Can Sports Massage help knee pain?

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Massage for knee pain

Massage for Knee Pain?!

What is Knee Pain?

Knee pain is very common – typically it presents as pain anywhere around or in the knee. It can range from a dull ache to sharp, intense, stabbing pain that makes it difficult for you to move normally. Sometimes the knee can give way or have painful clicking.

What causes Knee Pain?

There are number of different potential causes of pain in the back pain. The type of pain that you get, together with when you get back pain helps us to determine the cause:

  • Patella tracking issues – Pain around the knee cap that is worse with repetitive exercise/activities. May have clicking or jumping sensation when the knee bend/straightens
  • ACL damage – trauma to the soft tissue can be either overuse/repetitive or intense/sudden pain. Often significant instability in the knee afterwards
  • Ligament damage/sprains -Pain after overstretching, overusing or twisting, often during exercise
  • Meniscal injuries – Unstable, gives way when you try to stand, unable to straighten, may hear a popping sound during injury, knee may lock or be unable to bend
  • Tendinitis – Pain normally behind or to the sides of the knee, often worse before and the day after exercise
  • Trigger Point Referral Pain – Persistent pain typically better with exercise and worse when sitting or at the end of the day. Headache type ache but can be sharp, localised pain.
  • Knee dominant movement patterns – causing overuse issues in the knee. Easily assessed with a squat or lunge. Typically associated with tight, dominant hip flexors and underactive glutes.
  • Osgood Schallters – Teenagers and young adults with pain and swelling below kneecap. Often bony lumps form just below the kneecap over time.
  • Fracture – Trauma to the knee resulting in bone fracture.
  • Bursitis – Kneeling or bending makes pain and swelling worse. Sometimes warm and/or redness
  • Hypermobility/subluxation –  weakness, instability, clicking in the knee. Normally muscle fatigue occurs towards the end of the day
  • Gout/Pseudo Gout – Hot and red, sudden attacks of very bad pain, requires medical attention.
  • Osteoarthritis – Pain and stiffness, mild swelling, more common in older people, improves with exercise.

Will Knee Pain get better on it’s own?

In most cases yes. It’s a self limiting condition which means a lot of people will get better in a few weeks (see the NHS website here). It depends on the cause of your symptoms and other factors.

If you haven’t noticed an improvement in your symptoms but a doctor has cleared you, that’s exactly the time to book a Sports Massage appt to start making some progress.

What factors are going to affect my recovery?

We now know that look at the mechanics of an injury is only half the story. Sometimes pain can be a lot worse or less depending on many other factors. This is to do with the nervous system – making decisions on how importantly or loudly to talk to you about what’s going on. This is pain science (and we are pain science geeks here at HeadStart!). Learn more about it here. 

Other factors that can affect your recovery are:

  • Quality of sleep – once you’re in pain this is THE biggest predictor of your improvement
  • Depression – often people with depression experience more pain. This does not mean we have to cure you of depression to improve your pain! But it does mean we need to consider this if you are getting slower recovery. And we’ve worked with plenty of people with this before.
  • Stress & Anxiety – This is general stress & anxiety, good or bad, it could be the daily commute, worrying about money, looking for a new job or even organising your wedding. All of these factors can affect your experience of the pain and your recovery.
  • Survival value – How important is it for you to be pain free? This can go both ways, it can either make things worse because you’re desperate to get better and that’s making you more stress and anxious. OR it could be that because you ‘have’ to make it through that 4hr car journey to see your family it drops the pain to allow you to do that.
  • Catastrophizing – This is an important one that we work on in clinic. It’s very important to help challenge the thoughts that you’re never going to be able to…run again, sit without pain, that your knees are grinding away. Why? Because this makes you stressed, and stress increases pain. I think it’s pretty reasonable if you have a numb foot you’d be fairly worried. So this is where we have to find out the cause of your symptoms and work towards a treatment plan that works for you.
  • Fear Avoidance – Lying in bed avoiding moving, or worrying that you’re going to damage yourself more if you return to the gym is the last thing we want you to be doing. Think of it like a phobia, to help you improve your knee pain we need to get you challenging yourself a bit – to discover that things ARE ok and you can do things. Of course we modify any movements that are causing pain – but it’s very important you don’t avoid doing things because you’re afraid.
  • Beliefs – beliefs like, I’m getting old, or my dad had a bad knee so it’s genetic, or I’m going to need a knee replacement so I have to be extremely careful about what I do, ALL make your pain worse or slow your recovery. And that’s what we need to address.

