Knee pain? Top three causes and what to do about it.

Knee pain is one of the most common complaints that brings people into our office.

Since most of our clients are in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, they start to really worry that knee pain could bring an end to their active lifestyle. But that doesn’t have to be the case! The good news is that unless you’ve had some serious trauma (like a major accident or fall), 80% of all knee problems can be resolved without any kind of procedure or surgery – and most importantly – you can learn how to continue managing them on your own so that they never get in the way of your favorite activities again.

Sound too good to be true?

It’s not – I promise – but the first step is figuring out where your knee pain is coming from. Once you know that, you can get on the right path to resolve it.

Here are three of the most common causes I see that make people suffer from knee pain and what you can do about them:

1. Iliotibial band syndrome

This is a very common problem that typically affects runners, avid walkers, and hikers. It is often misdiagnosed and confused with patellofemoral syndrome (see below). Your iliotibial band (IT band) is a very large thick band on the side of your knee that will often get overworked due to a muscular imbalance elsewhere in your body (usually your hips and core). When this happens, you’ll feel pain that is on the side of your knee that is usually very sore and tender to touch, and typically sharp and stabbing versus achy. It will impact you most when you’re going downhill or down the stairs.

It’s important to note that even though a tight, and painful IT band is the structure causing you to have pain – it is typically a symptom of an underlying problem. Like I said before, IT band problems are usually the result of your core and hips not stabilizing your pelvis properly – which ultimately results in your knee not receiving the support it needs when you’re running, walking, or hiking.

Getting rid of the actual pain is the easy part… in our office we use things like dry needling, soft tissue work, and sometimes even some taping. But if you want to keep the pain gone – you MUST address the underlying causes as well. This is what a lot of people miss. We love using Pilates-based exercises in our office because they not only target your core, but also get your muscles working in a coordinated, symmetrical fashion, helping to keep things balanced as you get back to your favorite activities.

2. Patellofemoral Knee syndrome

This problem is very similar to IT band syndrome, with just a few key differences. This first is that it can impact almost anyone – not just runners, hikers, and walkers. You’ll also experience the pain in the front of your knee – typically under your kneecap – and it will tend to be more achy than sharp. This problem will often come on very slowly and can be more chronic than its IT band cousin. You’ll feel this more when you’re going up stairs, up hills, and with squatting. You’ll also notice stiffness and pain in the front of your knee after sitting awhile – that usually will go away once you start moving.

Much like IT band syndrome – these are all symptoms of an underlying cause. A weak core and hips can cause this problem too, but I usually see more weaknesses in glutes and hamstrings with this one. When the backs of your hips and legs aren’t kicking in like they should, it can result in tight hip flexors or quads. This is a super common culprit for patellofemoral syndrome. So once again, you can get rid of the pain quite easily in most cases, but you must make sure to determine – and address – the root cause so that you can keep this pain gone for good.

3. Osteoarthritis

Many people hear that they have osteoarthritis in their knee and think there isn’t anything they can do about it. Not true!! Arthritis is often blamed for knee problems but it isn’t always the cause of what you’re feeling… Let me explain….

When arthritis is the true cause and culprit for your knee problem, it will be painful and stiff all the time. You’ll lack significant mobility and it will be almost impossible to walk and bear weight without support or a cane. When this is truly your problem – you are a great candidate for total knee replacement surgery. Now here’s the catch… sometimes your X-ray or MRI will show that you have terrible arthritis or that you have “bone-on-bone”… but that doesn’t mean you need to rush to surgery! Your symptoms should really decide that.

If your pain comes and goes (meaning you have good days and bad days), if you can walk around most days and go up and down the stairs and your knee just “catches”, or maybe you feel stiff a lot but this eases up with movement – you might have arthritis in your knee but it is not the root cause of your knee problem. Because here’s a hint – arthritis does NOT come and go – but other common musculoskeletal problems can. When your pain comes and goes, you know it can’t be entirely from arthritis.

So what should you do?

With arthritis, whether it’s partially to blame, or whether it’s just something that shows up on the X-ray and gets blamed… we still need to look at the surrounding structures and root cause of the problem.

