The 5 Most Common Causes of Knee Pain (and When to see your Physical Therapist)

October 7, 2019

Knee pain can be caused by a number of things, including injury, disease, or overuse. Depending on the severity of knee pain, it can have a big impact on how you’re able to live your life. It can be difficult to walk, play sports, or enjoy time with your family when you face chronic knee pain. Here are the five most common causes of knee pain, and when you should see a Physical Therapist to get knee pain relief.

Runner’s Knee/ IT Band Syndrome

Runners knee is most commonly found in runners but can affect anyone. The cause of runner's knee is weakness in the hip resulting in excessive tightness in the muscles surrounding the knee causing irritation and swelling to the outer aspect if the knee. Physical Therapy is great for this. Physical Therapists can utilize various hands on techniques to restore the motion of the back, hip and knee. After restoration of mobility your Physical Therapist can implement specific exercises for you to maintain your mobility and strength. Specific functional training may also be needed for return to sports.


Patella Tendonitis

Patella Tendonitis is pain that usually occurs to the front of the knee. Often individuals suffering from patella tendonitis have pain going up/down steps and activities that require squatting. The cause is usually due to muscle and joint restrictions causing increased compression on the knee. Just like runner’s knee, the Physical Therapist’s job is to improvement mobility to the hip and knee and prescribe an exercise program to ensure performance of the correct mechanics.



Osteoarthritis (OA) can be broken down into Primary OA and Secondary OA. Primary OA is typically due to a gradual breakdown in the cartilage of the knee joint over time. The most important way to prevent this form of OA is to focus on decreasing the amount of stress to the joint over time. To decease stress on the  knee joint your Physical Therapist will work on increasing muscle length and increasing strength to the surrounding muscles of the hip, back and knee. This will increase the surface area of the joint decreasing the amount of stress caused on one specific area. Eliminating food that may cause inflammation can also assist in decreasing joint deterioration over time. Secondary OA is breakdown of the cartilage by trauma or injury to the knee.  

Ligament Tears/ Sprains

Ligament injury is a fairly common cause of knee pain. The most common form of ligament injury are ACL tears. This often occurs by quick and sudden twisting motions, which are common in sports.

Treating ligament injuries depends on the severity of the damage. Torn ligaments may require surgery while strains and sprains can often be treated with Physical Therapy. The utilization of hands on Physical Therapy to release traumatized muscle in conjunction to functional exercises assists you to getting back to the things you love. Most importantly Physical Therapy can also assist in stability/mobility training in those individuals who are active in to order to prevent such traumatic injuries.  

Dislocated Kneecap

A dislocated kneecap means that the knee cap has been knocked out of position, likely bruising or damaging the tissue around it, and disabling the knee joint until it is fixed. Most doctors have the training needed to properly reset a dislocated knee cap. The knee will likely need a splint or cast to keep it in place and prevent another dislocation while the soft tissue around the cap heals. Once you are out of the splint, your doctor will recommend working with a physical therapist to regain mobility,strength, normalizing walking and various daily activities.


When to See your Physical Therapist

It is important to see your Physical Therapist:

1.   When you are not having resolution of swelling greater than 3-5 days

2.   No resolution of pain with daily and recreational activities greater than 1 week

3.   Unresolved Stiffness of the knee greater than 1 week.

If you have knee pain with an undiagnosed cause, it is time to consult a specialist. Contact Missing Link Physical Therapy at (703) 584-5212 to schedule a free telephone consultation or an appointment to meet with a physical therapist who can learn more about the causes of your knee pain and to develop a plan to treat it.