Do you need physical therapy for knee pain? What does PT for knee pain entail? Learn about it in this guest post from Physical Therapist Daniel Shapiro of Project Physical Therapy.
Physical therapy for knee pain includes a comprehensive examination and assessment of your whole lower body from your hip to your feet. Your therapist can assess your knee pain and prescribe the right treatments– including stretches, workouts, and modalities– to help reduce your knee pain and enhance your general mobility.
Anatomy of the Knee
The human knee is a hinge joint that consists of the femur and the tibia. The patella, or kneecap, lies in the front of the knee. Four ligaments support the knee. There are two “shock absorbers” on each knee called a meniscus found within the knee.
Discomfort in the knee can be triggered by repetitive trauma, pressure, or injury. Sometimes it happens for no evident reason or cause. When knee discomfort happens, you may experience various limitations that include difficulty walking, getting up from a sitting position, or climbing up and coming down the stairs.
What Type of Knee Pain Do You Have?
If you experience knee discomfort, it is imperative to figure out if the pain is acute, sub-acute, or chronic. This can help assist correct diagnosis and treatment.
- Acute Pain: This is usually the most serious and takes place 1-7 days after injury. Throughout this time, you must rest the knee and let your injury recover before initiating any movement.
- Sub-Acute Pain: This occurs somewhere 2-6 weeks after an injury. This can be a good time to initiate gentle movements around the knee to help restore mobility.
- Chronic Knee Pain: Pain enduring greater than 8-12 weeks. Your healthcare provider must examine knee pain that is persistent.
Place of Knee Pain Symptoms
The place of your knee discomfort can help determine which parts of the knee are responsible for the pain and can help make sure the appropriate area is treated. Remember to check with your doctor, physiotherapist, or knee specialist if your symptoms are severe or last more than a couple of weeks.
- Pain in the Front of the Knee: If you feel pain in the front of the knee, the problem could be with the kneecap’s tracking and position. This is typically called patellofemoral stress syndrome (PFSS). The kneecap and the tendon between the kneecap and the shin might be swollen and unpleasant. Pain here generally restricts the ability to kneel, climb up or down the stairs, or run and jump.
- Pain on the Inside of the Knee: If you have pain on the inside of your knee, there is probably an injury to the medial meniscus or medial collateral ligament. These structures are typically hurt during vigorous exercise when the foot is set on the ground, and the body twists over the knee. Because the medial meniscus is a shock absorber, it can struggle with wear and tear.
- Pain on the Outside of the Knee: Pain on the outside part of your knee can be the outcome of injury to numerous structures. Pain here can also be triggered by the iliotibial band (ITB) tension. The ITB is a thick band of tissue that runs from the exterior of your hip to the front of your knee. The ITB can rub unusually on the knee as it crosses the knee, and a burning discomfort can follow.
- Pain in the Back of the Knee: Pain in the back of the knee is unusual, but it can take place. It’s connected to the hamstring tendon, and discomfort here is most likely due to something going on in the hamstring. Another possible cause of discomfort here is a Baker’s cyst. This is an irregular swelling of the knee joint that occupies an area in the back of the knee and causes pain when there is excessive bending of the knee.
Immediately follow the R.I.C.E. concept if you are experiencing severe knee pain. R.I.C.E. stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. After a few days of R.I.C.E., you can start using the leg, only gently.
If knee discomfort continues for more than 2-3 weeks, you should go to a doctor, physical therapist, or another healthcare provider to see if there is a serious injury that requires additional care.
What You Can Expect From Physical Therapy for Knee Pain
The preliminary visit is important to guarantee appropriate diagnosis and proper management if you are referred to physical therapy for knee discomfort. During this visit, your physical therapist will interview you to collect details about the history of your issue, how long it’s been bothering you, and about any past case history that may contribute to the overall issue.
From the information collected in this initial evaluation, a focused plan will be created and carried out. The evaluation might consist of several tests including, but not limited to:
- Gait Evaluation: An assessment of how you are walking. Physiotherapists are trained to observe small changes in the movement around the knee during various phases of walking.
- Palpation: This includes utilizing the hands to touch different parts of the knee to feel for problems or to examine if a particular area is painful to touch.
- Range of Motion Measurements: Range of motion basically means how far the knee can bend or straighten. The physical therapist may use special instruments to gauge how your knee is moving to help direct treatment.
- Strength Measurements: There are many muscles around the knee, and a measurement of strength can assist a recovery plan if there is muscle weakness or imbalance that is causing your knee pain.
- Assessment of Your Balance: If your balance is impaired, excessive tension and pressure might be directed to your knee and trigger pain.
- Girth or Swelling Measurements: Occasionally, swelling might be present in the knee joint after injury. A physical therapist may determine the amount of swelling which will help direct proper treatment.
- Special Tests: There are a variety of other special tests that can be done throughout the knee to help identify which structure might be causing you pain.
PT Treatment for Knee Pain
After a full assessment has been finished, your physical therapist can work with you to start the right treatment. Often, exercises to help improve the movement and enhance various parts of the knee will be recommended.
Depending on your diagnosis, workouts may be your primary tool for treating your knee pain.
Workouts to help your knee pain may include:
- Quad sets and straight leg raises.
- Short arc quads.
- Exercises to strengthen your glutes and hips. These muscles can affect your stability and the position of your knees. Weak point here might trigger discomfort or pain in your knees.
- Lower extremity stretches.
- Balance workouts.
Your PT will inform you how frequently to perform your exercises in your home, and she or he should monitor your progress when you go to visit the Physical therapy clinic in person or online. He or she might also perform other treatments in addition to making sure you’re doing your exercises correctly. These might include:
- Manual Therapy
- Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)
- Soft tissue massages or knee joint mobilization.
Please note that passive treatments like ultrasound or electric stimulation have not been proven to be the most reliable treatment for knee pain. They might feel great, but your focus with your physical therapist ought to be on restoring mobility. You should discuss the total objective of each treatment so you know exactly what to anticipate.
If knee discomfort continues for more than two to three weeks or happens as the outcome of significant injury, please visit your doctor or healthcare provider. Depending on where you live, you might be able to see a physical therapist right away without a doctor referral.
Some final thoughts…
The knee is a critical joint in the body responsible for walking, climbing up/down the stairs, and moving around all day. Pain in the knee can often limit all of these activities and even stop you from doing daily activities you love.
By accurately communicating your pain and your goals with your physical therapist, you’ll be able to stay mobile and strong for a long time. Problems with knee pain can be prevented, and you can often recover from knee pain without the use of painkillers, steroid injections, or surgery.
That’s it, friends! I hope you learned a bit more about how you can benefit from physical therapy for knee pain if it’s something you’re experiencing. Be sure to check out Dr. Shapiro’s website at https://projectphysicaltherapy.com/.