Pain on the outside (lateral) aspect of the knee

The most likely structures laterally are knee ligaments, muscle tendons, bones, cartilage, bursae and fibrous tissue. Pain may be the result of sporting injury, fracture, sudden overuse or normal age related changes. Knee pain has been linked to obesity, having flexible joints and is more common in teenagers and young adults. Short tight muscles or muscular weakness may also cause or refer pain to the knee plus, spinal conditions ‘sciatica’ can refer pain to the joint.

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITB)

The iliotibial band is connective tissue that runs between the pelvis over the lateral aspect of the knee to the top of the shin bone. It is connected to the gluteus maximus muscle (the one you sit on) which can effect how it performs. Iliotibial band syndrome is another friction type problem felt on the outside of the knee caused by repetitive bending and straightening of the knee as with running ‘runner’s knee’, cycling and may also be caused by weak or tight buttock muscles (gluteus maximus).
Read our blog: Iliotibial Band (ITB) Syndrome for further background

Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)

The LCL connects the outer part of the thigh bone to the shin bone providing joint stability. Likely to be injured when the two bones become separated which will require significant force. Commonly seen with skiers, footballers and basketball players.

Torn cartilage (Meniscal injury)

The meniscal cartilages act as shock absorbers between the thigh bone and shin bone. Semi-circular in shape that sit on the very top of the shin bone providing extra stability and facilitating smooth movement of the joint. The meniscus can be damaged through rotation of the knee on a planted foot which is a common occurrence in many sports and occupations. If you rupture or sufficiently strain the medial collateral ligament you are likely to tear the medial meniscus cartilage as they are closely connected. The lateral meniscus is less likely to be trapped between the thigh and shin bone as it has relative freedom to move. It may however be a source of lateral knee pain which we require professional consultation with clever people like us to diagnose.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the knees. A healthy joint is made up of two bones whose ends are covered in a shiny smooth coating of cartilage which in part allows the joint to slide, glide and rotate providing functional movement. The cartilage within each joint is bathed in synovial fluid which nourishes the cartilage, maintaining good health and further providing shock absorption.
Over time our knee joints, essentially our cartilage may become worn like the tread on a tyre following years of bending, straightening and bearing weight. Our bodies attempt to repair the cartilage however are unable to replace cartilage tissue like-for-like with the shiny smooth cartilage slowly being replaced with rough bone. The change in joint structure causes symptoms of stiffness, swelling and pain most commonly on the medial side of the knee that is known as osteoarthritis. As symptoms progress the lateral aspect will be effected with pain encompassing the whole knee. Most common in the over 50’s.