Knee Pain at Night: Causes and Natural Treatments

Knee Pain at Night: Cause and Natural Treatments
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Knee pain at night can affect people with various forms of arthritis or it can be caused by issues with nerves in the leg. The pain in your knees can be mild, dull aches that keep you awake at night. Or, you could have severe throbbing knee pain that causes you to wake up in the middle of the night.

Nighttime chronic knee pain can mean that you don’t sleep well and it can make you tired and irritable the next day. Not getting enough sleep because of sharp pains in your knee can also have a knock-on effect on your knee pain. When you are well rested, your body deals with pain better.

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There are some effective knee pain remedies that can help deal with pain in the legs at night. A warm compress or hot water bottle can help to relieve sharp knee pain by increasing circulation. Also, some remedies that include turmeric have pain-relieving properties and can help manage arthritis pain in your knees and joints.

So, what can you do if knee pain at night is keeping you awake and you can’t get to sleep? In this article, you can find out what it means if one or both your knees hurt during the night. I will also discuss some ways that can help to get relief from knee pain discomfort.

Why Knees Can Ache at Night

It’s not unusual for joint pain to get worse at night, and that includes your knees. According to Dr. Michael Schaefer, a specialist in musculoskeletal medicine and rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic, walking and moving helps to lubricate joints during the daytime. Knees can then start to ache at night because joints tend to swell when you stop moving.1

Dr. Schaefer points to another reason why you can get knee pain at night. Your sleeping position and body alignment can often cause pain in your knees, hips, and shoulders during the night. This is one reason why knee pain can get worse while you are sleeping.

Common Causes of Knee Pain at Night

Let’s look in more detail at some of the common causes of knee pain while sleeping.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can cause sharp stabbing knee pains at night when you are resting in bed. The frequency and intensity of the night knee pain depend greatly on the extent of the osteoarthritis.

Researchers in the HSS Journal reported that there are a number of mechanisms that can contribute to nighttime knee pain. For example, minor injuries in the knee joint, damage to nerve fibers, or inflammation due to tissue damage could all be to blame for throbbing knee pain at night. Osteoarthritis sufferers describe nighttime knee pain as anything from mild, dull aching to intense jabbing knee pain.2

The journal Arthritis Care & Research published a study on the frequency of night pain in hip and knee osteoarthritis. It was found that just over 81% of osteoarthritis patients experience some type of night pain. The joint pain in the knees and hips was described as intermittent and variable. Most suffered night knee and hip pain regardless of the disease progression. However, the knee pain became more severe as the disease progressed.3

The Mayo Clinic says that other symptoms of osteoarthritis include:9

  • Tenderness in affected joints that are sore to touch
  • Stiff joints and lack of free movement
  • Joint inflammation
  • Loss of flexibility and difficulty moving joints without pain

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that can cause pain in the knees and other joints at night.

A report published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Disease found that many people with rheumatoid arthritis also suffer from nighttime joint pain. From the survey, nearly 30% of patients reported sleep disturbances due to pain in their joints. It was also found that joints tended to swell more during the night and become tender.4

If you suffer from arthritis, it’s also important to pay attention to your nutrition, and you can find more information about it in my article “Arthritis – Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid“.

Gout

Gout is another arthritic and inflammatory condition that can cause severe throbbing knee pain at night. Although gout commonly affects the big toe, it can affect any joint in the body.

According to Dr. Nayana Ambardekar on WebMD, gout can attack the knees, ankles, elbows, and hands. The pain caused by gout can be excruciating and come on suddenly. In time, joints can become stiff and suffer from restricted movement.5

Research carried out by Dr. Hyon Choi from Harvard Medical School discovered that gout causes worse pain during the night. Around half of painful gout attacks happened between midnight and 8 a.m. Researchers concluded that knowing that gout causes  nighttime pain in knees and other joints can help to take preventative measures against the pain.6

Other symptoms of gout include:10

  • Swelling and redness in the affected joint
  • Extreme tenderness in the joint making it very painful to touch
  • Chills and fever in extreme cases

If gout flare-ups are making your knees sore during the night, you can try some natural remedies to relieve gout pain. There you can find out how tart cherry juice can help reduce inflammation in joints affected by gout.

Wear and tear

Just simple wear and tear of the knee joints can cause them to become sore and painful while you are sleeping.

