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The Truth About Knee Pain: 5 Common Myths Explained

By Anna Kilbourn, PT, DPT

Complaints of knee pain bring many people into our physical therapy clinic. Weight-bearing activities such as standing, walking, and running depend on well-functioning knees.

The knee is the largest joint in the body. Many components make up the knee joint, including bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. The complexity of the joint makes it prone to injury.

Despite the frequency of knee injuries, many people have misconceptions about the causes and best management of knee pain.

Myth #1: Strenuous activity, such as running, leads to knee arthritis

Many adults start to worry about their knees as they enter middle age. We often hear that knees will get “worn out” through activity. However, recent research contradicts the “wear and tear” theory.

Being active provides important nutrition and lubrication to your joints through repeated movement. Studies show that strenuous physical activity had no impact on the long-term risk of developing knee arthritis and that running did not increase symptoms for those with knee arthritis. 

In contrast, sedentary lifestyles can cause a variety of health issues. No need to worry that you will wear out your knees - enjoy being active!

Myth #2: Imaging/Scans are required to diagnose the source of knee pain

Often our patients believe that knee injuries require imaging, like X-rays and MRIs, to determine the cause of the pain. 

Traumatic injuries that could result in a tear or fracture, such as during sports or motor vehicle accidents, often require imaging. For most other types of knee pain, waiting for expensive diagnostic testing can delay access to care and increase pain and compensation strategies. 

A physical therapist can assess the knee joint, the surrounding muscles, and any issues in the back or hip that could be leading to knee pain. They will usually be able to determine the source of the issue and develop a treatment plan without any imaging.

Myth #3: Surgery is the best treatment option for knee pain

Well-known knee surgeries such as ACL repairs and total knee replacements have long recovery times. Familiarity with these treatments leads people to believe surgery is the best or most common treatment option for knee pain. However, this is not always the case.

Many less serious conditions also lead to knee pain. Frequently patients complain of pain in the front of the knee near the kneecap, which is called patellofemoral pain. Physical therapy often successfully addresses this pain and other common knee issues without surgery. 

To find out more about how physical therapy can help with kneecap pain, read this article.

Myth #4: If you have knee pain, you need to rest until the pain is gone

Severe pain typically does require rest to improve. For mild to moderate pain, movement helps decrease symptoms, especially low-impact activities such as biking, walking, or water aerobics.

Prolonged rest reduces the ability of the knee joint to tolerate load or strain. This makes returning to activity more difficult, potentially leading to more flare-ups. Instead, build up activity gradually and monitor pain levels. A physical therapist can guide you through this process with an individualized treatment program. 

People with knee arthritis need to be especially thoughtful about managing their activity level without becoming sedentary. To learn more about exercising with arthritis, check out this article.

Myth #5: Knee pain is normal and unavoidable

Many different factors can cause knee pain. Our patients sometimes feel overwhelmed before coming to physical therapy and conclude that they need to put up with their pain. Our expert clinicians at FYZICAL - Forest Grove are here to help you feel better! 

Contact us to hear more about how we can help with your knee pain.

Anna Kilbourn, PT, DPT is a freelance writer and physical therapist.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Chang AH, Lee J, Chmiel JS, Almagor O, Song J, Sharma, L. Association of long-term strenuous physical activity and extensive sitting with incident radiographic knee osteoarthritis. JAMA Netw Open 2020;3(5): e204049.

Lo GH, Musa SM, Driban JB, Kriska AM, McAlindon TE, Souza RB, Petersen NJ, Storti KL, Eaton CB, Hochberg MC, Jackson RD, Kwoh CK, Nevitt MC, Suarez-Almazor ME. Running does not increase symptoms or structural progression in people with knee osteoarthritis: data from the osteoarthritis initiative. Clin Rheumatol 2018;37(9): 2497-2504.