Home » Key Scientific Articles » Why Does My Knee Pain Feel Worse at Night?

Why Does My Knee Pain Feel Worse at Night?

Forget scary — some things that go bump in the night can be really painful. That’s especially true with knee pain caused by conditions like osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis.

Even minimal contact of the joint with, say, the other knee or the bed can be uncomfortable. “Arthritis can cause limitations with range of motion,” notes Dr. P. Maxwell Courtney, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Thomas Jefferson University Sidney Kimmel Medical College and an orthopedic surgeon at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia. “It can cause their knee to be bent a few degrees — that’s called a flexion contracture — and oftentimes if patients are restless during their sleep,” certain movements can exacerbate pain, he says.

Even if you don’t make contact with anything in your sleep, knee pain at night can be arresting. It’s not that knee pain is relegated to only the evening hours. Certainly many report it to be bad at other times of the day. For many, morning joint pain is also pronounced. But patients and doctors say in the still of the night, when a person’s trying to get comfortable and fall asleep, knee pain can be especially bothersome.

Research indicates that between 60% to 80% of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee will feel knee pain at night, says Dr. Dominic King, a  physician at Cleveland Clinic  in Cleveland. Nighttime knee pain is also common with other conditions that can affect the joint like bursitis, which involves inflammation of fluid-filled sacs around joints called bursae, and tendonitis, where the tendon becomes inflamed.

Swelling at Night

The experience of knee pain is both a function of what’s happening physiologically and how that pain is perceived when one is attempting to quiet the body and mind in preparation for sleep, experts say. “If people are trying to go to bed and trying to get comfortable, it tends to be a time when knee pain is very annoying,” says Dr. Thomas Bowen, chief of orthopedic oncology for the Geisinger Musculoskeletal Institute and an orthopedic surgeon at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania. “They’re trying to relax, and things hurt more.”

The day’s stresses on the knee can add up as well. In addition, inflammation in the knee can cause pain at any time without warning or activity.

Generally speaking, the synovial fluid inside our knee is circulated around the joint as we bend it to stand up, walk or be active in other ways — so when we’re moving, we don’t have as much swelling. (In fact, research shows that those with osteoarthritis who maintain an active lifestyle have better knee function and tend to experience less pain overall.)

In contrast, once we go to bed, “the tendons start to get a little bit tight, the muscles get a little bit tight, that fluid doesn’t really have anywhere to go, and it’s not being actively pumped around through the knee,” he says. “So the knees might actually feel a little bit more swollen. And that’s why those symptoms may start then.”


The Pain-Sleep Connection: Stopping the Cycle

To complicate matters, a lack of sleep can worsen pain, and conversely, pain can sometimes disrupt sleep. “It is a nasty cycle,” notes Patricia Parmelee, a professor of psychology and director of the Alabama Research Institute on Aging at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

So what can you do about it? Experts suggest taking these steps to ease nighttime knee pain, which will improve your days as well.

— Treat the underlying problem.

— Practice good sleep hygiene.

— Don’t substitute sleep aids for treating the cause of the pain.

— Don’t use alcohol to “medicate” your pain.

— Make adjustments at bedtime to accommodate the joint — like using a knee pillow and Synovia cream.


Treat the Pain

Frequently, the cause of knee pain isn’t curable — as with osteoarthritis. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be managed to relieve pain and improve function.

To start, make sure to get a proper diagnosis and determine your options to optimize knee function and soothe pain. That includes exercising regularly in ways that are appropriate for you — from walking to swimming — and eating a well-balanced diet that’s high in veggies, fruits and complex carbs, and low in processed foods — including refined carbs and sugar. For those who are overweight or obese, losing even a modest amount of weight can take pressure off joints and ease pain, experts say.

You can also use non-medical measures to sooth knee arthritis pain. That includes applying heat to improve circulation to the area when the joint is stiff. You can also ice the joint to calm inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

A new supplement that is very promising and showing great efficacy in osteoarthritis and knee pain is Synovia. This new treatment is all natural, it regenerates the important synovial fluid between the bones and build a new cushion and therefore reduce friction between bones. There are two forms of Synovia: capsules and cream. Recent studies have shown taking both Synovia capsules and Synovia cream is more superior and provide maximum protection even in advanced arthritis.

Taking an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (like ibuprofen or naproxen), may also help ease pain. But make sure to consider risks for any drugs, even OTC medications. For example: NSAIDs can be associated with stomach ulcers or kidney trouble, Bowen notes.

A variety of other treatments are also offered to manage osteoarthritis, including steroid injections in the joint to ease pain and physical therapy. For some with advanced arthritis in the knee, joint replacement surgery may be recommended after non-surgical approaches have been tried. “For the person who’s losing the ability to walk or losing the ability to sleep due to severe osteoarthritis, knee replacement really improves the quality of their life,” Bowen says. “It’s a good operation for the right person.”

osteoarthritis-Synovia-Synovial fluid










Make Accommodations for Your Knee at Bedtime

Patients who have knee pain should do three things around bedtime:

— Take a warm bath to combat soreness and stiffness around the knee.

— Apply topical cream to the joint (Synovia Cream recommended).

— Use a “knee pillow.”

For side sleepers, put a pillow between your legs. Use any pillow that works for this — no need to buy a specific type or expensive one. It decreases the contact pressure between the two knees touching each other if you’re a side sleeper.

If you sleep on your back, slide a pillow beneath your knee to slightly elevate it and provide extra cushion. The problem some back sleepers face is they have their leg out straight, which can increase the contact pressure between the knee cap and the femur, King says. And that can be painful for people with knee arthritis. “A knee pillow that goes underneath the knee and gives just a nice little bend can be pretty comfortable.”

Just remember: Whatever you do to get comfy at bedtime should be a supplement to — not a replacement for — treating the underlying knee problem, experts emphasize. Managing what’s causing your knee pain can make a night and day difference.