Physical Therapy for Knee Pain
As one of the body’s major weight-bearing joints, the knee is a potential source of pain for many individuals. Anything from sports-related injuries to arthritis to genetic abnormalities in the joint may cause knee pain. Finding the underlying cause of knee pain is important, so the plan of treatment may be mapped. In case of major injury and structural damage to the knee, surgery is usually indicated. However, many types of knee pain may be treated with conservative techniques, including physical therapy.
Types of Knee Pain
Knee pain has a number of causes. It is important to visit your healthcare provider to discover what may be causing your knee pain, so your physical therapist can create a treatment plan that best suits your case. The following is a list of several common causes of knee pain:
- Bursitis – bursae are fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions around your joints, including your knee. When the bursae become inflamed, they swell, causing your knee to become painful and stiff.
- Arthritis – arthritis is a condition that affects your joints, including your knee. If you have arthritis in your knee joint, you may experience pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joint. These symptoms are usually a result of the degradation of structures in the knee, including the cartilage, which may result in bone-to-bone rubbing.
- Ligament tears – The knee is made up of four main ligaments, which include the ACL, LCL, MCL, and PCL. An accident or sports-related injury may cause a tear or sprain in one or more of these ligaments, resulting in pain, swelling, and decreased range of motion.
- Infections – if you have undergone a recent surgery on the knee, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, suffer from diabetes, or suffered a deep cut around the knee joint, and are also experiencing symptoms such as fever, chills, swelling, redness of the area, and nausea, you may have an infection of the knee joint. Seek medical care immediately if you suspect a knee infection, as this condition can lead to serious complications if left untreated.
- Sprains and strains – a sprain of the knee can occur in the four major ligaments of the knee: ACL, MCL, PCL, and LCL. A strain affects the muscles or ligaments surrounding the knee. Either injury can cause knee pain.
- ACL tears – the ACL, also known as the anterior cruciate ligament, can tear under extreme force. This may occur as the result of contact in a sport or accident or as the result of extreme force applied on the knee joint while changing directions (such as during a sprint). This injury may result in extreme swelling, stiffness, and knee pain.
- Meniscal Tears – meniscus are the soft pads of cartilage in your knee that absorb the pressure you put on your joint during everyday activities and sports. When the meniscus partially tears, you may experience a painful “catching” sensation that decreases your range of motion in the joint. If the meniscus piece tears completely, the cushioning in your joint is reduced, causing more potential for your bones to rub together, which may cause knee pain.
- Fractures – if you undergo an accident, such as a car accident or sports injury, in which the patella (kneecap) receives a large amount of force at once, you may experience a patellar fracture. Symptoms of this injury include swelling, redness, deformity, and knee pain.
- Dislocations – dislocations of the patella occur when the patella (kneecap) is forced out of the trochlear groove. These dislocations cause pain, swelling, bruising, deformity of the knee, inability to walk, and buckling of the joint. These injuries can be resolved either by themselves or by a doctor manipulating the patella back into place. A dislocation of the knee is a much more serious injury in which the femur and shinbone no longer align. A knee dislocation is the result of a great deal more force than a kneecap dislocation.
How Does Physical Therapy Treat Knee Pain?
Depending on the cause of your knee pain, physical therapy may be able to help. If you have a major injury, such as an ACL tear or knee dislocation, you must first undergo surgery to correct the issue with your knee. Afterward, physical therapy is the best way to ensure your knee gets back to its normal function. For less serious and nonsurgical knee pain, physical therapy is a great option to help strengthen the surrounding structures in order to help you move and perform everyday tasks better and safely.
Physical Therapy Treatments for Knee Pain
While your specific injury or illness is unique, there are a number of common treatments that physical therapists use for treating knee pain. Depending on your situation, your therapist may incorporate:
- Joint Mobilization & Manipulation
- Medical massage
- Heat or ice application
- Electrical Stimulation
Physical Therapist Evaluation of Knee Pain
Your Physical Therapist will evaluate your knee pain in order to determine a treatment plan. The evaluation for your knee pain will often include a gait assessment, which is an examination of how you’re able to walk. This may also include how well you can balance, or if your balance is impaired.
Physical therapists also check for swelling of the knee and physically examine the knee by feeling it for abnormalities or generalized pain. You may also have a specific assessment based on the nature of your injury, such as measuring the strength of the muscles around your knee or holding your knee in a certain position for a specified amount of time.
Preventing Knee Pain
Preventing knee pain starts with proper lifestyle habits, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise. Individuals who maintain healthier weights are at a reduced risk for developing knee pain, since it is a weight-bearing joint. Individuals who participate in sports or extreme sporting activities are at greater risk of suffering knee injuries. These individuals should take care to ensure they wear the proper equipment for their activities and engage in the proper exercises to maintain the strength and flexibility to perform their activities as safely as possible. For any individuals who think they may be in need of strength training or corrective movements to prevent potential knee pain or eliminate existing knee pain, a physical therapist is a great place to start.
PT Exercises for Knee Pain
While you may not be able to prevent injuries and some generic health conditions to your knee, there are specific exercises that help strengthen the knee area. The right exercises can be preventative, while physical therapy and post-injury or illness exercises can help you regain movement, strength, and mobility in that part of your body. Your physical therapist will help you get started with appropriate exercises for your knee condition, showing your proper form and technique, and working out a safe number of repetitions per day.
When to see a Physical Therapist for Knee Pain Relief
If you are having knee pain, have suffered a sports-related injury to your knee area, or your provider has referred you to physical therapy for your injury or illness, your next steps will be setting up an appointment with a licensed physical therapist. At Evolution Physical Therapy, we have locations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Long Island, with specialist PT providers that offer a range of physical therapy services and help to provide you with the treatment, education, and additional support you need on your road to recovery. Reach out to us today, by calling us to set up an appointment at a location near you, or filling out our Request an Appointment form.