How to Fix Knee Pain
Knee pain afflicts millions of people across the globe. Anyone who has had knee pain knows it’s debilitating, annoying and will inhibit your ability to be as active as you want to be. If you are an athlete, ex-athlete, gym rat or simply a weekend fitness enthusiast, this can be very frustrating and dramatically change your routine. There is good news though- as long as the knee pain is not from any torn ligaments or tendons, but is instead caused by poor mobility, tightness, weakness or muscles not firing correctly- your knee pain can be fixed.
The culprit when it comes to knee pain is usually one of two things: foot problems including poor ankle mobility or plantar fasciitis, or the glutes not being activated enough. If you suffer from any of these ailments, it can throw your body out of alignment and cause other muscles to take over and try to do a job that they were not designed to do.
The root of this knee dysfunction is the duration of activity. When you normalize dysfunction it just causes more dysfunction in your body and can cause injuries to multiply. The body works as an integrated chain reaction. To insure a symbiotic state, all muscles must be working at an optimal level. When you feel a pain, do not ignore it, address it and the rest of your body will appreciate it.
There are numerous exercises you can do to protect your knees. The location of your knee pain determines what kind of exercises you need to do to correct the issue. One thing you should never do is perform Leg Extensions to strengthen the muscles around your knee. Open chain exercises like that put too much pressure on the patella and the kneecap.
Good knees start with good hips. Your hips should be strong in all four directions the leg can move in: Adduction/Abduction, Hip Flexion/Extension. There are different machines to help work your hips all four ways.
Hip Adduction helps with keeping your kneecap tracking properly by strengthening your adductors (inner thighs), medial glutes and groin. Strong legs lessen pronation (collapsing in) which, if excessive, puts too much stress on the knee.
A straight leg raise is a very important exercise for activating the rectus femoris, vastus medialis and lower abs at the insertion point of the upper leg. When doing this exercise, you only need a light load 3lb-10lb because you want to recruit only the small muscles of the quad and not involve the hip flexors as much. This particular exercise is meant to activate the quads. When performing this exercise, remember that if you feel it in your abs and hip flexors more than your quads, that means the quad is fatigued and needs to recover.
Stiff or weak ankles can adversely affect your knees. If you have poor ankle mobility, every time you walk you put undue stress on the body because your foot’s range of motion is affected by how the ankle functions. A weak ankle and shin can cause the foot to collapse to the ground and not absorb the ground properly, but when those areas are strong the correct mechanics occur. The chain reaction caused by the foot collapsing goes right to the knee, so over time a person with this condition can begin to feel knee pain and quad weakness because the quads are overcompensating for the dysfunction in the foot.
To strengthen your shins and ankles, try sitting in a chair or standing up leaning against a wall and perform foot raises. You can also sit on the ground, wrap a band around your foot and flex your foot towards your shin (Dorsi-Flexion).
I have a saying, “Sitting is Death,” because sitting for long periods is horrible for the mind and the body. Sitting puts our bodies in somewhat of a fetal position, which we outgrew years ago, but more importantly sitting shuts off your glutes and shortens your muscles, especially the hip flexors. When your glutes aren’t working, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ your knees are going to start hurting. The glutes are the biggest muscle in your body and many studies equate patella femoral pain to improper glute activation.
There are various ways to turn on your glutes by using bands, dumbbells, kettle bells, body weight or barbells. You should always start off with the basic bridging or mini band exercise to isolate the glutes. My go-to exercises for glute activation are band walks, glute bridges, single leg glute bridges and hip thrusts. Any combination of these exercises are great for activating the glutes because they are glute-isolating exercises, which need to be followed by some integrated movement patterns that combine more muscle groups. Step-ups, lunges and KB swings are great integrated movement patterns that tie everything together and will help lead you to complete muscle integration.
When designing your exercise program, remember to combine elements from exercises that incorporate your foot, adductors and glutes. This holistic approach will protect you from the normal wear-and-tear we get from living an active lifestyle and will help prevent or treat that dreaded knee pain.
Check out some sample exercise videos, great resources to get you started: