One of the most transforming benefits of physical therapy is its ability to help heal your knee pain. This process is done naturally in order to support you in successfully getting back to normal day-to-day activities. Knee pain is one of the top five issues our team diagnoses. This is not surprising, since it affects approximately 25 percent of adults in the United States alone. Most people experience this type of discomfort. Oftentimes, they experience tears to the meniscus that cushions the joints between the knee, as well as from general cartilage tears and osteoarthritis, which is a wearing down of your cartilage.
Aging, obesity, and sports injuries are all leading culprits that lead to life-altering joint pain of the knee. Some common symptoms include:
- Tenderness and swelling
- Knee buckling
- Joint stiffness
- Clicking or popping during movement
- Feelings of warmth around the joint
- Knee locking and reduced mobility
How to Reduce Knee Pain without Medicine
There’s a simple healing method you can use to help alleviate your knee pain, avoid costly medications, and mitigate the need for knee replacement surgery. Take a look at the power of Resting, Icing, Compressing, and Elevating to help reduce your discomfort and begin your journey back to a strong, healthy knee.
The RICE Method
1. R – Rest
Your body’s natural alarm system is pain. It is designed to notify you when it’s time to take a break from physical activity and exercise in order to recover. That’s why doctors recommend staying off your knee and avoiding twisting or turning it for at least a day or two once symptoms start.
After a few days, it’s important to try to put weight on your knee again, and move a little in order to test your level of recovery. Muscles lose 25-30 percent of their strength within a few weeks, which averages out to about two percent per day. For this reason, it’s important to find a balance between rest and reconditioning your knee through movement and physical therapy. Some injuries may take longer to heal and can benefit from reduced activity for a week or two.
2. I – Ice
Icing your knee with an ice pack (or a bag of frozen vegetables) can help decrease inflammation and swelling by lowering blood flow to the area. It also helps lower your nerve cell activity to the region to provide pain relief. Be sure to wrap a dish towel or other thin cloth around the pack to avoid frostbite. Furthermore, ice the area for approximately 15-20 minutes every two to three hours.
3. C – Compression
While placing ice on your knee offers some light compression, wrapping an elastic bandage around the joint or using a knee compression sleeve is recommended in between icing sessions. This further decreases edema (swelling), which can assist with flexibility once you start moving again. Try not to wrap the bandage too tight to avoid completely cutting off blood flow. Furthermore, loosen it if the area starts turning blue, cold, or numb. It’s usually recommended to use compression for two to three days.
4. E – Elevation
Elevating your knee joint while you’re resting also helps decrease swelling and inflammation in the mid-to-lower leg region. It’s best to lay down and raise your leg above your heart so that blood flow is decreased to the area. You can use a pillow or another soft, supportive device to prop your knee up. If your pain and swelling continue past the first week or two, be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner.
Physical Therapy for Knee Pain
Once you feel like you can put pressure on your knee again, it’s important to work on regaining your strength in order to avoid re-injury or further deterioration of the joint’s supportive connective and cushioning fibers. Using a walking aid can be beneficial when you first begin physical activity so that your full weight isn’t on the knee. It’s also important to seek help from a physical therapist for a personalized treatment plan, which should include a strategy to help with:
- Pain relief, such as administering ultrasound massage
- Flexibility, such as recommending stretching exercises
- Strengthening, such as providing moves that build muscle in areas around your knee
Your physical therapist will conduct a full evaluation of your knee and leg to determine the exact location and extent of your pain. This could include balance, strength, swelling, and gait tests, as well as range of motion assessments. In many cases of sub-acute (moderate) knee pain, exercise will be the main modality used to guide your recovery.
A Return to Activity
Once your physical therapist designs a well-rounded recovery plan, it’s time to move into the final phase of your healing journey. During this stage, you’ll perform gentle exercises in order to improve your knee’s strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
Why Exercising Maximizes Your Recovery
Exercises that strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip, and gluteus muscles help reduce stress on your knee joint. These include squats, hamstring curls, and front and side leg raises. These moves, the stretches that target these muscles, and exercise, in general, all have some key benefits for your knee health:
- They improve fluid movement around your joints. This provides lubrication so your bones can move past each other smoothly to help protect cartilage and reduce pain
- They decrease cartilage degradation by dampening the inflammatory response, which also decreases pain levels
- They show promise for helping “switch on” genes that can assist you with repairing your joints
Remember when exercising during your recovery phase, try to use smooth, fluid motions and avoid activities that cause distress to your knee. If you or anyone you know is dealing with painful knee issues, we encourage you to reach out to us today at Cawley Physical Therapy, at (570)-208-2787.