The journal Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics reported that knee pain during the night increases with age.7 However, rather than just put up with chronic aches and pains in your knees, Dr.  Charlotte Grayson on WebMD recommends speaking to your doctor to find if the joint pain is due to wear and tear or a treatable condition.8

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia causes widespread pain that can cause pain in muscles, joints, and tissue in your body. Fibromyalgia is characterized by dull aches in the body along with fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

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Can fibromyalgia cause knee pain that wakes you up during the night? Dr. Joseph Biundo from the Tulane Medical Center says that fibromyalgia can cause painful symptoms similar to rheumatoid arthritis. This can cause pain in joints and/or muscles.12

Research into how fibromyalgia affects sleep has found that symptoms of pain associated with fibromyalgia increase at night. The Saudi Medical Journal reports that fibromyalgia sufferers often experience disturbed sleep patterns due to pain. This also leads to a decrease in pain tolerance and depression due to lack of sleep.11

Doctors from the National Health Service say that other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:12

  • Widespread pain that can feel like aching, a burning sensation, or sharp stabbing pains
  • Stiffness in joints
  • Extreme fatigue and general lack of energy
  • Frequent headaches
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you may find that some supplements like D-Ribose can help manage fibromyalgia energy levels. It’s also important to know which foods to avoid if you live with chronic pain and inflammation.

Tendonitis

Inflammation of the tendons in your knee can cause tendonitis which results in pain above or below the knee. Tendonitis often affects people who are overweight, occasionally engage in high-intensity sports, or are aging.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School report that tendonitis can cause pain above the knee. The pain may be worse when exercising and get better with rest. In some cases, tendonitis causes knee pain that disrupts sleep.13

Dr. Anthony Beutler, Professor of Family Medicine, says that knee pain at night caused by tendonitis can be a symptom of a tear of the tendon in the knee.14

Nighttime knee pain in adolescents

Many teenagers and adolescents suffer from a condition that’s called anterior knee pain. This causes pain in the front or center of the knee and can often be worse at night.

Doctors from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons describe this type of knee pain as dull and achy. The pain may come on gradually, and physical activity can make the knee pain worse. The other symptoms of adolescent anterior knee pain include:15

  • Popping noises in the knee when climbing stairs
  • Nighttime knee pain
  • Pain when bending the knee
  • knee pain during intense physical activity

Home Remedies for Knee Pain at Night

If you suffer from knee pain at night while sleeping, what can you do to get rid of the pain without painkillers?

Regular exercise

Dr. David Zelman on WebMD says that knee pain caused by arthritic conditions can be helped by exercising and losing weight. Regular physical exercise can help to strengthen the muscles around the knee which makes the knee joint stronger. Also, stretching exercises will help to increase flexibility in the knee and help prevent chronic knee pain.16

To know the best type of exercise for relieving knee pain, you should visit a professional physical therapist. They can recommend a course of exercises specifically tailored to your condition and level of knee pain at night.

Warm compress

A very effective and cheap way to quickly relieve throbbing knee pain during the night is to apply a warm compress. Placing a hot water bottle on the sore knee can help to reduce the pain naturally and help you sleep better.

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According to an article entitled “Fighting Arthritis Pain Without Pills,” researchers from the Arthritis Foundation recommend a warm compress for joint pain. They say that heat increases blood circulation to the area and relaxes the knee muscles.17

How to use a warm compress for knee pain at night:

  1. Fill a hot water bottle with hot (but not boiling) water.
  2. Wrap it in a thin towel and place on your knee for 15 minutes before going to bed to relieve the pain.
  3. If you have chronic severe pain in your knee, you could leave the hot water bottle on for longer.
  4. If a knee pain wakes you up in the middle of the night, you can use the hot water bottle again.

Turmeric extract (curcumin)

Turmeric has pain-relieving properties that can be used as a knee pain remedy to help reduce painful symptoms of knee pain caused by arthritis, tendonitis, or gout.

According to the Journal of Medical Food, extracts of turmeric (curcumin) can help to alleviate the symptoms of joint arthritis. Many studies have shown that turmeric helps to reduce joint inflammation and relieve painful symptoms. It was concluded that turmeric is justified to be used as a natural alternative treatment for joint arthritis.18

Also, the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging reported that turmeric supplements can help treat patients with knee osteoarthritis. In fact, in the study, it was found that turmeric was as effective as ibuprofen in relieving knee pain and with fewer side effects.19

In the trial, 2 g of turmeric extract per day was effective in reducing the symptoms of knee pain caused by arthritic conditions.

You can also make your own pain-relieving turmeric ginger tea and drink regularly to help get rid of knee pain. You should also know how to increase turmeric absorption for best results.

