The Reason Behind Knee Pain When Sitting

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Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes read

Have you ever experienced knee pain when sitting for a while?

This can be incredibly uncomfortable!

The worst part is that you go to stand up because you have knee pain from sitting, and then you feel more pain and knee stiffness when you stand up.

It feels like you just can’t win!

It’s normal to want to know and understand the reason behind your knee pain while sitting, and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about.

Medical Causes for Knee Pain When Sitting

Medical Causes for Knee Pain When Sitting

To be honest, knee discomfort and knee joint pain can occur for a variety of reasons.

Knee Pain Without a Trauma

The most common atraumatic reasons behind the knee hurting when sitting include the following:

One might wonder how obesity can cause knee pain during or after sitting, but this is a possibility.

Being overweight or obese places greater stress on multiple joints in the body, including the knee joint. In addition to this, an overweight or obese status, especially when held in the mid-section, can alter spinal alignment and positioning of your center of gravity.

If your center of gravity is altered, this will affect your balance. Experiencing consistent imbalance and unsteadiness will increase your fall risk. If you do experience a fall, you’re likely to further worsen your knee problems, especially if that fall causes you to land on your knees.

Knee Pain from a Trauma

MCL injury anatomy

If you happen to experience knee pain because of a recent traumatic event, such as a sports injury (particularly in younger people) or a fall (this is more common in older populations), then knee pain during and after sitting will commonly occur. Some examples of this include the following:

  • A ligament tear, such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • Torn meniscus
  • A tear in the thigh muscles, such as the quadriceps
  • Fracture

Knee Pain from Structural Deviations

It’s also important to consider that you may have aching knees when sitting due to natural structural problems in the knee joint, or other areas of the body.

Some common structural issues that may cause knee pain will include one or more of the following:

  • Flat feet
  • Being bow legged or knock knees (“genu varus” and “genu valgus”)
  • Leg length discrepancy
  • Scoliosis

Knee Pain from Your Sitting Position

Knee pain and aching can very much result from your actual sitting position.

A poor sitting posture can place unnecessary stress on the joints, including the knees.

Let’s look at the do’s and don’ts of sitting.

Do the Following When Sitting

Do the Following When Sitting

Make sure you’re sitting in as much of a neutral position as possible.

This will include using a chair with good ergonomic support. Do make sure the chair is not too low, as this will increase how much knee and hip flexion (or bending) you’re sitting in.

Sitting too low will not be comfortable for the legs. In fact, the more bent the knees are, especially during prolonged sitting, this creates unnecessary compression forces around the knees, which contributes to the knees aching when sitting and knee stiffness after sitting.

Once the height of your seat has been correctly adjusted, try to sit with the feet flat on the floor. This, again, will promote a more neutral sitting position.

These tips not only can help to relieve pain that you may be experiencing while sitting, but also can help to prevent pain when sitting for extended periods.

Don’t Do the Following When Sitting

Don't Do the Following When Sitting

There are certain positions that just simply are not healthy or comfortable for the knees and can contribute to knee pain.

Avoid placing the legs in any awkward position.

Avoid sitting cross legged or sitting with your leg/s tucked underneath you. Sitting with the legs crossed in any manner for extended periods isn’t recommended anyway for best blood flow and circulation.

Additionally, sitting with the legs crossed, especially if sitting on the leg directly, will place those painful compressive forces on or around the knee joint.

These positions will make your knees feel super stiff when you go to stand up!

If you have any doubts or questions about the do’s and don’ts of sitting, take a look at this video, which will demonstrate the right and wrong way to sit with knee pain.

Length of Sitting Time as a Cause Behind Knee Pain While Sitting

Length of Sitting Time as a Cause Behind Knee Pain While Sitting

It’s important to consider that the actual time you spend sitting may be the ultimate cause behind your knee pain.

Our joints crave movement.

The knee joint is a synovial joint, which means that in the joint cavity synovial fluid is present. Synovial fluid is surrounded by a synovial membrane.

The synovial fluid helps to lubricate the joint and avoid friction forces.

Two of the ways to increase synovial fluid production is via movement and exercise. Without this, knee discomfort will usually begin, along with stiffness and aching.

For this reason, it’s important to avoid not only sitting for too long of a period, but also avoid sitting in the same position for too long.

Remember, motion is lotion!

Common Symptoms

Regardless of the reason behind your knee pain while sitting, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms related to this knee discomfort:

  • Popping or cracking noise
  • Joint swelling
  • Dull ache
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness on or around the knee
  • Limited range of motion at the knee
  • Decreased strength in the legs

Treatment Options for Knee Pain While Sitting

Treatment Options for Knee Pain While Sitting

Now that we’ve taken a look at some of the possible reasons behind knee pain when sitting, what can be done about it?

Proper Positioning While Sitting

Keep in mind the previous recommendations for how to sit with knee pain. Avoid any awkward position that places unnecessary stress or strain on the knee joints.

Try to sit in a neutral position with the feet flat on the floor. Use an ergonomically appropriate chair that positions the spine, hips and knees in a supportive positioning.

Do your best to avoid sitting with the legs crossed in any way, shape or form, especially for long periods of time.

Take Frequent Breaks from Sitting

Avoid sitting for too long of a period.

