Posterior Pain: Understanding and Alleviating Pain Behind the Knee

Do you frequently experience persistent pain behind your knee? 

Studies show that 46.2% of people experience knee pain at some point. Posterior knee pain, commonly called pain behind the knee, is associated with discomfort at the back of the knee joint. The term ‘posterior’ denotes the rear aspect of the knee. 

People experiencing discomfort in the back of their knee may also notice swelling. The swelling can be limited to just the back of the knee or extend down into the calf area. In severe cases, the swelling can make it difficult to bend the leg properly.

Why does pain lurk behind your knee? What could be causing this discomfort? Can this pain be managed at home? At Orlando Orthopedic Center, we diagnose posterior knee pain and help patients with treatment plans. Here is how we look at pain behind the knee and what you can do to manage discomfort.

Types of Pain Behind the Knee

Pain behind the knee can stem from various health conditions, with two prevalent culprits being a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury and a popliteal cyst, also known as Baker’s cyst.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament

A PCL injury occurs when the ligament, spanning from the thigh to the shin bone, undergoes overstretching or tearing, often resulting from a forceful impact to the front of the bent knee. Instances like hitting the knee on a dashboard during a car accident or hyperextension, where the leg is over-straightened, can lead to this injury.

Baker’s Cyst

On the other hand, a popliteal cyst is characterized by a collection of fluid or material within a thin tissue layer in the shallow pit at the rear of the knee. Typically associated with other knee-related conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or cartilage injuries, this cyst can develop when the knee undergoes injury, leading to fluid accumulation. Sensations of this fluid collection are often felt in the depression at the back of the knee.


Adding to the roster of causes, knee osteoarthritis emerges as a common source of knee pain. This condition involves the deterioration of the smooth and shiny cartilage lining the knee joint, resulting in discomfort and long-term damage. Predominantly affecting individuals over 50, the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis increases.

What Causes Pain Behind the Knee?

Pain behind the knee can be attributed to various factors, such as:

  • With age, degeneration of the knee joint leads to conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Knee injuries, including ligament damage or torn cartilage.
  • Uncommon occurrences like benign or cancerous growths.
  • Rare instances of infection, as seen in septic arthritis.

How is Pain Behind the Knee Diagnosed?

During your medical evaluation, your doctor will thoroughly examine your knee and inquire about your medical history and symptoms. Key points of discussion may include:

  • The nature of the pain, its onset, and whether it is intermittent or persistent.
  • Your level of physical activity.
  • The pain may be linked to specific activities, accidents, or injuries.

In cases where a posterior cruciate ligament injury is suspected, your doctor might recommend diagnostic imaging such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. If there are indications of a popliteal cyst, your healthcare provider may suggest an ultrasound scan.

How to Manage Pain Behind the Knee at Home

In the event of a knee injury, it is advisable to adhere to the POLICE and HARM protocols.


Protect: Protect the area that has been injured.
Optimal Loading: Apply the appropriate amount of stress to encourage healing.
Ice: Utilize ice to alleviate symptoms.
Compression: Apply compression to manage swelling.
Elevation: Elevate the injured leg to reduce swelling.


Heat: Avoid applying heat to the injured area.
Alcohol: Minimize alcohol consumption during the recovery period.
Running: Refrain from engaging in running activities.
Massage: Avoid massaging the injured knee temporarily to prevent further damage.

If you find it challenging to bear weight on your leg, crutches may be necessary.

While popliteal cysts often resolve independently without requiring specific treatment, consulting a doctor is recommended, especially if you experience pain in the knee. This discomfort could indicate a more serious condition, such as a blood clot in your leg. Neglecting medical attention for a posterior cruciate ligament injury may lead to complications later on.

Seek medical attention if you: 

  • Have difficulty walking and bearing weight on your leg
  • Experience severe pain, even without putting weight on it
  • Buckle at the knees
  • Hear your knee clicking
  • Lock up in knee pain 
  • Notice your knee looks deformed or misshapen
  • Feel heat see redness, or experience significant swelling
  • Develop a fever along with knee pain 
  • Notice pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, or a bluish discoloration in your calf 

If you grapple with persistent pain behind the knee, it’s time to take action. If you are ready to enhance your quality of life, don’t hesitate to consult with one of our specialists at the Orlando Orthopaedic Center. Schedule your appointment today and let our orthopaedic doctors guide you toward a healthier, more active life.