Knee pain is one of the most common reasons that medical care is sought out. Whether it’s due to repetitive stresses to the surrounding structures or caused by a sudden injury to the knee joint, almost everyone has experienced some sort of pain in the knee area. It’s no surprise that pain in the knee is a frustrating injury that can significantly impact one’s ability to participate in sports and other daily activities. When knee aggravation is present, the first key to treatment is to pinpoint the source and reason for the pain.

Where is my knee pain coming from?

Sudden or Acute Injuries: Pain in the knee can be a result of a sudden or acute injury like quickly changing directions, pivoting, or twisting the foot. These types of injuries typically result in a quick onset of pain and are accompanied by swelling. Examples of sudden or acute injuries are knee sprains, strains or tears to the ligament or tendons (ACL or MCL), tears to the meniscus (the cushion of the knee joint) or bruising and fractures of the bones making up the knee, including the patella, the lower end of the femur, or the upper end of the tibia.

Repetitive Movements/Stress Injuries: Other instances of knee pain may come from repetitive movements/stress to the structures around the knee. Performing the same activity over and over with incorrect form can easily result in an injury. Current research calls this type of pain “anterior knee pain” but it is regularly known by many other names: runner’s knee, IT band syndrome, and patellofemoral syndrome. Stress injuries often result in pain significant enough to force the suffering individual to avoid sports and other strenuous activities altogether.

There is actually a strong connection between anterior knee pain and a weakness in the hip which causes the inability to maintain proper alignment of the leg during sports and other demanding activities.

How does my hip strength affect my knee?

When the knee collapses inward during squatting, jumping, running, or going up/down the stairs, it can create irritation of the patella (kneecap) and abnormal stresses to the structures surrounding the knee. The hip muscles are responsible for controlling the alignment of the femur (thigh) and for preventing an inward collapse of the knee. When the hip musculature isn’t strong enough to prevent the knee from knocking inward, anterior knee pain is likely to occur over time.

When should I seek treatment for knee pain?

Try this quick test at home: If you experience knee pain or if you’re worried that activities you participate in may lead to injury down the line, it’s a good idea to check your hip strength.

1. Stand on one leg in front of a mirror and keep your eyes on your knee.
2. Hop up and down a few times, paying attention the whether your knee stays over your foot or if it “dances” elsewhere.

Does it move inward? Outward? Back and forth? Are you able to control your knee in space as you land? If you find that your knee is wiggling rather than staying steady, it’s a good idea to seek out treatment.

How can a physical therapist help me with my knee pain?

Research shows that strengthening the hip musculature and correcting body mechanics can eliminate knee pain. Physical therapists are experts of biomechanical movement and are able to evaluate the areas of weakness responsible for your pain. They may incorporate other key factors into your treatment, such as:

Manual therapy to target structures around the knee to provide proper mobility and tissue healing
Custom exercises to properly strengthen the hip/glute muscles
Neuromuscular reeducation for key muscles to assist with proper alignment of the leg

Physical therapists can provide the necessary tools to prevent and/or treat anterior knee pain, allowing you to return to your favorite activities pain-free and better than ever! To learn more about how to prevent knee pain injuries or to eliminate any current discomfort, book a physical therapy assessment today.

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Video: Common Symptoms and Treatment of Anterior Knee Pain

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