Many people have had their fitness routine derailed by an onset of knee pain. Once the knee starts hurting they become apprehensive of continuing their program, but not all knee pain means that you need to be sidelined. If you can rule out recent contact injuries (including that run-in with the coffee table last week), ask yourself the following questions to determine the source of your pain. Once identified, you can take steps to make your knees happy and ready for anything.
1. Have I had a previous knee injury?
If the answer is yes, talk to your doctor to get some general perimeters on a fitness program as there are exercises you should stay away from to prevent re-injury. A personal trainer can also work with you to figure out which exercises are best given your circumstances. Chances are, your body has started moving differently to compensate for your injury and will need to go through some corrective exercises to get balanced as you build strength around your knee.
2. Where does my knee go when I move?
Remember that song “Your thigh bones connected to your hip bone…”? Well, just as your bones are connected, so are your muscles. Your body parts don’t work in isolation; sometimes knee pain is the result of improper movement in the hips and ankles. Over time, moving with bad form causes pain in the knee-joint. Knees shouldn’t collapse in or move out past your ankles when you’re standing or squatting. If they are, you will need to work on strengthening your inner/outer thighs as well as your butt to allow for proper movement.
When you lunge or do any movement in a squat, avoid shifting your body weight forward. This puts a lot of pressure on your knee-joint and will make your knees very unhappy. When squatting, keep those heels down so your body doesn’t tip forward and when performing a lunge, make sure your weight is evenly distributed between the front and back leg. In both the squat and the lunge, you should feel the “burn” in your thighs and butt, not your knees. *If you have a hard time keeping your ankles down in a squat, you’ll want to stretch your calves to increase flexibility.
3. How often do I stretch?
If the answer is “rarely” or “never” your aching knee could be the result of tight muscles that attach at the knee and give the impression that the pain is located in your knee. Grab a foam roller and roll out your TFL and gluteus medius, then check out your abductors and adductors. If you’re shaking your head wondering what anything in that last sentence meant, just click here for some instructional videos.
4. How old are my shoes?
While there is a lot of debate about how many miles/months should pass before you change your shoes, if you are starting to get shin splints or knee pain “all of a sudden” it could be time to get a new pair.
While you work out the causes of your knee pain, stick to low impact activities like swimming, water aerobics, or walking. Make sure that when walking down stairs or a hill that you are actively using your leg muscles to decelerate and aren’t just plunking your feet down. You should think about making as little sound as possible with every step.