Other Natural Remedies for Osteoarthritis Knee Pain

Gelatin

In my article about how gelatin can reduce osteoarthritis knee pain I’ve mentioned a study suggesting that adding a special gelatin supplement to the diet could provide some relief to people with mild osteoarthritis of the knee.

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In the study, 175 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were randomly assigned to receive either a daily gelatin supplement or a placebo. Those who received a supplement containing 10 grams of gelatin plus calcium and vitamin C had significant improvements across the board in pain, stiffness, and mobility measures.22

You can find more information on how to take gelatin for osteoarthritis, including vegetarian alternative to gelatin in my aforementioned article about this subject.

Sesame Seeds

In my article about how to use sesame seeds for knee osteoarthritis I’ve mentioned a research group from Tabriz University in Iran that studied sesame’s (Sesamum indicum L.) effect on the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis on 50 patience for 2 months. The results were published in The International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, in October 2013.

Although this was a small study, the authors suggested that sesame seeds might be a viable adjunctive therapy for knee osteoarthritis. It was found that 40 grams of sesame seeds daily along with standard drug therapy caused the patients to have significantly less pain compared to their counterparts in the control group who received a standard therapy, which involved 500 milligrams of Tylenol twice daily along with 500 milligrams of glucosamine once a day. 23

Ginger

The Journal Arthritis and Rheumatism published a 6 week study in 2001 which found that patients who received ginger extract twice daily had moderate reduction in knee pain on standing and after walking in comparison to the control group who took placebo. 24

How to Prevent Throbbing Knee Pain at Night

If chronic knee pain is keeping you awake at night, there are many steps you can take to help prevent the painful symptoms. With a few preventative measures, you can help avoid waking up with sharp pains in your knee.

According to Dr. April Chang-Miller, who is a specialist in rheumatology, this is what you can do to prevent knee pain at night:20

  • Make sure that your bed, pillows, and blanket are comfortable and don’t add to your discomfort.
  • Make sure that your bed allows you to have a comfortable sleeping position.
  • Take a warm bath or shower before going to bed to help relax your joints and muscles.
  • Avoid drinking stimulants like alcohol or coffee before going to bed to help you sleep better.
  • Prop your legs up with a pillow to help reduce knee pain while sleeping.
  • Don’t exercise within 3 hours before going to bed. However, remember that exercise helps to reduce knee pain over time.

When to See a Doctor for Knee Pain at Night

It’s good to remember that knee pain that keeps you awake at night can impact your daily activities. Not getting enough sleep can cause irritability, depression, increase your risk of various diseases, and aggravate chronic pain.

You should visit your doctor if you keep waking up with severe, throbbing knee pain. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend visiting a doctor for knee pain in the following circumstances:

  • You notice swelling and redness around the kneecap
  • You have significant knee pain at night and during the day
  • You can’t put any weight on the knee joint
  • You can’t get a good night’s sleep because of the knee pain

Read my other related articles:

Medical Sources

  1. ClevelandClinic. How to keep sore hips, knees, shoulders from ruining your sleep.
  2. HSS J. 2012 Feb; 8(1): 26–28.
  3. Arth Care Res. 2010 July;62(7):944-949.
  4. Ann Rheum Dis. 1998 Jul; 57(7): 434–436.
  5. WebMD. Understanding gout – basics.
  6. WebMD. Gout attacks more common at night.
  7. Arch Gerontol Geriatr.2010 Jan-Feb;50(1):34-5.
  8. WebMD. Join pain, aging, and arthritis.
  9. MayoClinic. Osteoarthritis.
  10. WebMD. Gout.
  11. Saudi Med J. 2017 May; 38(5): 465–475.
  12. MSDManuals. Fibromyalgia.
  13. HealthHarvard. Taming tendinitis in the knee.
  14. UpToDate. Approach to adult knee pain.
  15. OrthoInfo. Adolescent anterior knee pain.
  16. WebMD. Osteoarthritis of the knee.
  17. ArthritisOrg. Fight arthritis pain without pills.
  18. J Med Food. 2016 Aug 1; 19(8): 717–729.
  19. Clin Interv Aging.2014 Mar 20;9:451-8.
  20. MayoClinic. How can I ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms at night?
  21. MayoClinic. Knee pain.
  22. WebMD. Stiff Knees? Take Some Gelatin, Study Suggests.
  23. Inter. Journal of Rheumatic Diseases. 20 June 2013.
  24. 2001 Nov;44(11):2531-8.
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