4 Causes Of Outside Knee Pain After Basketball (And How To Fix Each One)

Written By on February 21, 2023 — Medically Reviewed By Mitch Torres (PT)

Written by on February 21, 2023 — Medically Reviewed By: Mitch Torres (PT)

ITBS and meniscus tears are common causes of outside knee pain after basketball.

Most of these injuries can be managed by using an ice pack and doing some physical therapy. But severe ones may require surgery to treat them.

We’ll go over 4 of the most common knee injuries leading to outside knee pain after basketball. You’ll also get to learn how to recognize and treat each one:

1) Iliotibial band friction syndrome

The iliotibial band (ITB) is a connective tissue linking our hip muscles to our knee joint. Excess friction of this structure over your thigh bone often leads to outside knee pain after running and playing basketball.

ITB syndrome is often due to weak hip muscles and poor foot mechanics. These can cause increased tension on the band, triggering knee pain. As the condition progresses, it could even lead to knee cap pain. (1)

How do you fix IT band friction syndrome?

Fortunately, up to 90% of patients with this condition improve with conservative treatments, like rest and physical therapy. (1)

To start, avoid playing basketball for a few days to help your symptoms settle. Applying ice on the area after playing basketball can also help reduce pain and swelling.

Stretching and massaging the muscles around your knee could also aid in easing the tension on your ITB. Once you are pain-free, you can start gradually ramping up your activities to return to playing basketball. (1)

But if your symptoms keep flaring up, that’s a sign you should go to a physical therapist. They will identify any movement patterns that could cause this pain and help you fix them.

2) Lateral collateral ligament injury

The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) keeps your knee stable, preventing it from bending outwards. Taking a hard bump to your inner knee while your leg is extended could unfortunately stretch it to the point of injury. (2)

Knee Force Knee Sleeve

Mild LCL injuries tend to cause lingering pain and swelling on the outside of your knee. But full-blown ligament tears often lead to severe pain and leg instability.

How do you treat a lateral collateral ligament injury?

Using an ice pack and taking anti-inflammatory drugs can help ease knee pain and swelling if you have a mild ligament tear.

During your recovery, you could wear a hinged knee brace. These garments help add joint stability while also giving you a sense of security.

But if you are showing signs of a severe ligament tear, go see your doctor immediately. You might need, at the very minimum, a few weeks of physical therapy to get things under control.

3) Lateral meniscus tears

The lateral meniscus is a cartilaginous structure found inside your outer knee joint. It helps in transmitting and absorbing the forces that go through your legs.

During a basketball game, twisting your knee on a planted foot could damage your lateral meniscus. Pain, swelling, and the inability to completely straighten your leg are telltale signs of a meniscal tear. (3)

What is the best treatment for a meniscus tear?

Cold therapy often works well as a first-aid option. But the location of the tear will dictate your treatment options (3):

  • If it’s on the outer 1/3 of the meniscus, it’ll likely heal naturally, with conservative treatments. This area has plenty of blood supply, so it’s easier for it to repair itself.
  • If it’s on the inner 2/3 of the meniscus, you may need more physical therapy or even surgery. This area lacks blood supply, making it challenging to heal.

Keep reading: How to heal a torn meniscus naturally?

4) Lateral knee arthritis

an arthritic outer knee

Knee osteoarthritis is the wear and tear of the cartilage in that joint. It can happen in the entire joint, or in one side of it. Lateral knee arthritis is the deterioration of the outer side of the knee, also called the “lateral knee compartment.”

What can be done for arthritis in the knee?

Sadly, the wear and tear from this knee injury can’t be undone. But you can prevent it from progressing by strengthening the muscles around your joint. This can decrease the pressure on the joint.

For advanced cases, wearing an unloader knee brace can help reduce outer knee pain caused by this condition. These garments achieve this by relieving pressure on the lateral compartment and rebalancing the load on the joint. (4)

This can help: The best unloader knee braces out there.


What does it mean when the outer side of your knee hurts?

When the outer side of your knee hurts, this could mean that the tissues of that area are inflamed, or even injured.

Is it normal to have knee pain after playing basketball?

If the pain is moderate to severe, it’s not normal to feel knee pain after playing basketball. If it occurs frequently and/or leads to other symptoms, like swelling or clicking, get checked by a doctor.

How do you relieve pain in the outside of your knee?

To relieve pain in the outside of your knee, apply ice after the game, strengthen your knee, and wear a knee sleeve. Get it checked by a physical therapist if symptoms persist.

This can help: How to prevent knee injuries from basketball?

Conclusion: Outside knee pain after playing basketball

Meniscal tears, arthritis, and inflamed tendons often cause outside knee pain after running. These conditions often improve with a few days of rest and ice therapy.

But in some instances, you’ll need to undergo physical therapy or even surgery to set things in order and prevent them from affecting your game.

Finally, remember that other injuries, like jumper’s knee (a patellar tendon inflammation), or OSD (an injury of the top of the shin bone), could cause pain to the outer side of the joint.

So, if you’re not sure what’s causing your knee pain, get checked by a healthcare provider.

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  1. Hadeed A, Tapscott DC. Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome. [Updated 2022 May 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542185/
  2. Yaras RJ, O’Neill N, Yaish AM. Lateral Collateral Ligament Knee Injuries. [Updated 2022 May 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560847/
  3. Raj MA, Bubnis MA. Knee Meniscal Tears. [Updated 2022 Jul 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431067/
  4. Lee, Paul Yf et al. “Unloading knee brace is a cost-effective method to bridge and delay surgery in unicompartmental knee arthritis.” BMJ open sport & exercise medicine vol. 2,1 e000195. 21 Feb. 2017, https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000195
Paolo Sarmiento (PT)
Paolo is a physical therapist, educator and fitness enthusiast. He shares his knowledge and experience in helping people deal with health issues, especially with the knee. As health-conscious as he can be, he enjoys long bicycle rides, early morning runs, and a good slice of pizza with extra pepperoni.