Cold knees may occur for a number of reasons. Certain injuries or health conditions may make the knees feel more sensitive to cold. Exposure to cold temperatures may also have a lingering effect on knee temperature.

Many people experience knee pain or discomfort at some point in their lives. One condition that may cause knee pain is arthritis. Individuals with this condition may experience heightened sensitivity in their affected joints.

Knee injuries may also affect temperature sensitivity. Tendinitis, bursitis, or ligament tears can all increase pain and tenderness in the knee joint.

This article explores what may cause cold knees. It also discusses some potential treatment options and when someone should consider speaking with a doctor.

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Many people with knee pain also experience temperature sensitivity. Older research cited in a 2020 study suggests that cold weather may worsen knee pain, whether it’s chronic or injury related.

Chronic knee pain may develop after a traumatic sports injury. It may also occur as a result of other health conditions, like osteoarthritis.


Osteoarthritis is a type of joint disease that often affects the knee. It is the most common type of arthritis affecting adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Arthritis Foundation notes that individuals with knee osteoarthritis typically experience knee pain that may worsen with movement. Other symptoms may include:

Many people with knee osteoarthritis experience worse pain in colder temperatures. Older research cited in a 2021 study suggests that this may happen because cold temperatures thicken the fluid that lubricates the knee joint, increasing knee pain or stiffness.

A 2023 study examined knee temperature among individuals with knee osteoarthritis. The researchers found that people with nerve pain were more likely to have cold knees.

Exposure to cold

Exposure to cold temperatures can also decrease knee temperature. This can affect muscles and nerves surrounding the knee, which may influence athletic performance.

In a small 2017 study, researchers analyzed nine participants’ knee temperature. They measured this temperature before and after immersion in a cold water tank. They found that cold exposure reduced the activity of muscles and nerves around the knee.

Other research suggests that exposure to cold can ultimately decrease muscle strength and flexibility. This may increase the risk of sustaining knee injuries, like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

Other causes

Many other factors may cause cold knees. For example, tumors may increase knee pain and temperature sensitivity. But these types of tumors are extremely rare, making up less than 2% of tumors found in soft tissue.

Knee pain is also more common in older individuals. Around one-fourth of people over the age of 55 experience knee pain. The likelihood of developing knee pain continues to increase with age.

But knee pain can also occur in younger individuals. Research suggests that obesity, activity levels, and other lifestyle factors may increase the risk of knee pain among adolescents and young adults.

Finally, knee pain and temperature sensitivity may also occur after a knee injury. Some of the more common of these injuries include:

Sustaining a knee injury may lead to chronic knee pain. This may increase sensitivity to colder temperatures and even affect the temperature of the knee itself.

Each set of cold knees may require an individual treatment plan. Choosing the right treatment depends on the individual and what is causing their knee discomfort. For example, treatment for knee osteoarthritis may include:

Knee pain can also occur after an injury like an ACL tear or dislocation. First aid treatment for a knee injury generally involves:

  • elevating the knee
  • applying ice packs
  • using compression wraps
  • resting the knee

There are also many options for strengthening the knees through physical therapy. A physical therapist can provide exercises to help increase knee strength and flexibility. These may include:

  • calf stretches
  • quad stretches
  • squats
  • calf raises
  • leg raises

Anyone interested in physical therapy for knee conditioning should speak with a medical professional. A physical therapist can help develop a unique program based on individual needs. People should always consult with a doctor before beginning any new exercise routines.

Individuals living with conditions like osteoarthritis may experience cold knees in winter months.

Mild soreness or swelling may respond to home treatments like the RICE method.

In more severe cases, it may be necessary to see a doctor. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, anyone experiencing knee pain should see a doctor if they:

  • can no longer move the affected knee
  • experience knee locking
  • have a high fever
  • have severe swelling of the knee
  • cannot put weight on their knee
  • have severe pain

To learn more about what can cause cold knees, a person should speak with a medical professional. Only a doctor can provide an accurate medical diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan, if necessary.

Individuals with certain knee conditions may experience heightened sensitivity to cold. This may cause the sensation of cold knees.

One of the most common knee conditions is osteoarthritis. This joint disease affects the knee joint and surrounding tissue. People with knee osteoarthritis may feel more pain in colder temperatures. Knee injuries like ACL or meniscus tears may also cause chronic pain that increases the likelihood of cold knees.

There are many treatment options available for knee pain and conditions that may lead to cold knees. A person should speak with a healthcare professional for further information.