Several things can cause back of knee pain after basketball – from a minor strain to DVT. Some can be managed with some ice and rest, while others are medical emergencies.
We’ll discuss the 5 most common causes of pain behind the knee after basketball, and what to do about them. That way you’ll know exactly what to do if this happens.
These are the topics we’ll cover, tap on any of them to jump into their section:
5 Causes of pain in the back of the knee after basketball
The sudden stops and jumps in basketball could harm structures at the back of your knee joint, leading to the following injuries:
1) Hamstring strain
This injury often happens after running at high speed and stopping suddenly. This motion can overstretch your hamstring muscles to the point of tearing some of their fibers. (1)
A hamstring strain can cause sharp pain at the back of the knee, in the lower part of your thigh bone. Athletes with muscle weakness, poor flexibility, and/or fatigued from the game are more at risk. (1)
The severity of hamstring strains is graded from 1 to 3.
Grade 1 hamstring strains usually feel like a minor cramp or a constant dull ache during a game. Symptoms get worse after the game, once you’ve cooled down a bit.
But the pain from grades 2 and 3 is worse, being more present during the game. This could mean either a moderate or complete hamstring muscle tear. (2)
If apart from the previously mentioned symptoms you have a bruise on the back of your leg that wasn’t there before the game, you may have a hamstring strain.
Related: What causes pain under the kneecap after playing basketball?
2) Popliteus injury
The popliteus isa small muscle at the back of your knee. It helps stabilize your knee during movement.
Although rare, the tendon of this muscle can get injured. Mostly after a direct blow to the outer side of your knee with your foot pointed outward. This injury can also happen to athletes with a foot that excessively caves inward while walking/running. (3)
A popliteus injury can cause acute pain in the outer portion of the back of the knee. You may also have difficulty straightening your leg due to muscle spasms. (4)
Related: Causes of outside knee pain after basketball.
3) Baker’s cyst
This injury is a bulge behind the knee caused by fluid build-up. It happens when the liquid that lubricates the knee pushes a weakened spot on the back of the joint capsule.
As a result, the fluid accumulates in that small area. In severe stages, this can cause a bulge the size of a golf ball behind the knee. (5)
Most of the time it doesn’t cause any knee pain. (5) But if it does, it can get worse after physical activity.
A Baker’s cyst is often a sign of a degenerative condition of the knee, like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. If you think you have one, get it checked with your doctor. (5)
4) PCL Tear
The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is a thick band of tissue within your knee joint that keeps it stable. During basketball, it can get injured if you fall directly on your leg or another player bumps hard on your knee cap. (6)
Minor cases usually cause mild pain in the back of your knee. This is a result of overstretching and micro-tears on the PCL.
But if you’re feeling unbearable pain and discomfort, you may have a severe tear. Some PCL injuries also involve meniscal tears, so pay attention to your symptoms and don’t hesitate to go to the doctor if needed. (6)
Keep reading: Ultimate guide on the PCL and other knee ligament tears.
5) Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
This condition happens when blood clots form in the lower legs. Physical trauma is one of the primary causes, which is common while playing basketball. Other risk factors include intense physical stress and dehydration. (7)
DVT is a medical emergency. If you’re having any of these symptoms, avoid moving your leg and rush to the emergency room (8):
- Localized deep leg pain.
- Limb redness.
- Dilated, visible veins.
How to treat pain in the back of the knee after basketball?
There are several treatments for knee pain from basketball, but the most common include:
Cold therapy is a great way to numb the pain and ease swelling. (9) Hence, most common basketball knee injuries go well with using ice right after the game. Simply place an ice pack on your knee for 10 minutes at a time.
Learn more: Is it good to ice your knees after playing basketball?
There are several medications you can take for knee pain, with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) being the most popular ones.
These drugs can reduce pain and swelling quickly and you can get them over the counter in oral or topical form. Diclofenac sodium and naproxen are a few examples.
But, if your symptoms don’t improve after taking these drugs, you should visit your doctor.
Some basketball players with frequent knee pain after playing need physical therapy (PT) to get things in order. Also those with poorly healed injuries, like patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee).
Here, you’ll work with physios to figure out the root source of your injury. They can then set a treatment plan consisting of strength, balance, and mobility drills to fast-track your recovery.
This can help: 10 knee strengthening exercises for basketball players.
Why does the back of my knee hurt after sports?
The back of your knee can hurt after sports for many reasons. It’s usually a sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard. But if it happens after every game, get it checked as you may have a knee injury.
How do you get rid of knee pain after basketball?
To get rid of knee pain after basketball, make sure to get enough rest, ice your knee, and take painkillers if necessary.
How do you fix a strain behind your knee?
To fix a strain behind your knee, it’s best to visit a physical therapist. Aside from helping you recover, they can also guide you to prevent knee injuries like ACL tears.
Conclusion: Why does the back of my knee hurt after basketball?
Hamstring strain, ligament tears, and even blood vessel issues are some reasons why the back of your knee hurts after playing basketball.
Fortunately, most of these knee conditions can be cured conservatively. This includes using ice, pain medications, and physical therapy.
- Erickson, Lauren et al. “Rehabilitation and return to sport after hamstring strain injury.” Journal of Sport and Health Science Volume 6, Issue 3, September 2017, Pages 262-270. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254617300522
- Martin, Robroy et al.” Hamstring Strain Injury in Athletes.” Journal of Orthopedic Sports & Physical Therapy Volume52 Issue3, PagesCPG1-CPG44, February 28, 2022. https://www.jospt.org/doi/10.2519/jospt.2022.0301
- Safran, Marc et al. “Manual of Sports Medicine.” Lippincott-Raven Publishers 1998. https://www.amazon.com/Manual-Sports-Medicine-Lippincott-Formerly/dp/078171222X
- Tibrewal, S B. “Acute calcific tendinitis of the popliteus tendon–an unusual site and clinical syndrome.” Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England vol. 84,5 (2002): 338-41. doi: 10.1308/003588402760452475
- Leib AD, Roshan A, Foris LA, et al. Baker’s Cyst. [Updated 2022 Sep 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430774/
- Raj MA, Mabrouk A, Varacallo M. Posterior Cruciate Ligament Knee Injuries. [Updated 2022 Sep 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430726/
- Hilberg, Thomas et al. “Sport and Venous Thromboembolism—Site, Accompanying Features, Symptoms, and Diagnosis.” Deutsches Arzteblatt international vol. 118,11 (2021): 181-187. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.m2021.0021
- Waheed SM, Kudaravalli P, Hotwagner DT. Deep Vein Thrombosis. [Updated 2022 Nov 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507708/
- Malanga, Gerard A et al. “Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury.” Postgraduate medicine vol. 127,1 (2015): 57-65. DOI: 10.1080/00325481.2015.992719
- Hsu H, Siwiec RM. Patellar Tendon Rupture. [Updated 2022 Sep 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513275/