Knee Pain at Night : Causes and Relief - Essential Wellness

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May 21, 2018 5 min read

[Last Edited: 08/10/20]

Why is my knee hurting at night?

So you've woken up with knee pain again and are struggling to get back to sleep. This is often a frustrating and debilitating experience for many people who get woken up with pain. In some cases the knee can be painful during the day and night, other people don’t experience any pain during the day and get woken up at night instead. This phenomenon can be down to how much activity is done during the day and what happens to the joint at night.

Over time our sensitivity to pain can lessen and it will take less to wake us up from restful sleep as our brain waits in anticipation for the stiffness to kick in. This can be habit forming, and can mean that over time we wake more often and may even find that we wake around the same time every night.

Causes of Knee Pain at Night


Arthritis describes the deteriorating of the smooth joint surfaces on the knee as we age. As the disease progresses, cartilage thins and the space between the two bones reduces leading to movement becoming more difficult and more resistance in the knee. If your knee is working this hard during the day, then this is bound to build up strain and irritation in the joint but we notice less pain due to how busy we are. Arthritis can behave differently to each person who has it. Often the levels of activity during the day have an impact, movements such as walking, gardening, hiking or driving can all cause the joint surface to become irritated. Offering the knee joint protection during the day can limit the pain that we experience at night. 

When we come to rest at the end of the day, we tend to move much less often, this means joints are held in specific positions for long periods of time. This can cause the fluid that lubricates the joint to become more stagnant which results in a feeling of stiffness in the knee. As this stiffness builds over hours of lying still, the joint surfaces respond with pain messages to encourage us to move the joint and loosen the stiffness. Pain is really just our body's warning system and it lets us know when something isn't right. Without it, we could end up in serious trouble!

Cartilage Damage

If you have a cartilage tear in your knee this can significantly contribute to your pain at night. In a resting position, even the muscles around the knee are at rest and more strain is on the soft tissues in the knee, cartilage included. If the knee is swollen you may notice it is pulsing or throbbing over night and the joint can become very warm. In this case, prevention is better than cure - off loading during the day will reduce the amount of swelling that pools during the night in the joint by wearing a support can make all the difference. Wearing a support during the day causes joint compression that stops the swelling from building up throughout the day. Towards the end of the day when you take the brace off, put your leg up on a stool or the sofa so it’s higher than the level of your hip, and for about 20 minutes allow the leg to rest and the swelling to move away from the knee up the leg.

Anterior Knee Pain

Pain around the knee cap can feel confusing as some people experience worse pain when they are resting than when they are moving. The kneecap sits in a groove on the thigh bone and moves in the groove as we walk and bend the knee. At night the lack of movement can cause stiffness between the kneecap and the groove and it can feel like pressure is building in this area. If the surface of the back of the knee cap is irritated during the day this will be more obvious when we are at rest and position is key for this one. A sight bend in the knee can be enough to alleviate this knee pain at night.

Relief of Knee Pain at Night

Change the position of your knee

The stiffness in the knee has built up due to lack of movement. Getting it gently moving again will most likely be enough. Best practice advice will suggest getting up from your bed and having a walk around - this allows you to ‘free’ up the joint and avoid developing a negative habit with pain and sleeping, the more we toss and turn at night, the more we associate the bed and bedroom with somewhere we don’t want to be.

Pain Relief before sleep

  • Painkillers recommended by your GP or pharmacist taken before bed will increase your chances of getting to sleep and staying asleep for longer. 
  • Using heat on aching stiff joints can be excellent for soothing the symptoms, so don't worry about getting up and doing this to help you return to sleep.
  • Lots of people report soreness from resting one knee on top of the other, for this we recommend using our knee cushion between your knees to relieve any pressure on either knee joint. If you sleep on your back rather than your side then this pillow can be excellent for underneath a slightly bent knee, keeping the knee in the ‘middle’ of its available range where there is the most space between the joints at rest. 
  • Massage the knee joint, rubbing the joint with warm hands, a simple lotion or a pain-relieving cream or ointment can also be useful in relieving the symptoms and getting back to sleep.

Change the Environment

Rather than beginning to associate your bedroom with frustration and joint pain, go to another room and do an activity that will make you feel sleepy again. Whether it's having a mug of warm milk, reading a book until you feel drowsy or doing some ironing - do an activity that is relaxing and a bit boring! As your knee frees up, the pain relief kicks in and you’re feeling sleepy again head back to the bedroom and drift peacefully back off to sleep.

Support the Knee During the Day

Even if your knee pain is worse at night and better during the day, your activity levels do impact the knee joint. If you are on the go, active at work or in the garden then protecting the joint is important. With all of the types of knee pain above it is common for pain to ease up after early stiffness frees up and keeping moving actually feels like the best thing for it. There is a sweet spot for this activity and sometimes it can be hard to tell where that is. That's why we recommend using a support for peace of mind and joint protection. You can then go about your normal activities without worrying that you will pay for it later. 

Secure Peace of Mind Today

Wearing a knee support during the day limits the build-up of strain and swelling. Get a better night's sleep by using your knee support when doing strenuous activity. 

Knee pain at night

Sleep Through the Night 

Relieve your knee pain today with our supportive knee cushion. Whether you sleep on your side, on your back or move around, this knee cushion stays with you and provides relief where you need it. 



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