If your quads are really tight, and the muscles around your knee are imbalanced, this can create compressive forces in your knee joint which will exacerbate what might normally just be “mild” arthritis (compression will aggravate arthritis). You could also have weakness or problems in your ankles, feet, or core that are causing your knee to work harder than it needs to. This can cause pain all on its own, OR aggravate your arthritis. The point is, get checked by a musculoskeletal expert – people trained like us – so that instead of just fishing for the problem or only treating symptoms, you are getting to the root cause of your problem and setting yourself up for success!

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may benefit from working with a specialist physical therapist who can help you get back to the activities you love – without pain pills or unnecessary procedures. You can click right here to request a FREE Discovery session with one of our specialists. We’d love to help you figure out the root cause of your knee problem so that you can get back to doing everything you love – instead of spending time in the doctor’s office 🙂

Not quite ready for a solution yet but looking for more information? Request a seat at our next Health and Posture class! It’s totally free and the next topic just happens to be all about hip and knee problems! Figure out if your problem is arthritis, IT band syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome, or something else entirely… with other folks just like you.

How you actually CAN recover from chronic back pain

There’s nothing more discouraging than being in pain and feeling that there’s no way out of it. Back pain is such a common issue, and unfortunately, many people hold onto the mistaken belief that if you have a “bad back” you’re stuck with it for life. Not true!!

It is totally possible to recover from chronic back pain and return to the activities you used to love.

Great news, right? Let’s talk HOW. 

First of all, keep moving.

There are people in healthcare who will tell you to just avoid anything that irritates your back and accept that you can’t be as active as you once were. But what if basically everything triggers back pain? What if your job requires you to be on your feet or you simply want to tie your own shoes or pick up your grandkids? You don’t have to resign yourself to sedentary days spent popping ibuprofen every four hours and missing out on life. Don’t listen to the people who tell you to avoid movement — because in fact, the solution is the exact opposite. Consistent, correct movement heals your body and keeps it from shutting down. If you’re suffering from back pain, it may be a sign that your movement habits are off. You could benefit from working with a specialist physical therapist to retrain your body in how to move properly throughout your day, thus eliminating unnecessary stress on your spine.  

Along the same lines, make sure you educate yourself.

We offer a FREE workshop at our Portsmouth office every month to answer questions from our community, and our next topic is back pain and sciatica! You may feel like surgery and medication are the only options out there for recovery, but in reality they are just two of the less effective strategies for treating back pain. One of our clients, Sean, was dealing with multiple herniated discs and spoke with us on this exact topic. 

“I was considering back surgery until I found CJ Physical Therapy. I walked out of 

therapy with such relief that the thought of surgery was no longer an option. Therapy 

worked so much better than the steroid injection just a few months earlier, that it gave 

me hope of actually being able to feel like I did before the injury a year earlier.”

Nobody wants to get surgery, but if you haven’t been told about any noninvasive therapeutic routes to remedy your pain, surgery may seem like the only option. But time and time again, we have clients come to us with severe back pain and injuries that are often prescribed surgery — and time and time again, they have FULLY recovered through an individually customized program of physical therapy

If you’re dealing with chronic back pain, don’t be afraid to reach out.

We understand if you’re not yet ready to commit to PT — that’s why we offer FREE Discovery Sessions for potential clients. This 30 minute session is a chance for you to speak with one of our specialists and determine for yourself if we’re the best people to help you. It’s a completely free, no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health — whether that’s working with us or not! 

Is Running Bad for Your Knees when you’re Over 50?

This is a question we get asked a lot — especially by clients who are getting older and worried that they won’t be able to keep running into their 50s and 60’s.

The short answer? No!

If you experience knee pain when you run, it’s not that you’ve “aged out” of the sport! It’s probably just a biomechanical issue that can be fixed with proper education and strengthening (best offered by a specialist physical therapist).

In fact, research supports that running may actually be GOOD for your knees!

Here are some factors that could be responsible for knee pain when you run:

1) Poor ankle mobility

Ankle mobility affects the way force hits your foot, which can in turn impact your knee. According to Trail Runner Magazine, “if your ankle can’t move adequately, then excess forces are shifted up to the knee. The knee may be forced to flex, and/or rotate, and/or tilt more than it should. This may result in loads that the tissues of the knee can’t handle.”
A physical therapist can help you improve ankle mobility in order to prevent long term damage to the joints, tendons, and ligaments of your knees. This might be especially important for you if you’ve ever sprained or twisted an ankle in the past!

