Are you frustrated with reoccurring knee complaints? And are you one of the many, who are experiencing terrible pain in your knees which gets worse after running or going to the gym? A knee injury can leave you feeling frustrated, annoyed and sore and it can make you feel unmotivated.
It doesn’t just effect your workouts, it ruthlessly creeps into your day to day life, and the pain starts to overwhelm you. Studies show that there are over 10,000 knee injuries in the US each year and this makes it one of the most common injuries, amongst the athletic population.
What generally causes problems with the knee, is in direct relation to the amount of ‘load’ the knee endures. Simply put, ‘load’ is the amount of work that is put through the knee joint. For example, if you normally run twice a week and then you suddenly increase this to four runs per week, but don’t change the distance, speed and intensity, then you’ve effectively doubled the load.
Load Can Be Affected By Various Factors:
To get ahead of the game and prevent knee injury, it’s important to understand how you can control and manage load. You must be able to build strength, understand correcting patterns of movement and, have an effective management plan.
If you don’t know how to build strength, correct movement patterns and develop an effective management plan that’s no problem, you’re in safe hands. I’m such a nice guy, I’ll cover all the inside secrets here in this blog.
Why Build Strength?
Strength is one of the most crucial aspects when treating and preventing injuries and I’m not talking about developing muscles like a body builder or a weight lifter! Instead, strength needs to be functional and relate to the individual. You need to be strong in the right areas like glutes, quads and calves.
The amount of strength required for each individual varies and is relative to the activities, that they are participating in. Take for example, someone who is that is playing AFL and someone who is walking around the block 2-3 times a week – who’s going to need more strength? Correct, the AFL player. This is the exactly the same in the gym and with other forms of exercise, the further you progress the difficulty of the exercise, the stronger you need to be.
What Areas Need To Be Strong?
As mentioned earlier, there a few ‘go to’ muscles that need to be strong and these are the ones that will give you the biggest bang for your buck:
Gluteals or Glutes, are the godfather of all muscles. They are the muscle, that produce the most amount of power and are essential in any program. They are also the biggest muscle that you sit on, every day! They can be split up into Maximus, Medius and Minimus and each one, has a slightly different role to play.
The biggest one and the one which produces the most power, is the Maximus. This muscle, is responsible for extending your hip, like when you run or come up from a squat. It also helps to prevent you from falling onto your face, when you are leaning forwards (extremely important when treating lower back pain – I’ll address that in a separate blog).
The Medius is just as important, as the main role is to keep the hips level when standing on one leg and I know what you might be thinking here, ‘Nick, I don’t stand on one leg!’ – Good, I’m glad we’ve established you’re not a flamingo, but every time you run, lunge or walk upstairs for example, you are standing on one leg. When running, you actually never have 2 feet on the ground. Therefore, keeping you pelvis level to prevent injury, is important as it allows you to control your knee and control the load, going through the knee.
If your knee falls inwards when doing these types of single leg or even double leg activities, you are placing an uneven amount of load through the knee. Think of the hips and pelvis region, as the foundation of the house. If you have a weak foundation, it doesn’t matter what you do on the outside, the house won’t be able to stand. This is similar to a person.
We will leave Minimus for another blog but essentially, it supports both of these functions.
How Should You Move?
A common question that I get asked all the time is, ‘How should this move or how should that move?’
The answer is simple, even though the parts within our bodies are the same, everyone is made different dimensionally and therefore, movement is individual. In saying that, there are a few key things we look for, especially around the lower half of the body.
One test we use regularly is the single leg squat test. We use this test all the time in our clinic, to help identify the areas that need work, to solve your issues.
Why Is This Important?
So far, we’ve described load and talked about load management, and movement is just as important because if you’re able to distribute the load evenly throughout the body, then you are less likely to suffer an injury. There are exceptions to the rule, but when we are training athletes this is something we put a lot of time and energy into.
What Is An Effective Management Plan?
An effective management plan is one that takes into account:
- Training loads
- Gym loads
- Rest periods
- The training cycle the athlete is in
- The age/level the athlete is at
- The goals the individual has
As you can see, there are many variables that go into an individual’s management plan and this is why it’s so important, you get given the correct advice. I’m not just talking about elite athletes here either, everyone that exercises is an athlete and should have the best possible care provided to them.
