Knee pain is a great excuse for not exercising. I'm sure every PT will tell you that it's one of the most-used reasons for cancelling out on the gym.
It is true that some types of knee pain can be caused or made worse by exercise, but not everything you see or hear about knee pain and exercise is true.
Let me bust some of the most common myths about the dangers of exercising with a sore knee.
1. Knee pain = knee injury
Nope! Sometimes knee pain is just caused by muscle weakness/tightness around the knee. Sometimes it's a bruise. Sore yet uninjured knees are very common for people who are new to exercise or haven't exercised in a long time. Exercise with an uninjured knee (even if it is sore) is 100% totally safe. Exercise won't make the pain worse, and exercise won't turn the pain into an injury.
2. If you have a sore knee (due to injury) you shouldn't exercise at all — it could make it worse!
This is a grey-area. Some internal knee injuries, like a torn ACL, could develop into a full-blown ACL rupture if you exercise on it, but most injuries are safe to exercise on. At least one injury — Patellofemoral Pain Disorder (PFPD) actually gets better faster if you exercise on it. It all boils down to this: get a diagnosis, then follow professional advice.
3. Running is the worse exercise to do if you have a knee injury
This one actually stands. Running, although lots of fun, does cause and exacerbate many different types of knee injury. If you want to run with a dodgy knee, stick to something low-impact like an elliptical machine. Interestingly the one injury that I hear linked to running the most is osteoarthritis, but running actually works to prevent osteoarthritis!
4. Once your knees are injured, you either get surgery or they're injured for life.
In very specific (and very serious) cases, this is true. If you fully rupture your ACL, it won't heal without surgery, but most knee injuries are treatable without surgery. Musculo-tendino injuries are simple enough to treat with conservative methods. Even some milder joint pathologies, like osteoarthritis of the knee can be treated by conservative methoods. The only way to be sure is to get a diagnosis and discuss treatment options with a professional.
5. The only exercises that don't strain your knees are cycling and swimming.
Although it is true that cycling and swimming don't strain your knees, it is not true that they are the only exercises that don't strain your knees. If done correctly, weight-lifting puts no stress through the knee, elliptical trainers puts very little strain through the knee, even walking puts very little strain on the knee.
If you want more information on knee pain, email me directly via the contact page. If you want specific information about your own injury or if you're after treatment for an injury, contact one of my clinics directly to make an appointment. Details of those clinics can be found here.
Dr Mitch Clark