2) Weakness

There’s a widely perpetuated myth out there that runners don’t need to strength train. That’s simply not true! Adding strength training to your running regimen makes it way less likely that you’ll suffer an injury. When it comes to protecting your knees, developing strong lower limb muscles is critical. The hamstring and quadriceps groups play a crucial role in stabilizing the patella, otherwise known as the kneecap. Running is an extremely repetitive action and consequently requires durability and endurance from your joints — something that is lost quickly when you neglect strength training.

3) Unstable core

It may seem like running is all in the legs, but in reality, every physical action begins at the core. You derive all your power, speed, and stamina from your core muscles, and if they are weak, all your joints suffer — especially your knees. A stable core is key for maintaining balance and rhythm. It also keeps your weight distributed between your legs and prevents undue stress from resting on your knees.
Our favorite way to improve core strength is Pilates! If you are a runner but think you could benefit from a stronger core (let’s be honest, we all could), consider giving it a try — for FREE.

4) Running form

It doesn’t matter if you’re a marathon runner or an occasional jogger — running form is important. It determines where and how the impact of every step is distributed throughout your body. If your body mechanics are compromised — for instance, you’re dragging your feet or running with your shoulders tense and shrugged — you’re more likely to suffer from chronic knee pain, or even experience a serious injury. Work with a movement specialist – like the PT’s in our office – to analyze your form and help you be more efficient when you run.

Running is good for you at any age, if you do it right!

Research shows running can actually slow knee arthritis. According to an article published by Outside Online, “animal models show that exercise promotes cartilage thickening and protects its stretchy properties… instead of wearing down your bearings, running may grease them. That’s key, because cartilage thinning and the loss of elasticity are both prominent causes of osteoarthritis.”

Want to make sure you’re running right? Get in touch!

You can even schedule a FREE Discovery Session if you have chronic knee pain (or any type of pain) to talk about what you’re dealing with and figure out the course of action that works best for you.

New Year — New You — New Pain?

New year, new you, right?

We’re officially in 2019 and it’s a brand new start… You’re excited, you’re motivated, and you’re on your way to achieving your goals for the year. But what happens when back pain hits you? Or your knee starts to hurt? Or your hip starts bothering you? The last thing you want is for your new routine to be disrupted and your progress halted…

So how do you know if the pain you’re experiencing is something to really worry about, or if it’s just a result of your body adjusting to a more active routine? (related: Where is your pain really coming from?)

These FOUR questions will help you clarify the type of pain you’re dealing with, help you figure out what to do about it, and most importantly – prevent “new pains” from getting in the way of your goals in the new year!

1. Does your pain come and go?

If the pain comes and goes, and starts to decrease the more you improve your fitness level, it’s probably just a sign that your body is getting used to your new activities. For example, if you’ve started doing squats for the first time and notice some knee pain when you first begin, you shouldn’t worry unless the pain gets progressively worse as you exercise.

Best practice: Keep an eye on this kind of pain – or download one of our FREE GUIDES – but there’s no urgent need to run to the doctor.

2. Does the pain last after the activity but go away the next day?

If your pain follows a pattern — e.g., your knee pain stays with you for the rest of the day after doing your squat sets but is gone when you wake up the next morning — means your body is trying to tell you something. This type of recurrent pattern is a warning sign that your body isn’t responding correctly to the exercise and could start to incur damage. If you’re experiencing a similar phenomenon, now is the time to make an appointment with a specialist physical therapist. Going to the doctor or orthopedic surgeon would be a less productive path to take, as they will likely send you down a rabbit hole of unnecessary tests and procedures (Do you really need an MRI?). But meeting with a physical therapist before the problem becomes too serious can help you adjust your movement and strengthen the right muscles so that you’re able to continue exercising as planned.

Best practice: Talk to a physical therapy specialist who can analyze your movement and the source of your pain.

