I am a 30-year-old female and have been recently experiencing severe knee pain.
First, I have to start by saying I have had chronic knee pain since I was 9 years old. At that age I began experiencing sharp pains in both knee joints. The pain was localized to the knees, with pain more often in the left knee, just under the knee cap. During this time, I also noticed what I describe as a "shifting" knee (in which the femur would slide laterally), as well as frequent knee dislocations (as often as once a week). I saw a doctor who described three things about my knee joints: (1) My knee is easily hyper-extended; (2) The patella--on each knee--could be moved laterally until it was almost on the side of my leg; and (3) The joint didn't have much cartilage. The doctor had me work on strengthening the muscles around and across the knee joint for about 6 months, during which time I was on crutches. He warned that I might need knee surgery, but did not perform it because I was still growing. The knee strengthening exercises and rehab were successful, and I did not need surgery.
Since then I have tried not to over exert my knees. If I jog, or even take long walks, my knees are often stiff and swollen days later. However, if I avoid long walks and high-impact exercise, my knees are pain-free (although they always "snap" or "crackle" when I walk--especially up stairs).
I thought that my chronic knee pain was under control, until three months ago, when in the middle of the night (approximately 3 am) I awoke with a throbbing, radiating pain that extended from my right knee joint. More specifically, the pain that woke me up was sharp, felt like it was inside the joint on the right side of my right knee, and radiated up towards my right hip and down towards my right ankle. In addition to the pain, my knee was weak (so weak I could barely extend it, and could not support my weight on it without it buckling). This pain lasted for almost three hours. As the pain subsided I went back to sleep, and woke up a few hours later with no pain, swelling, or tenderness. It was like the whole episode never happened.
I thought this phenomenon to be anomalous, and ignored it. However, two weeks after the first incident, the knee pain was back. This time it was almost 2 am and I was awoken out of a dead sleep by the same radiating pain in the same spot on the same knee. Since then, the knee pain has occurred with more frequency--as often as twice a week--but only at night, and then the pain goes away and my knee is back to "normal."
The reason I am concerned is because last night my knee was hurting again, and this time the pain was so severe it brought me to tears. The intensity of the pain made it impossible for me to stand upright, or fully extend my right leg. My leg was completely limp, and my knee was throbbing and twitching. Now I'm a sensible person and know I should see my physician, but when I wake up and my knee is OK it's easy to forget the urgency. WHAT COULD BE CAUSING THIS RADIATING PAIN IN MY KNEE, THAT ONLY OCCURS AT NIGHT? AND SHOULD I CONSIDER SURGERY?