Below is a simple check list which acts like a guide, that you can use to decrease frustration and improve confidence in your knee:
1. Strengthen The Hips
Having strong Glutes allow you to control what is happening at the knee. The two main roles of the Glutes are to firstly stabilise the pelvis when standing on one leg and secondly, to extend your hip. This allows you to be more efficient whilst running, jumping or walking, because you’re able to move your leg and transfer the load through a stable base. The more the hip drops, the less efficient you are and the greater your risk of injury.
A simple test to see if your Glutes may be weak, is to do a single leg squat in front of the mirror. If your knee moves towards the mid line, or your hips move out to the side, then your Glutes may be an issue. My favourite exercise to strengthen the Glutes, that doesn’t require a lot of load going through the knees, is the hip thrust with a band.
2. Wear Supportive Shoes
Just like the hip, the foot and ankle plays a major part in controlling the knee and some debate that it plays a bigger part than the hip, due to it hitting the ground first. With the popularity of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) more athletes are increasing the amount of force that is put through the foot and ankle and in actual fact, it’s an enormous amount of force.
For most of us, our foot and ankle aren’t strong enough or might not be positioned correctly, to deal with the load that we’re expecting it to and this is the reason, that it’s important to wear a shoe that, gives you the correct level of support.
Everyone is different and therefore to determine if you need a lot of support, or just a little, you should have your shoes fitted by a professional.
3. Release Tight Muscles
Do you roll your ITB? Then STOP!!!
Your ITB isn’t actually a muscle and it doesn’t have any connective tissue in it. When you roll your ITB, all you’re doing its compressing the structures on the outside of your knee and making your condition worse. Instead, you should be rolling your Glutes, Quad’s, Hamstrings and Hip Flexors, because these all attach onto the ITB.
By releasing these muscles, you are decompressing the band on the structures around the knee.
4. Increase Base Level Of Conditioning
As you now know, load plays a significant part in knee pain. By increasing your load, whether it’s through box jumps, jumping lunges or even carrying an extra few kilos, you’re not doing your knees any favours, especially, if you aren’t strong enough to begin with. It’s amazing what shedding a few of those unwanted kilos will do to your sore and tiresome knees.
Imagine you’re carrying around a backpack, with an extra 5-10 kilos in it, everywhere you go. You’ll become tired, your body will hate you for it and your pain levels, will dramatically increase. By increasing your base level of conditioning and shedding a few kilos, your body will thank you for it.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to lose those unwanted kilos and we can foolishly think the answer is to increase our training, increase our intensity and increase our HIIT – but this is a recipe for disaster, because we already have sore knees and this is going to make them worse.
The often forgotten side to losing weight, is that little thing called your diet! Changing what you eat, will help you lose weight without further stressing your knees. Evidence shows, that people who combine both healthy eating and exercise, are 75 % more likely to lose weight and, keep it off.
You can’t out train a bad diet!!
My Pro Tip:
To increase your base level of conditioning with sore knees, look for low impact forms of exercise that allow you to use the principles of HIIT, e.g. Pilates, swimming or bike riding.
And as for that little thing called diet, speak to a professional. It’s amazing how just one or two effortless tweaks can make a world of difference. I personally recommend, Emily Hartley at Emily Hartley Nutrition located at 93 Unley Rd, Parkside (Inside The LIFT. Movement)
5. Have Adequate Recovery
Listen to your body, it’s telling you that you’re sore for a reason. It is telling you that you need to rest, or to change something. The way our bodies work, is that ‘pain’ or ‘pain messenger signals’ are produced and sent to the brain to say, ‘Hey! Somethings not right here, stop!’
It is your bodies way of telling you, that something is effectively in danger of damage and that you need to escape the danger – fast. If accidentally you put your hand near a flame, your first reaction is to remove it from the source of heat and pain. It’s a reflex designed to protect your hand.
If you ignore these signs, it is likely something will become damaged. Pain is there to protect your body, don’t ignore it!
My Pro Tip:
Have a least 2 days rest per week (you can still do gentle exercise) and if your pain is more than just muscle soreness, then get it checked out by a professional.
Knee injuries are frustrating, terribly sore and they prevent you from achieving the things you want to achieve. Creating strong and robust knees, will not only decrease pain, but will prevent injury from reoccurring. Unfortunately, they won’t just get better on their own and the injury will continue to cause you pain and discomfort, until you have it treated. Use the checklist above to create confident and pain free knees!
The LIFT. Movement