3. Is the pain causing you to move differently?

People who ignore pain without seeing a physical therapist often end up here, which leads to a more difficult recovery. They often end up limping, walking “crooked,” modifying movements such as bending over, and moving stiffly. This is a result of your body compensating for the pain initially triggered by the exercise. Such compensations start to cause wear and tear on other areas, which only create more problems down the road.  If you’ve hit this phase – it’s still not too late to get some help.  Working directly with a physical therapy specialist will help you to quickly get rid of your pain and correct the compensations you’ve started to develop – so they don’t get worse.

Best practice: Make an appointment with a physical therapy specialist (at our office your first one is FREE)

4. Is your pain causing you to avoid or stop doing something?

When your pain is stopping you from doing something — whether that be doing squats, running, or picking things up off the floor— it’s a sign that your body is in distress and needs help from a physical therapy specialist, orthopedic specialist, or your doctor. However, I encourage people to seek out a physical therapist first. Traditional doctors typically don’t perform movement tests, relying solely on imaging and procedures to make diagnoses. They’re also more likely to prescribe rest, surgery, or painkillers  — despite the fact that 80-90% of ALL aches and pains can be resolved through corrective exercise and movement strategies administered by a movement expert (such as a specialist physical therapist). If the problem does require further intervention, then a physical therapist can refer you to the appropriate medical specialist.  Most states (including NH) don’t require a prescription to see a physical therapist. You can give us a call and come straight in!

Best practice: See if physical therapy can help FIRST by talking to a specialist and getting an evaluation

The moral of the story is, don’t wait to ask for help! You’re better off being extra-careful and addressing your pain early than waiting for it to become a full blown injury. If you are experiencing pain and/or need any help staying on track with your new movement program, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram and learn more about our services here.

Happy New Year!

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Where is your pain REALLY coming from?

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Don’t assume that where your pain is… is where the problem is!

This is a very common assumption and one that that we’ve been seeing a lot lately. If you watched our most recent Happy Hour on Facebook Live, then you know the story of the young guy who came to us looking for help with his heel pain. I checked out his heel, foot, and leg, but didn’t find any issues that would be causing the pain that he had been experiencing for four years.

I had planned on addressing the heel specifically before examining his back, but when he mentioned that he also felt a lot of tightness from his back into his leg, I decided to check it out. We did a test on his back and when he stood up, he immediately told me that his heel felt better! I was just as surprised as he was.  He was able to walk with less pain and his movement felt better overall. But when he started stretching his calf to his heel again, the pain came right back.

All that stretching he’d been doing day after day – to the area that he thought was the problem – may have actually been doing him more harm than good!

Now, it’s pretty clear that this young client doesn’t have a foot problem – where is pain actually was.  He has a back problem. And that’s something we can work through and fix! But if he never saw a specialist physical therapist like myself, he probably would’ve continued to believe that there was just something irreversibly wrong with his heel, and maybe even limited certain areas of his life, like football and sports, because of that.

Why should this matter to you?

You might not have heel pain or even noticeable back issues, but maybe you have pesky knee pain, a hip that hitches when you walk, or an achy ankle. Maybe you just feel muscle tension that never seems to go away, or weakness performing certain tasks.  These could all be indicators of a problem in your back!  Or somewhere else that just hasn’t been looked at yet, because it doesn’t match the main area of your pain.

If you’ve tried a lot of things and it’s not going away, it’s an indicator that your haven’t found the real source of your problem yet. Especially if you’ve gone to a doctor for pain in another part of your body and they’ve told you that there’s “nothing wrong.” Or maybe you’ve been stretching, massaging, and foam rolling religiously every day – only for it to keep coming back like a vicious cycle.  You might think that by doing this, you’re helping your problem and keeping it from getting worse – and you might be – but you certainly aren’t doing anything to actually address the problem and you aren’t any closer to a real solution. That’s why physical therapists are so important to have as part of your healthcare team – we’re trained to examine and treat the whole person – not just the foot/knee/hip/heel.

Getting Help

We know not everyone is ready to commit to regular physical therapy appointments, and that’s why we offer free Discovery Sessions out of our practice in Portsmouth, NH! All you have to do is fill out this brief form here and we’ll contact you. Discovery Sessions are a great opportunity to talk with a specialist about creating the best plan to get you healthy and feeling your best – without any obligation or commitment.

Feel free to reach out anytime, and be sure to like our Facebook page to stay up to date on Friday Happy Hour videos in the weeks to come!