Knee osteoarthritis and physiotherapy

Exploring how proper care and treatment can affect knee osteoarthritis

If you suffer from knee damage or pain, everyday movements like walking, kneeling, jogging, or other day-to-day activities can cause distress, discomfort, and potentially further damage to the joint.

So how do you deal with knee osteoarthritis?

This article will explain what knee osteoarthritis is, the types and locations of pain, different contributors to knee pain, and how physiotherapy can help.

Read More: Strains vs. Sprains and How Chiro Helps Both Injuries

Learn more about physiotherapy treatment here.

What is osteoarthritis of the knee?

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis in the knee. Also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis, this injury happens after the gradual but continual loss of cartilage in the knee area. Osteoarthritis most often affects people 50 years of age and older, but it can happen to younger people, too. As the disease advances, the condition can become extremely painful.

What makes the knee joint unique and prone to injury?

The knee is a hinge joint made up of three major bones—the tibia (shinbone), femur (thighbone), and patella (kneecap). Attaching the bones are muscles, ligaments and tendons. It’s quite a delicate area that has a limited range of motion. Plus, the knee typically supports a lot of weight and assist in a lot of daily movement. For example, walking, jumping, sitting down and standing up all engage the knee joint. This can cause a lot of strain, and the area’s limited range of motion makes the knee prone to injury.

3 Types of knee pain

  • Acute – Pain that occurs 1-7 days after injury
  • Sub-acute – Pain that occurs from 2-6 weeks after injury
  • Chronic – Pain that lasts longer than 8-12 weeks
Read more: 8 Signs It May Be Time for Physiotherapy

Location of knee pain

Knee pain is most commonly experienced in these areas:

The front of the knee

Pain here usually limits the ability to kneel, ascend or descend.

The inside of the knee

This pain is most common in athletes, but occasionally, people who aren’t athletes can experience pain in this area from daily wear-and-tear.

The outside of the knee

Pain on the outside of your knee can be the result of injury to many of the internal structures, most commonly the IT Band.

The back of knee

Pain in the back of the knee is rare. It could be the result of a cyst or a hamstring strain, as the hamstring attaches to one of the knee’s tendons.

What contributes to knee pain?

Many conditions and injuries can lead to knee pain, like:

  • Muscle strains
  • Tendinopathy
  • Knee bursitis
  • Ligament sprains
  • Meniscal injuries
  • Lumbar Radiculopathy
  • Degenerative Changes
  • Chondromalacia Patella
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

How does physiotherapy for knee arthritis work?

Physiotherapy is a common recommendation for treating osteoarthritis. During this visit, your physical therapist will interview you to gather information about the history of your problem, what aggravates and alleviates the pain and about any past medical history that may contribute to the overall problem. During the assessment, your therapist may ask you to do light exercises like stand on one leg, walk or jump so that they can better understand your range of motion and the extent of your injury.

After your assessment and diagnosis, your therapist will come up with a treatment plan. They’ll discuss ways to rebuild the strength and movement in your leg and knee, so you can heal properly. You’ll start to work on making your muscles stronger and improving the form of some of your daily activities, which takes some of the stress off your knee. Your therapist will give you exercises to do at home and show you how to practice them safely.  They may also recommend you use crutches, a walker, or orthopedics while you work to recover.

Read more: 11 Benefits of Physiotherapy That Lead to Improved Wellbeing

Passive treatment methods

There are many ways to treat osteoarthritis. Two of the more common ways are through passive and active therapy methods. Passive options are typically external treatments to the body that you receive, such as:

Heat therapy

Heat therapy increases blood flow to decrease stiffness in the knee joints and muscles surrounding the knee. One example of heat therapy is placing a warm heating pad on your knee joint to promote circulation.

Cold therapy

Cold therapy can help decrease swelling. For example, placing a cold compress on your knee joint.


Hydrotherapy uses warm water to decrease your knee osteoarthritis symptoms. Warm water can help to loosen your stiff muscles, which will help to ease pain and facilitate movement. Some therapists may even recommend doing some light exercises in the water.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is an effective, non-invasive treatment for arthritis that uses low-level light to help reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain to affected joints.s

Active treatment methods

Active treatment methods typically refer to therapy that is happening inside the body. Active therapy occurs when the patient is directly and actively involved in the treatment.

Some examples include:

Strengthening exercises

Your physical therapist will show you certain exercises that you can do at home to strengthen your muscles. Working out muscles in the leg can help make your knee joints stronger. Strengthening these muscles alone can help decrease the pain of knee OA.

Flexibility exercises

Because knee OA often makes it hard to move, flexibility exercises are very important. Doing them regularly can help increase range of motion, make your knees more flexible, and restore normal knee joint function.

Ultrasound therapy

Ultrasound therapy uses sound waves to treat medical problems, especially inflammation from injuries.  Ultrasounds can produce heat in deep tissues, which can help to increase circulation and promote healing.

Electric stimulation

Electrical stimulation is a type of therapy that uses electrical pulses to encourage muscle movement. Mild electrical currents target either muscles or nerves and send them signals which force them to contract. The repeated contractions improve blood flow and help to heal injuries.

The Takeaway

If you suffer from osteoarthritis, physical therapy can help to reduce the pain, swelling, and stiffness of knee osteoarthritis and it can help improve knee joint function. But remember, healing from an injury is an ongoing process, it won’t happen overnight. The most important thing is to be patient with your result and to listen to your body throughout the process.

Johanne Gordon - Registered Physiotherapist

Johanne is an experienced, fluently bilingual physiotherapist who graduated in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science in physiotherapy with magna cum laude honours from the University of Ottawa.

Recent Blog Posts

Healing Power of Chiropractic Adjustments for Lower Back Pain

Let’s explore the transformative effects of chiropractic adjustments. Shedding light on the science behind our techniques and the real-life stories of patients who have found relief through our personalized care.

Read more

Chiropractor or Physiotherapist – Which is Best?

In this blog from Elysian Wellness Centre, we’ll explore the differences between these two professions, helping you make an informed choice based on your unique needs.

Read more

How Much Does Physiotherapy Cost in Ontario?

In this blog from Elysian Wellness Centre, we’ll unravel the mystery behind the cost of physiotherapy, giving you a sneak peek into what to expect in Ontario and helping you make an informed decision for a healthier, happier you.

Read more

Top 10 Cold Plunge Benefits

In this blog, the team at Elysian Wellness will dive into the intriguing world of cold plunge benefits, where each shiver-packed immersion offers a unique set of advantages.

Read more

What is IV Therapy & How Does it Work?

In this blog, the team at Elysian Wellness Centre will unravel the mystery behind IV therapy, exploring the intricate process, the diverse options available, and the compelling reasons for why it’s gaining popularity.

Read more