We all know that exercising is good for our bodies, but often people stop due to knee or lower leg pain. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but usually ones that we are not aware of. Over 50 million Americans deal with some sort of knee trouble, as the knees are the second most common injured joint, the first being the joints in the spine. Therefore, it is essential to know what you can do to prevent knee troubles from even starting an exercise regimen. The good news is that it’s not too late. With the right maintenance strategies, your knee can be pain-free. As a result, don’t let knee or leg pain stand in the way of your running success; you can beat knee pain for good if you follow the right knee pain prevention approach…we are here to help!
Common injuries with running or exercising:
- Patellofemoral pain
- Meniscus tears and pain
- Ligament injuries (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL)
- Shin splints
- Hamstring pulls
- Achilles tendonitis
Most all knee and leg pain can be attributed to the following issues:
- Poor muscular strength
- Imbalance of muscular strength with certain muscles stronger and others weaker
- Poor muscular coordination
- Poor biomechanics of walking / running
- Lack of flexibility
Don’t push through pain
While feeling a stretching sensation or muscle burn is a normal part of exercising, feeling pain is not. Sharp or dull pain should be paid attention to and not pushed through. Make sure you are doing adequate warming up prior to exercising as muscles and tissues require internal lubrication to work properly. Warming up brings natural fluids to the area to help with lubrication, improving elasticity and function. In addition, make sure to properly stretch after exercising to ensure that flexibility is maintained and gained. When it comes to preventing knee pain, knee strengthening exercises are the way to go.
So what’s the best approach to knee pain?
You don’t want to stop exercising or running and pain shouldn’t be the reason. The right approach for preventing (and beating) knee pain is to incorporate a cross-training routine that includes plenty of exercises that strengthens the knee region, and that should be kicked off with a couple rounds of physical therapy. For the most part, as a general guideline, the ideal routine is about adding strength to your glutes and hip abductors—all of the key muscles for keeping you stable while you hit the pavement.
5 Ways to Improve Knee Pain
- Increase your leg strength. Do wall sits, knee extensions, toe raises, hip side-lifts and more. Speak with one of our professionals for how to perform these exercises correctly.
- Improve your patella (kneecap) tracking. Your patella needs to slide up and down and actually form a C pattern when you bend your knee. Do leg lifts with your whole leg rotated to strengthen the inner thigh and knee muscles. Make sure to stretch your kneecap up and down, side to side, to ensure gliding. Most patellofemoral pain comes from poor patella tracking and a physical therapist is the expert to diagnose and treat this problem.
- Maintain and improve flexibility. With running and exercising it is very common for the powerful muscles in the leg to become tighter. For example, the hamstring and outer tissues of the leg (iliotibial or “IT” band) can become very tight, altering the mechanics of the knee causing pain. Stretch after every time you run and do adequate warm ups prior. Try integrating yoga and stretching into your routines.
- Improve your balance and coordination. Do balance exercises to build up your proprioception (sense of balance position). Exercises such as standing on one leg with and without eyes closed are important. Don’t forget to make sure you setup for safety when performing balance exercises by having a steady surface nearby to hold onto when needed.
- Improve your agility. Many casual runners, simply run, but do not perform other types of important exercises such as strengthening, balance and agility training. Mix up your workouts to include these other types of exercises.
Weak Muscles and Knee Pain
According to research, weak muscles—especially those of the hips and glutes—is a major predictor of knee pain. On the other hand, stability in the lower body is crucial for preventing patellofemoral syndrome and IT band syndrome. Studies have shown an undeniable link between weak hips and glutes muscles to patellofemoral pain syndrome and other knee injuries.
If you have weak hip muscles, your running form will be compromised since your hips won’t be able to accurately control the motion of your legs.
Seeing a specialist
If you have recurring knee pain or discomfort for more than 3 days, it is time to see a specialist. The ideal specialist to see is a physical therapist, as they are medical experts in joint movement and function (kinesiology). A thorough evaluation needs to be done of your movement, walking patterns, strength, joint mobility, patella tracking and proprioception. Only then, can the true source of the pain be found, treated and help you understand what you can do to prevent it from returning. In addition, if you are an avid athlete, a physical therapist is key in helping you discover new ways to improve your movement and function, helping you improve your game. Get on the path to healthy knees and call HealthQuest Physical Therapy today for a free joint movement analysis. Discover how liberating it can be to run or exercise pain free!