Massage Therapy for Knee Pain

Will Sports Massage help my Knee Pain?



Because we’re able to help with the mechanical cause of your pain, like muscle tension or spasm. We can find ways to stretch muscles without causing irritation  AND we help mobilise your lower back, hips and legs in ways to relieve tension.

Also we’ll address all the factors above.

The discussion with your therapist when you have something like knee pain is just as important as the hands on treatment.

By combining hands on work, calming the nervous system, it makes things more tolerable allowing you to move more normally.

This creates a window of opportunity for you after the appt for you to get moving more and a chance for your brain & body to learn that the risk is lower, hopefully causing a longer lasting effect of reduced muscle tension and improved movement. Exercising, using the muscles, during this time is REALLY important!

Getting deep tissue massage on your lower back, glutes, quads and hamstrings is very effective at reducing knee pain and improving flexibility. Reducing pain in order to increase your movement is the most important thing when you have back pain and Sports Massage is a great way to help.

What if I have arthritis?

If you have a condition like arthritis, then of course Sports Massage doesn’t directly affect the joint! But what Sports Massage can do is to keep the surrounding muscles as healthy and flexible as possible. We can maintain the health of the knee as well as improving mobility in the hips adjusting the load in your knees. Managing knee pain and maintaining mobility is just as as important for some people who have a long history of knee pain.

We’ll also recommend safe exercises and stretches for you to perform at home. Depending on your specific symptoms you may find some simple seated stretches like this really helpful.

What can I do to help my Knee Pain?

  1. If you haven’t already then make yourself an appt with a GP. It’s important to get checked by a medical professional if you have had pain for a while. Once given the all clear or you have a diagnosis then we can begin to help.
  2. Book a Sports Massage with one of our team! We’ll be able to help assess, identify what the causes of the knee pain are and create a treatment to get you back in action ASAP!
  3. Continue to keep moving. There is a big difference between pain and discomfort here. It is VERY important that you move as much as possible and continue to live life as normally as possible as long as your pain levels are below 4/10. Which to me means it’s going to be uncomfortable but not painful
  4. Get advice on activities that make symptoms worse. Anything that you notice causes an increase in pain, get some advice. We need to determine if that’s purely because you’ve done too much and the body is fatigued OR if you are causing more irritation. If you’re keen for a clear template then use our traffic light system for training when you’re in pain. 
  5. Where possible avoid movements that cause intense pain – it’s unlikely to be causing damage, but you are irritating the muscles and potentially slowing your progress.
  6. Experiment with different stretches and mobility techniques – often using a mobility ball or foam roller can be really helpful here. Here’s some of our tutorials on how to use a mobility ball or foam roller. And these stretches are great for helping with knee pain
  7. Relax – this can be as simple as lying down in a comfortable position a few times a day, taking deep breaths or going for a short walk. We really like to recommend body based relaxation exercises like PMR or the free HeadSpace app


Knee pain can range from mild aching to sharp pain on movement. It can be extremely painful and distressing, and although most cases improve in 4-6 weeks it also can be very stubborn. It is a common condition that we see in clinic and can get very significant improvements and pain relief using Sports Massage to help knee pain.

If you have any questions either send us a message using the FB messenger link in the bottom right corner of this page or email us here.

To book an appt with one of the team click here

Follow Vicki:

Sports Massage Therapist

Vicki Marsh MSc BA (hons) studied at Oxford University before training as a Sports Massage Therapist. With over 12 years experience she specialises in chronic pain & complex cases as well as coaching Crossfit & Weightlifters. She runs specialist workshops, creates online courses and has spoken at events such as COPA on how to grow a successful business.

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