Knee Health 101

October 3, 2015

Sore knees are no laughing matter. It’s only when your knees start to break down that you realize just how important they are in everyday movements. Things you took for granted like walking up a flight of stairs or getting out of your car become harder and harder when, previously, you did them without even thinking about them.

Some knee pain is virtually unavoidable. As you age, wear and tear accumulates and results in damage to the articular surfaces inside your knees – the parts that rub together. This is called osteoarthritis. Combined with an age-related reduction in synovial fluid production, the stuff that lubricates a nourishes your joints, this wear and tear means your knees are likely to develop creaks, aches and stiffness as you get older.

How To Minimize Knee Wear And Tear

  1. Avoid excessive repetitive movements. Doing the same movements over and over again is a sure fire way to wear out your joints faster than they should. Seek out a variety of exercise options to avoid doing too much of the same thing
  2. Keep your thigh muscles fit, flexible and strong. Strong thigh muscles will help keep stress off your joints and also ensure your knees track properly. Strong thigh muscles are essential for knee health
  3. Maintain your optimal weight. It goes without saying that the heavier you are, the more stress will be placed on your knees. Keep your weight within healthy parameters to minimize the stress on your knees
  4. Use your knees often. Movement increases the amount of synovial fluid produced within your joints. Synovial fluid is a natural joint lubricant and also nourishes the articular cartilage and it is supplied on demand. Keep moving to keep your knees supple and healthy
  5. Avoid excessive impact. Your knees act like natural shock absorbers when you run and jump but this type of activity will also speed up the breakdown of your joints. Wear properly supportive and cushioned shoes, run and jump on forgiving surfaces like grass, wooded trials and rubberized athletics tracks and be careful when playing contact sports. Walking, being a low impact activity, is especially knee-friendly
  6. Get plenty of omega three essential fatty acids – either by oily eating fish a few times a week or through supplementation of fish oils, hemp oil, flax seed oil or other omega three-rich oils and foods. Omega three fatty acids are natural anti-inflammatories and can help reduce knee pain

Who is most at risk of suffering knee pain?

Ironically, the more active you are, the more likely you are to suffer knee pain. This is especially true if you play sports that involve contact such as football, multi-directional sports like tennis, sports that involve a lot of repetitive movements such as cycling and high impact sports like running.

In addition, women are more likely to suffer knee pain, especially as a result of sports and running, because of something called the quadriceps or Q-angle. Women generally have wider, flatter pelvises than men and this tends to result in inward slanting thigh bones. This puts more stress on the knees and speeds up knee joint degeneration by “point loading” the medial or inner articular surfaces. If you have a particularly wide pelvis, you should have no problem popping out even the biggest baby (!) but you may find that running, jumping and similar activities are just plain uncomfortable.

Stretch And Strengthen Your Way To Healthier Knees

So, how can you keep your knees strong and healthy? Unsurprisingly, the answer is stretching and strength training. While stretching ensures tight muscles aren’t the cause of your knee pain, strength training allows you to target your thigh muscles safely and precisely. If, however, you are currently suffering from knee pain, check with your doctor and let him/her know of your intention to strengthen your knees. It may be that there are specific exercises your doctor would prefer you did or didn’t do based on your current knee health.

Supine hamstring stretch
Loop a belt or rope over one foot and then lie on your back with your legs straight. Pull your leg up so your foot is pointing up to the ceiling. Relax and hold the deepest stretch you can comfortably tolerate for 30 to 60 seconds. Lower your leg and then repeat on the opposite side.

Prone quadriceps stretch
Lie on your front with your right hand under your chin and your other hand by your side. Bend your left leg and grasp your ankle. Gently pull your foot gently into your butt and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. If you cannot comfortably reach your foot, loop a belt or rope around your ankle. Swap legs and repeat.

Standing calf stretch
Stand on the edge of a step with your legs straight. Let your heels sink down below the level of your toes. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds. For a deeper stretch, do one leg at a time.

Iliotibial band stretch
Stand upright and cross your right leg behind your left. Lean slightly forwards and to your left side until you feel a stretch on the outside of your right leg. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and then swap legs and repeat. Lean on a wall for balance if necessary.

Straight leg raise
Sit on the floor with one leg bent, foot on the floor, and one leg straight. Place your hands on the floor behind you for support. Keeping your knee straight, lift your leg up 12 to 18-inches and then lower it back to the floor. Perform 12 to 20 slow, controlled repetitions. This is a good exercise because although it doesn’t involve knee movement, it does strengthen the muscles that control knee joint.

Knee extensions
Sit on a chair with the edge of the seat snugly against the back of your knees. Slowly extend one leg out straight and then lower it back to the floor. Do 12 to 20 repetitions and then change legs. Note that this is not the gym exercise leg extensions. Leg extensions place a tremendous shearing force on your knee which can make existing knee problems worse – especially where there is ligament damage. Only perform leg extensions if you have healthy knees or under the supervision of a qualified physical therapist.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands by your sides. Initiating the movement by pushing your hips backward, push your knees outward, bend your legs and squat down as far as your knee health permits. Aim for 90-degrees of knee flexion but do whatever feels comfortable. Stand back up and repeat. If you are concerned about losing your balance as you squat down, place a chair behind you. Do not allow your knees to travel forward of your toes as this increases knee stress.

Using an alternating leg action, step onto and off a shin to knee-high step. The higher the step, the harder this exercise becomes. Try to make sure your knees don’t roll inward or outward but, instead, track in a straight line over your feet. Do 12 to 20 repetitions on each leg. Place the whole of your foot on the stepping surface for stability and safety.

Stand with your feet together and your hands by your sides. Take a large step forward and then bend your knees. Your legs should both be bent to 90-degrees. Lower your rear knee to within an inch of the floor and then stand up. Do your next repetition leading with your opposite leg. Continue alternating legs for the duration of your set. Do 12 to 20 repetitions on each leg.

One leg standing
With your arms outstretched at shoulder-level and bare-footed, stand on one leg for 30 to 60 seconds. Make this exercise harder by moving your arms, throwing and catching a tennis ball, closing your eyes or standing on a cushion. Change legs and repeat.

If you find working your knees makes them sore, try icing them for 20-minutes after each workout to minimize inflammation.

Keeping your knees in good shape will save you lots of pain as you get older and may contribute to a more active lifestyle as you enter your golden years. While you can have your knee joints replaced with prosthetics, the operation itself is very invasive and the return of full knee function is by no means guaranteed. The better option would be to look after the knees you’ve got and keep them healthy yourself.

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