Make it a part of your daily routine to take a break from sitting at least every half hour. Get up and either stand and stretch or take a quick stroll to get the joints moving.

If you’re in a situation where you can’t get up (e.g., the movies, an event or meeting), then try to move the body periodically. If you have enough room, you can straighten and stretch the knees, practice ankle pumps, or do a small back stretch in the chair.

Movement and Exercise

A regular routine of movement and exercise is very helpful for promoting healthy knee joints.

The type of exercise routine you perform depends on the reason behind your knee pain while sitting.

If you’ve experienced a traumatic injury, then you probably have already consulted with one or more healthcare professionals. It’s possible that the possibility of surgery may be on the table.

If this is the case, then you need to listen to the instructions of your surgeon. They may recommend physical therapy before, but most definitely after, your surgery.

Physical therapy can help recommend the best positioning to keep your injured knee in, as well as an appropriate home exercise program for your given circumstances.

Even if your knee pain isn’t related to an injury and doesn’t require surgical intervention, your healthcare provider will likely still recommend physical therapy to address your symptoms and assist in pain relief.

When aching and stiffness are your primary symptoms, both a good stretching and strengthening routine can be very helpful. This promotes support and stability around the painful knee joint.

The following are a few easy stretching exercises you can include at home to help with your knee pain and stiffness:

1. Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring stretch step 1
Hamstring stretch step 2

While there are a few different positions you can practice a hamstring stretch in, we’re going to look at practicing this while laying down. All you’ll need is a non-elastic strap (e.g., yoga strap, belt, sheet). You can practice this on the floor, your bed or couch.

  • Holding the ends of the strap, loop it around the foot on the leg to be stretched.
  • Bend the opposite knee so that the foot is flat on the surface (this will support the back).
  • Using the arms, slowly lift the stretching leg off the surface. Lift as high as you can go without bending the knee.
  • Once at the top of your stretch, try to hold for at least 30 seconds, but can go up to 1 minute.

2. Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch

Hip Flexor/qud stretch step 1
Hip Flexor/qud stretch step 2

This is one of the best ways to stretch the front of the hips and thighs without placing unnecessary strain on the knee joints.

  • Lie at the edge of your bed. You’ll want to be on the same side of the bed as the leg getting the stretch.
  • Loop that same non-elastic strap around the foot on the leg to be stretched.
  • Position the opposite leg again so that the knee is bent and foot flat on the surface.
  • Slowly allow the stretching leg to slide off the edge of the bed. The knee is allowed to bend.
  • Gently pull the foot back using the strap until a gentle stretch is felt in the front of the hip and thigh.
  • Try to hold for at least 30 seconds, or even up to 1 minute.

3. Figure 4 Hip External Rotation Stretch

Figure 4 Hip External Rotation Stretch step 1
Figure 4 Hip External Rotation Stretch step 2

Promoting normal hip mobility is important for ensuring normal knee mobility and support.

  • Lie on your back on the floor, your bed or couch.
  • Have both knees bent so that the feet are flat on the surface.
  • Cross the ankle of the leg to be stretched across the opposite thigh.
  • Place the hand on the same side as the leg being stretched on the inner thigh.
  • Gently push the thigh away from you until a stretch in the hip is felt.
  • Try to hold for at least 30 seconds, if not up to 1 minute.

Stretching periodically while sitting can actually be quite helpful for knee pain in a sitting position. You can even perform all of the above stretches while sitting in a chair. Take a look at the video below to show you how to do so.

Another option to consider is using athletic tape around the knee to provide some additional support and stability.

Tape, similar to a brace, should not be solely relied on; however, it can be a beneficial tool to use in the early stages of rehabbing and re-training the muscles surrounding the knee joint, or in instances of experiencing a painful flare up of knee pain.

While there are many possible methods and techniques for taping the knee, the following video will demonstrate a general supportive taping method using kinesiotape. The goal, again, is to provide some additional support and stability around the knee for pain management.

While experiencing knee pain during sitting can be uncomfortable, as you can see, there are ways to manage it. Try to incorporate some of the tips we talked about, but never hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider if your knee pain is continuing without relief.


Should I wear a knee brace while sitting?

If you’re having continuous knee pain, then a brace can be a temporary option to help give you some relief. You just don’t want to start relying solely on a brace to support the knee versus your own muscles.

If using a brace while sitting, make sure the brace is applied in a manner that doesn’t cut into the back of the night, as this is not good for your circulation and can cause pain in the back of the knee.

If I have to sit at work all day, is there anything else I can do for my knee pain besides taking standing breaks?

Taking frequent standing breaks at work is really one of the best options. You can also consider speaking with your boss about having a standing frame desk that allows you to alternate standing and sitting without interrupting your work flow.

You can also consider icing your knee once or twice a day while at work to help with pain control.

Besides a physical therapist, is there anyone else I should be consulting with about my knee pain?

If you’re already seeing a physical therapist, you probably have already consulted with a medical doctor. This may include your primary care physician and/or an orthopedic specialist.

If weight is a factor behind your knee pain, consulting with a dietician or nutritionist can help you achieve your weight loss goal.

Wondering What's Next?

Discover 11 Easy, At-Home “Stretch Exercises” for Stronger, Pain-Free Joints (click below)

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