Do you suffer from knee pain? If you do, you’re not alone as 25 percent of American adults also have this problem. This condition is not only painful, but it can affect your productivity and ability to enjoy everyday activities. Here’s how physical therapy can help with knee pain, along with the treatments used.

Basic Knee Anatomy

The three bones coming together at the knee joint are the tibia (shin bone), the femur (thigh bone), and the patella (kneecap). Each of these bones are essential components of your knee joint, which is your body’s largest joint as well as the one that’s mostly commonly injured.

There’s also another bone, known as the fibula, that’s located next to the tibia and knee joint. This fourth bone can also play a critical role in some types of knee problems. A smooth cartilage layer covers the tibia, femur and patella at the junction where all these bones connect at your knee joint.

Common Knee Injuries

Knee OA

The knee problem known as knee osteoarthritis (knee OA) is a degenerative, painful condition that involves the wearing down of the cushioning between joints. While some people develop knee OA in only one knee (unilateral OA), others have it in both knees. In most cases, aging is the main factor for getting knee OA, although sometimes it’s caused by injuries or from genetics or being overweight.

Before considering a knee replacement for OA, the first line of treatment is usually physical therapy.  But if you do get a knee replacement, physical therapy is needed after the procedure.

Patellar Tendonitis

The knee injury known as patellar tendinitis, jumper’s knee or tendonitis, commonly occurs in basketball and volleyball players, besides other athletes who do a lot of jumping. You can get this condition even if you don’t do these jumping sports. One way to protect yourself from patellar tendonitis is by doing stretches and warm-ups before exercising, in addition to stretching and cooling down after exercising.

Patellofemoral Syndrome

Also known as runner’s knee, patellofemoral syndrome is a knee problem that involves knee pain around the kneecap or patella, beside the front part of the knee. This knee injury is usually seen in runners, basketball players, and athletes in other sports.

Meniscus Tears

When people say they have a torn knee cartilage, they usually mean they have a meniscus tear. The two rubbery cartilage wedges between the shinbone and the thigh bone are known as the meniscus.

These rubbery cartilage pieces can suddenly tear when engaging in sports, but they can also be torn because of aging. When the cause is the result of aging, it’s known as a degenerative meniscus tear. In the case of a sudden meniscus tear, you can hear or feel a pop in the affected knee, which is followed by pain, tightness and swelling.

Three Main Ways Physical Therapy Helps Knee Pain

The best way to treat knee injuries is by using physical therapy. There are three primary ways that physical therapy helps relieve knee pain.

  • Fortifies muscles that strengthen the knees—By strengthening these muscles, you can spare your knees so that they’re given the help they need.
  • Tones or reinforces the center muscles—Physical therapy helps to strengthen or reinforce your center muscles. This helps your knees to remain in the best position possible without injuring your joints.
  • Reinforces the glute muscles—Consider that it’s the glute muscles and hip muscles that are the main causes for a tendon tear.

Types of Physical Therapies for Knee Pain

Therapists use manual therapies, besides tools and equipment, for addressing knee pain.

  • MFR—Myofascial Release or MFR involves pressure being applied to painful trigger points. Once a spot is found, a therapist keeps pushing on it as the client breathes deeply until most of the pain subsides. Then, the therapist moves on to another painful spot.
  • Joint mobilizations—Physical therapists use joint mobilizations to reduce joint pain. These are small, oscillating movements that are directly applied to the joint that can feel like much like vibrations.
  • Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization—ASTM (assisted soft tissue mobilization) is a somewhat newer therapy where a therapist uses handheld tools for breaking down scar tissue in soft tissues, such as in ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Cupping—This treatment, which is like a deep-tissue massage, involves a clinician placing cups on the skin for creating suction. It’s used for reducing pain and knee swelling, in addition to improving blood flow and relaxation.
  • Knee strengthening exercises—These exercises help in pain relief as well as reduce the likelihood of future injury. Some of the main types of strengthening exercise are leg lifts, wall squats, hamstrings, and curls.
  • ModalitiesThese are treatments, such as heat and cold therapy.
  • Electrical stimulation (e-stim)—This is a therapy using mild electrical pulses for reducing pain and repairing injured muscles and nerve manipulation.
  • Ultrasound therapyThis treatment entails using sound waves for treating runner’s knee and other types of muscle strains. The sound waves used are higher than those of normal human hearing.


You don’t have to continue to live with pain. Physical therapists not only help in treating your pain, but they can also identify other possible impairments, so  future injuries can be prevented. For more information, contact us at Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation or call 570-208-2787.