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Recipe for Happy Knees.

Posted Aug 10 2010 12:00am
                                               
If I have knee issues should I be doing things which  involve taxing the knees?
This is one query that came on my last post advocating squats and stairs.
Now this is an issue that  warrants discussion.
I have had brush with knee pain before and realize better than most that no exercise is worth risking your knees.But I am also the first one to say that intelligent rotation of exercises,scrupulous attention to warming up stretching,and strategies to strengthen the muscles attached to problematic joint(knees in this case) is the only thing that may save you from progressive immobility and pain.
First,what causes Knee Pain? 
Acute injury due to outright impact or twisting and shearing of the joint is an obvious factor.But apart from that following things can cause chronic knee issues.
1.Muscular imbalances are the top reason.If you are an average bloke,your quads(front thighs) will be stronger than your hammies(back thighs).And your glutes (hip muscles) would be asleep.Hams,glutes and your back calves together form the posterior chain which is compromised in most of us.This means that when you do any movement(including walking and 'gentle jogging') all the stress is taken by the quads and the attached knee joint..If your posture is bad (your glutes and abs stay passive)then you can also add lower back to the list of long suffering joints.To find out how strong your glutes are try to get off the chair you are sitting on by holding one leg in the air,keeping only one foot on the flootr.If you can do it with your dominant foot on the floor,try doing it with the other .That will give you some indication about how (in)active your bums are as well as the strength imbalance between right and left limbs.
2.Repetitive stress is another reason.This means that you do not give rest to the joint after strenuous exercise and continue doing the same movement day in and day out(Runners Beware).This could be through walking,running,ball games,and yes even squatting and stairs.Your knees need a break!If I pound the stairs with a backpack I do only upper body work the next day.And when I do loaded barbell squats and deadlifts I take complete rest the next day.If your knees hurt you must have a repertoire of upper body exercises or core/pilates/yoga -basically mat based work to stay active while resting your knees.
3.No stretching and warming up before exercise.Tight hamstrings and inner thigh muscles(abductors) cause increased pressure between the patella and the femur.Hence stretching followed by warm up is essential.before yanking up intensity.Remember warm knees are happy knees.
4.Putting Ego before brains.This is quite commonly seen among men.Sorry for sounding sexist,but it is the truth.Whereas women in Gym always err on the side of caution,I have lost count of the times I have seen male dorks who add poundage, round their backs,cave in their knees,lift their heels off the ground-Ouch.
A happy knee exercise programme would have the following ingredients:
  1. Practising a variety of strength gaining movements .Squats, done correctly help you to strengthen the entire leg musculature.Remember in strength training, quality and correct form is always more important than quantity.
  2. Changing movement patterns.As in doing upper body exercises,swimming,bear crawls,pilates,yoga.
  3. Strenghtening and activating the Posterior Chain aka glutes,hams and ankles.This involves doing lot of single leg work. To understand why,read this for scholarly exposition .
  4. Stretching and warming up ALWAYS.Here are some simple stretches to improve your hip mobility.
  5. Kneading the problem areas with a tennis ball,foam roller is very therapeutic. 
  6. Wear Knee Sleeves(in pic on top).
The truth about Knees is that if you abstain from exercise or depend on only one type of movement. you will have more problems due to age related muscle weakening,weight gain and cartilage thinning.The key is to exercise wisely. I hope I have settled your Knee Anxiety to some extent.No kneed for getting pained now.

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