The knees and back work together to support movements like walking or playing tennis. When one of these areas becomes painful, it may place strain on the other. Injuries, poor posture, or arthritis can all affect the lower back and knees.
Lower back pain is a common condition that can make it hard to exercise or perform daily activities. Individuals with lower back pain may put more pressure on their knees to compensate, which can lead to discomfort in the knee joints.
Those with knee pain may alter their movement patterns, which may result in lower back pain.
This article will explore the links between lower back and knee pain. Keep reading to learn more about common causes of lower back and knee pain, treatment options, and more.
Lower back pain
However, these changes can place extra strain on the knees. In some cases, this may cause or worsen knee pain.
Likewise, knee pain can cause discomfort in the lower back. People experiencing knee pain may lose mobility and flexibility.
Muscle tightness as a result of knee pain can increase stiffness and discomfort in the lower back. For example, muscle tightness in a person’s hamstrings, which can cause knee pain,
Limping or other gait changes may also occur with knee pain. Changes to walking patterns can also put additional pressure on the lower back, which may cause pain.
Sciatica is a condition that affects the sciatic nerve, which controls muscles in the lower leg and knee. It also provides feeling in parts of a person’s leg.
Individuals with this condition may experience pain or weakness across the lower back and typically down one leg.
The symptoms of sciatica may start in the back but can be felt around the knee or further down the leg. Symptoms may include:
- numbness in the affected leg
- burning or tingling in the affected leg
Sciatica may occur as a result of arthritis or a herniated disk. It is most common among people between 30 and 50 years of age.
In most cases, sciatica resolves on its own over time. Up to 90% of people with this condition recover without needing surgery. Other treatment options for sciatica include:
- heat or cold therapy
- physical therapy
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief
- muscle relaxants
Sciatica can cause pain that affects both the knees and lower back. But most individuals with sciatica will make a full recovery.
Lower back pain is a common condition that affects 75% to 85% of people in the United States at some point in their lives.
It may occur after an injury like a muscle strain or fracture. It can also be a result of poor posture while hunching over a desk at work.
The symptoms of lower back pain vary between individuals. Some people
Others may feel sharp stabbing pains immediately following a fall or other injury.
Treatment for lower back pain may depend on the reason behind this discomfort.
Individuals who have experienced recent weight gain
Depending on the cause, treatment options
- over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief
- muscle relaxants
- anti-inflammatory or numbing injections
- neuromodulatory agents that affect how the nervous system processes pain
- prescription pain relief
- physical therapy
- cold packs
- avoiding bed rest
- weight loss
- limiting physical activities that cause pain
- lifestyle changes, such as improving lifting technique and exercising more
- Complementary and alternative treatments:
Learn more about ways to treat back pain without surgery.
In some cases, people will require surgery. However, around 90% of people with lower back pain will make a full recovery without surgery. In most cases, lower back pain responds well to noninvasive treatments or lifestyle modifications.
Anyone experiencing lower back pain after an injury should visit a doctor. Only a medical professional can identify the cause of the pain and recommend a treatment plan.
A healthcare professional may recommend imaging tests such as an MRI scan to look for specific causes of back pain.
Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation and pain in certain joints. There are many different types of arthritis, but the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Knee arthritis may occur because of wear and tear across the knees. Older individuals, or athletes who put excessive strain on their knees, may develop osteoarthritis.
Pain and stiffness in the knees can affect an individual’s walking gait. This can in turn put extra strain on the back and lead to lower back pain.
The symptoms of knee arthritis may include:
- stiffness or swelling in the knees
- pain that worsens after exercise
- weakness in the knees
- creaking or grinding noises in the knees
- problems with walking
There are many treatment options available for knee arthritis. A few
- topical pain medications, such as Voltaren
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- steroid injections
Weight loss can help alleviate knee pain for individuals who are overweight or have obesity. Gentle exercises like water aerobics or tai chi can also help with knee pain.
Knee injuries also cause pain that may change the way a person walks or moves. Over time, these alterations may cause lower back pain as the back compensates.
Some of the more common knee injuries include:
- medial collateral ligament (MCL) knee injuries
- anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injuries
- meniscal tears
- lateral collateral ligament (LCL) knee injuries
- posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injuries
- tendon tears
- dislocated kneecap
Learn more about common knee injuries.
A knee injury can cause:
- severe pain
- difficulty walking
- trouble flexing or bending the knee
Some knee injuries may respond fully to rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) and immobilizing the knee in a brace or cast.
Physical therapy can also help strengthen the injured area during recovery. It can also help to restore the knee’s range of motion and improve walking issues.
More severe knee injuries may require surgery. For example, ACL tears often need surgical intervention to repair the torn ligament.
Knee replacement surgery
Some individuals may need a total knee replacement surgery. This may be necessary after an extreme injury or for a severe case of knee arthritis.
During a knee replacement, a surgeon removes damaged cartilage from the knee and inserts metal implants. These implants replace the original knee joint. A surgeon then inserts a plastic spacer between the metal implants so the knee can glide smoothly during use.
Certain risk factors
- older age
- sports injuries
- excess weight
- a family history of knee and back conditions
Although it is not possible to prevent every source of knee and back pain, there are many ways to reduce the risk and severity.
Learn more about exercises to strengthen and stretch the lower back.
Exercising regularly helps strengthen muscles, which can reduce the risk of injury or strain. Consistent stretching increases flexibility and further lessens these risks.
Learn more about exercises to strengthen the knee.
A balanced diet may help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reducing strain on joints.
Finally, it is important to be cautious when lifting heavy items either at home or at work. Take care to use proper form and ask for help as needed.
Some individuals experiencing lower back and knee pain may identify a connection between these two conditions. Pain in one area can result in changes to posture, walking gait, and movement.
These alterations may place unusual strain on other parts of the body and result in additional areas of discomfort. Certain conditions like sciatica, arthritis, and knee injury may be at play.
Individuals with lower back or knee pain should visit a doctor to learn more. A doctor can determine the cause of the discomfort and identify ways to reduce pain and prevent future recurrences.