Knee pain can be a daunting obstacle to success in fitness. When my clients complain of knee pain, I try to nip it in the bud right away so they can reach their fitness goals without aggravating this important joint. If an injury gets worse, it can cause setbacks or even force you to stop training. The good news is that knee pain is often just a warning that you might be overtraining or moving incorrectly. If we listen to this warning, we may be able to avoid a real injury and even the need for surgery.
In most cases, knee pain is a sign of improper exercise form, tight or weak muscles in the legs (especially the glutes), a weakness in the arches of the feet which can cause the knees to track wrong or a simple sign of overtraining and a need for a short rest.
When someone tells me that it hurts their knees when they squat, I can tell right away if this is caused from weak arches or “flat feet.” If the knees buckle inward because all of the person’s weight seem to fall to the inside of the feet, this creates tracking problems because the bones are now pushing into the inside of the joint which can create pain and wear in the bones and ligaments. This misalignment, if not corrected, can wear down the cartilage on the inside of the knee joint, causing arthritis. This condition can be sped up if we add load which is why proper form when weightlifting is imperative for longevity.
Orthotics can help fix this condition but teaching the client to activate the arches of their feet by being aware of where they shift their weight can help build up the muscles of the feet that help protect the knees. Often, the pain goes away immediately when proper form is taught
If not, there are exercises, stretches and massage techniques that can wake up the muscles of the feet that are not activating.
The gluteal muscle group (buttocks) are one of the largest muscle groups in the human body and are supposed to be the most powerful. However, our modern sedentary society has changed this. The invention of chairs, beds and toilets have taken away the need to deep squat and lunge out of our lives; and unless we constantly get up and down off the floor, we rarely strengthen and stretch our hips.
This lack of conditioning can leave us with a booty that’s too weak hold up our body weight. This lack of muscle support leads to knee pain. In cases such as this, I have clients do strengthening exercises, like pilates floor work so they can strengthen their hips without having to hold their own body weight.
Clammies are a classic example:
Mule kicks are also great, though you might have to cushion your knees:
After a few weeks, the client has built up enough muscle in their glutes to be able to squat and lunge without knee pain.
Tight Hips or Legs
Tense muscles can be an issue for athletes, runners or people starting a fitness regimen. This is simply a case of overtraining with little stretching or recovery.
Using a foam roller or massage tool to release tightness in the IT band, glutes, quads or calves, along with corrective stretching usually resolves knee pain for people who suffer from overuse stress.
Rest and icing the area also helps as does addressing any muscle imbalances. Is one part of the hip much stronger than the other, leading to it doing all the work? If so, corrective exercise can nip that in the bud.
Here is an example of using the foam roller to relieve tension that can pull on the knee joint.
There are solutions
The good news is there are solutions to most knee problems that do not involve drugs or surgery. After assessing how a person moves , listening carefully to where they feel pain and how they approach their lifestyle, we can find ways to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of being fit, healthy and functional.