Many patients try treatments such as heat/cold packs, medications, rest, or surgery prior to visiting a physical therapist. Often, these treatments are not sufficient in healing the knee injury since they typically don’t fix the cause of the injury.
Your physical therapist can provide you a solution that prevents the knee problems from reoccurring.
You’ll undergo a physical exam during your initial visit so that your physical therapist can check for swelling or signs of physical deformity.
Range of Motion Test
Your physical therapist will guide you through movements and stretches that test your range of motion. Pain-causing knee stiffness is often due to poor range of motion in the knee or other areas in the body.
A goniometer (which is like a ruler for joints) might be pressed gently against your skin to measure your joints’ range of motion.
Functional & Muscular Strength Tests
Functional and muscular strength tests reveal how well you can physically function with your injury. You will perform various types of physical activities during these tests.
One way that your physical therapist may test your strength is to have you push inwards or outwards with your leg into his or her hands.
You will perform functional and muscular strength tests during the initial visit and routinely throughout your physical therapy program to assess the progression of healing.
Here’s a quick example of how a Doctor of Physical Therapy will try to detect the root cause of your knee injury or pain:
How Your Physical Therapist Will Detect the Cause of Your Knee Condition
Your physical therapist will use information from the initial questions and tests along with his or her observations to accurately detect the cause of your knee condition.
Often, knee conditions are not caused directly by injury in the knees themselves, but from issues in other parts of the body (such as poor mobility in the feet/ankles or weak muscles in the hips). This fact makes it tricky for non-physical therapists to diagnose and treat knee conditions.
Common Knee Conditions (& Their Symptoms) Treated by Physical Therapists
Below are some of the most common knee conditions treated by physical therapists.
Do you have any of the symptoms? A physical therapist will ensure you have a treatment plan that is specific to your condition and lifestyle.
ACL Tears (aka Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears) occur most frequently during sports that involve jumping and rapidly changing directions (such as soccer, basketball, and football).
Athletes who suffer an ACL tear during sport usually hear a loud pop combined with immediate instability and pain in the knee, causing them to fall and grab their knee.
Signs & Symptoms of ACL Tears
- A loud “popping” sensation in the knee coupled with pain and instability
- Severe pain and inability to pursue physical activity
- Rapid swelling around the knee
- Loss of range of motion in the knee area
- A lack of stability when bearing weight on the affected leg
Knee arthritis is a condition where the knee cartilage of the knee joint gradually wears away. Once the cartilage wears away complete, the underlying bone is exposed and can develop bony spurs that may cause knee stiffness, swelling, pain, clicking, or grating.
Signs & Symptoms of Knee Arthritis
- Knee pain that occurs gradually and feels worse with long periods of inactivity (such as immediately upon waking up)
- Knee pain that feels worse with weight-bearing activities such as walking/running, going up or downstairs, kneeling, and squatting
- Knee stiffness
- Knee swelling
- Warmth around the knee
- Feeling of weakness in knees and muscles around the knees
Knee Meniscus Tear
A knee meniscus tear is a common knee injury among active adults and athletes. Sports that involve twisting, tackling, or suddenly changing directions put athletes at a higher risk of developing knee meniscus tears. Arthritis and aging can also increase the risk of knee meniscus tears.
Signs & Symptoms of a Knee Meniscus Tear
- Pain when walking/running long distances
- Popping, especially when climbing up or down stairs
- Giving away or buckling
- Locking (which occurs when the tear folds in on itself and blocks the full range of motion of the knee joint)
If the muscles surrounding the knee are weak, you may experience pain and discomfort that can prevent you from completing your normal activities. Knee joints bear a lot of our body weight, so normal activities can cause wear-and-tear that lead to weak muscles around the knees.
Some of the most common causes of knee weakness include arthritis, strains, sprains, torn cartilage, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Signs & Symptoms of Knee Weakness
- Pain in and around the knee
- Pain that worsens with activity, especially ones that require a repetitive bearing of weight such as walking, running, or going up and down stairs
- Feeling of instability and weakness in and around the knee