If you measured your age based on how your knees felt, how old would you be? It comes as no surprise that the most common pain that I hear about in the club, right behind back pain, is something to do with the knees. In fact, more than 10 million people visited the doctor’s office in 2010 due to knee pain and injury.
Made up of bone, muscle, ligaments, cartilage and conveniently sandwiched between the hip and ankle, the knee is a complex body part that is susceptible to injury. While many may be quick to point fingers as to what causes knee pain, there are several day-to-day lifestyle components that get overlooked when it comes to the source of knee pain and how they’re negatively impacting our body’s largest pair of shock absorbers:
The majority of American society has relatively sedentary working environments and most office spaces are not ergonomically conducive to proper alignment. When sitting for long periods of time, our hips are prone to tighten, pulling on the pelvis resulting in back pain, which can ultimately put significant strain on knee joints. Frequent movement in the workplace is also important (hourly) for our knees because it prompts the correct nutrients and lubrication to flow to the knees so they can operate and absorb shock effectively.
Nutrition & Eating Habits:
Nutrition is often an overlooked culprit for joint pain. It’s not as common for people to associate joint pain with nutrition and I think it’s just because the science is still relatively new, or maybe people are resistant to it because it might mean giving up some of their favorite foods or drinks? Either way, foods that cause metabolic or systemic inflammation can be huge culprits to joint pain. Losing excess weight can also help reduce the stress put on your knee joints. Studies suggest that for every 1 pound of weight lost, it will unload up to 4 pounds of stress to your knee joint.
Poor Posture & Compensation Patterns:
I often see non-contact knee injuries progress due to poor compensation patterns. These patterns result in overuse of specific muscle groups and can pull the body out of alignment causing pain or injury. The cause of poor compensation can be tied to many factors. The solution starts with understanding what correct alignment and mechanics truly are, while also acknowledging that everybody is different and may move different. From there, it’s important to identify what movements or exercises need to be done consistently to reinforce good movement patterns.
Once we understand modern lifestyle habits and how they’re impacting our joint health, it’s important to incorporate a consistent routine of strengthening and stretching exercises that can help injury-proof our knees. While a consistent routine can help address lifestyle influences, working out can add a whole other level of stress to your knees. Unfortunately, many of us don’t take the time to offset the positive stress with an appropriate recovery plan so I’ve provided a few movements that you can incorporate into your daily exercise routine:
1. Foam Rolling
Sometimes knee pain can come from misalignment caused by tightness of tissue above or below the joint. Foam rolling can help realign joints for optimal functionality. Overactive areas such as the Glutes, IT Band, Hamstrings, Quads, and Calves can lead to pain in the knee joint. Proper foam rolling and stretching these areas can help alleviate pain.
2. Activation/Isometric Exercises
With the same concept of overactive muscles, under active muscles can be just as impactful to reducing or alleviating knee pain. Core exercises and movements build foundation to extremities, such as the knee. While planks aren’t addressing the knee directly, they’re still involved and by building strength through the hips and spine, you’re also building a solid foundation for the knee to anchor off of. A life clinic chiropractor can also support here.
3. Focusing on Mobility vs. Strength
Effective mobility of the knee joint is built through good stability. Sometimes you may need to migrate away from pounding cardio and incorporate more stability work into your routine. This can give the knee a rest while also building strength of the muscles that surround and support the knee. They may not be the big leg muscle groups (quads or hamstrings), but the greater the stability of the knee will absolutely allow for greater strength of those bigger muscle groups in the long run. Focus on single leg balance with shoes off, then progress to less stable surfaces (think of a something like a rug, then a pillow, then something like a dyna disc). And always work through both sides, even though your symptoms may only be on one side.
Overall, it’s important to recognize active and passive factors may be impacting the well-being of your knees and what type of recovery and strengthening exercises work best your individual needs. As always, be sure to contact your physician if you’re currently experiencing any knee discomfort or pain.
If you do try these exercises or have any questions about knee pain in general, I’d love to hear from you.
Written by Mitchell Keyes – Life Time Training, NASM-CES, NASM-PES, RTS-123, MAT Graduate
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.