Joint stiffness, or difficulty moving and extending any joint in your body, can be a common problem, especially as you age. Since our knees bear so much weight and are essential to daily movement, stiffness in your knee can be especially common. While experiencing occasional knee stiffness in the morning or after a bout of physical activity can be normal, experiencing knee stiffness on a regular basis can be concerning and could be a sign of a larger issue.
While it can be easy to discount a stiff knee with no pain as nothing serious, your stiffness can potentially become painful if allowed to progress. As you seek diagnosis and treatment for your knee stiffness, such as attending physical therapy sessions, understanding the possible causes can be helpful.
5 conditions and injuries that can cause a stiff knee without pain
It is common to associate stiffness and immobility with pain, but there are some cases where it can develop independently of pain. Your specific symptoms can point you to the source of your knee stiffness, which may include the following conditions:
- Arthritis — Arthritis is a general term for conditions that inflame or damage your joints, and joint stiffness can be a major indicator of it. Sometimes, stiffness develops before aches and pains, and it often occurs in the mornings or after long periods of inactivity. Depending on the type of arthritis, the fluid and cartilage that protects your joints can degenerate over time, leading to friction and chronic pain. As such, you should seek medical attention as soon as you suspect arthritis in your knee to help you avoid long-term knee damage.
- Muscle tightness — You can experience muscle tightness around your knee due to overuse. This is common among athletes, runners, and workers who stand on their feet for long periods of time. Muscle tightness around your knee can also occur while exercising while using improper form. While not initially serious, muscle tightness can make it more likely that you experience a painful strain, since muscles that are not supple can more easily tear. Muscle tightness around your knee should therefore be addressed early on to avoid strain injuries.
- Ligament injuries — Your ligaments connect bones to each other and play a major role in supporting your joints. If you injured a ligament in your knee via a minor ligament sprain, you may only experience some stiffness at first. However, like other injuries, your ligament can quickly become inflamed and painful if left untreated. Telltale signs of a ligament injury include bruises, swelling and instability. To avoid this outcome, you should treat your stiff knee as soon as you notice a pattern of immobility.
- Tendinitis — Your tendons attach your muscles to your bones. When the tendon in your knee is torn or strained, you can experience symptoms of tendinitis, which may include stiffness. Tendinitis can also cause the muscles surrounding and supporting your knee to lose their strength. In turn, muscle weakness can further increase your risk of worsening your already injured tendon. Since knee tendinitis can develop slowly over time — whether due to repetitive movement or a long period of obesity — it can be important to seek treatment when you notice stiffness.
- Scar tissue buildup — Scar tissue buildup occurs when your body overcompensates while healing. If you sustained a knee injury or surgery a long time ago, it is likely that you have some scar tissue around your knee joint. If your scar tissue buildup is thick enough, it can limit your flexibility and lead to chronic knee stiffness. Physical therapy techniques like soft tissue mobilization can help break up your scar tissue and restore your mobility.
If you are dealing with knee stiffness that has not improved in a short period of time, a physical therapist can help you identify the underlying cause and provide an effective treatment plan. They can work closely with you to develop a customized treatment plan designed to improve flexibility and range of motion in your knee, while promoting long-term health and injury prevention.
Find physical therapy for knee injuries at Armor PT
The expert team at Armor Physical Therapy has years of combined experience in identifying and treating the underlying cause of knee stiffness and other symptoms. When you come to us, we’ll perform a thorough assessment to identify the source of your knee stiffness. We can then work closely with you to develop a customized treatment plan designed to improve flexibility and range of motion in the knee, while promoting long-term health and injury prevention.
Want to learn more about how we can help? Contact us today to schedule your initial appointment.