Overcoming Knee Stiffness

Knee tightness or stiffness in one or both knees is a common issue that we see at our physical therapy office in Greenville, South Carolina. Tightness in the knee can be caused by injuries, mechanical problems, or physical stressors on your knees like extra weight.  Knee tightness is especially likely if there is a history of a knee injury or arthritis.  After-effects of surgery are another common reason for knee stiffness.

When the knee is stiff, people tend to report pain and discomfort with positions that require the knee to bend fully.  These include kneeling, squatting, and getting up and down from low positions.  In addition, if the knee is stiff, it may not straighten all the way.  This could result in pain when walking, running, and going up and down steps.  Since the normal walking pattern may be affected, pain may develop in the low back or hips.

In our physical therapy office, the first recommendation that we usually make is to take a short break from any aggravating activity. This allows for an environment for acute inflammation to settle down pain to subside. While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.

In many cases, knee stiffness can be attributed to the weakness in the muscles of the thigh and lower leg (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves).  When these muscles are weak at their end ranges, the body may tense and tighten these muscles to help stabilize the knee.  This will result in a feeling of stiffness.  Therefore, targeted strengthening must be performed to restore stability of the muscles around the knee.

In addition, imbalances at the core, hips, and ankles can influence movement (e.g. squat, step, lunge).  Repetitive movement in the presense of these imbalances could irritate the knee.   The result could be fluid accumulation and a feeling of pain or stiffness. 

However, the only way to know what is contributing to knee stiffness is to perform a complete assessment.

When painful areas are found via the assessment, our approach includes performing hands on therapy to make improvements in pain.  For our virtual sessions, we teach our patients how they can perform hand-on techniques on themselves.  Pain improvements can be made quickly with targeted joint or tissue work.

If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is developing core and lower body strength.  We teach our patients how to squat, lunge, twist, and hinge without pain.  When performed with good technique and without pain, theses exercises can be powerful for developing strength and achieving lasting results.

When addressed with a comprehensive plan of care, knee stiffness can be overcome.  However, repetitive activity with poor mechanics may result stiffness that persists and a decline in knee health.  If you feel like your knee is stiff and you want help, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource. 

We offer a free guide on knee pain so you can learn more about commong knee problems and kickstart your recovery.  We also offer a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your knee is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.  If you want to be certain that we’re a good fit to work together, we encourage you to apply for a free Discovery Visit.  This is a 30-minute consultation for you to to ask questions, obtain clarity, and foster confidence that we can help you.

If your knee is stiff or painful and you’re unsure about your next steps, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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