedure involves removing and cultivating a piece of cartilage so that it can eventually return to the person’s knee and regrow.
  • Osteochondral autograft transplantation: This procedure involves taking cartilage from a non-weight-bearing area to the knee.

2. Knee ligament tear

Knee ligament tears can occur due to blunt force trauma to the outside of the knee. People who play hockey, football, or other high intensity sports are at greater risk of tearing or pulling their knee ligaments.

Healthcare professionals classify ligament tears by their severity. A partial tear may require less treatment than a severe tear. Some treatment options for partial tears include:

  • using protective knee braces
  • trying muscle strengthening activities
  • reducing activities that could cause further damage

If the tear is very severe or does not improve, a doctor may recommend surgical options.

3. Chondromalacia

Chondromalacia occurs when the knee cartilage deteriorates, providing less cushioning to the joint. It is particularly common among runners and other people who put consistent pressure and stress on their knees.

The first steps in treatment often involve therapies to help reduce pain and swelling and allow the knee to heal. Some treatments include:

  • taking OTC pain relief medications
  • applying an ice pack to reduce the swelling
  • aligning the kneecap with a brace, kneecap-tracking sleeve, or tape
  • resting the knee joint

If the knee does not improve, a healthcare team may recommend arthroscopic surgery. This involves smoothing the cartilage to allow it to heal better.

4. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the United States, affecting more than 32.5 million adults.

This condition can affect nearly any joint, but it is most common in the hips, hands, and knees.

Osteoarthritis is characterized by the wearing down of the protective cartilage in the joints. It is not possible to reverse osteoarthritis, so it may eventually require a joint replacement.

Some potential treatments for osteoarthritis include:

5. Patellar tendinitis

Patellar tendinitis is an overuse injury of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shin. It can cause burning and pain in the front of the knee.

There are several potential treatment steps a person can take to treat patellar tendinitis, including:

  • applying an ice pack to reduce the swelling
  • resting from running and jumping
  • trying exercises that focus on the upper leg muscles
  • taking OTC pain medications
  • wearing a patellar tendon strap, which takes pressure off the tendon
  • stretching to lengthen the knee muscle-tendon unit

If these therapies do not work, a doctor may recommend more invasive treatments, such as a platelet-rich plasma injection or oscillating needle procedure.

6. Iliotibial band syndrome

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) often affects runners. It occurs when the connective tissue along the length of the thigh rubs against the outside of the knee during running and other physical activities.

ITBS can feel like burning when the band rubs against the side of the knee.

There is no formal treatment for ITBS. However, people with this condition may manage symptoms with the following steps:

  • resting from running
  • massaging the iliotibial band, quads, and glutes
  • increasing core, glutes, and hip strength
  • trying physical therapy
  • taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • applying an ice pack
  • receiving local steroid injections if other options are not effective


PFPS, also called runner’s knee, occurs in the front of the knee and is one of the most common causes of knee pain. It may start as mild pain and gradually build up.

It can occur in one or both knees and is usually worse during physical activities.

Some general treatment options for PFPS include:

  • taking OTC medications
  • wearing supportive braces
  • resting, such as avoiding stairs and kneeling
  • trying exercises for the hips, quads, and hamstrings
  • avoid pounding exercises, such as running
  • focus on low impact exercises, such as swimming or stationary cycling

In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend arthroscopic surgery.

8. Nerve injury

Inflammation of or injury to the nerves in the knee may also cause a burning sensation. This could occur due to a pinched or trapped nerve or a more severe injury during high impact sports or surgical procedures involving the knee.\

Nerve pain may also feel like a stabbing, shooting, or tingling sensation.

The treatment for a nerve injury within the knee may depend on the type of injury and the nerves it affects. Doctors may recommend the following treatments:

  • OTC pain relief
  • prescription pain relief
  • anti-inflammatories
  • icing the affected area
  • steroid injections
  • surgery

In some cases, a person may receive treatment shortly after sustaining a knee injury. In others, a person may first try to deal with the pain they experience, only seeing their doctor when it becomes severe.

For overuse injuries, the best solution is often to rest, apply an ice pack, and focus on muscle building activities that do not put strain on the knees.

However, if pain continues to build despite resting, a person should talk with their doctor about their symptoms.

A healthcare professional may be able to recommend additional therapies, such as physical or occupational therapy. In severe cases, they may even recommend surgical options.

Several things can give rise to burning knee pain. Some injuries are acute and can start causing pain immediately, while others are overuse-related and will build up gradually.

In many cases, taking OTC pain relief medication, applying an ice pack, and resting is enough to help prevent further injury and pain.

If the pain does not go away or gets worse, a healthcare professional may suggest surgery or more invasive treatment options.