The knee joint needs to be trained and strengthened properly to avoid excess wear and tear (arthritis) on the joint that can eventually lead to knee pain. Running, hiking, agility training, yoga, and even strength training improperly can create or increase improper knee mechanics leading to pain or even arthritic conditions. On the flip side, performing proper balanced exercise routines can help reduce knee pain and slow down the production of arthritis in the knees. Decreasing knee pain or joint break down can also help regulate energy expenditure, increase overall performance, and slow down the production of arthritis.
Stretching and strengthening are always good to increase joint performance and improve joint mechanics. Closed chain exercises (squats, lunges, and leg presses) are more functional for lower extremity joint strengthening. However, these exercises done improperly can create increased pain. Ideally you should be performing these exercises with your weight in the heel and the base of the big toe to engage gluteus maximus which helps support knee function while decreasing forces being distributed in the knee joint. Two additional open chain exercises (exercises done without your feet planted on the ground) that can increase glute strength are the clamshell and side lying hip abduction (see pictures). Lastly, hip flexor and calf stretches held for 30 seconds or longer can complete a great routine for the biomechanics of the knee.
Mechanically the knees, feet, ankles, hips, and spine all coordinate to provide the linear motion and disperse the impact during walking or running so individual joints do not take all of the gravitational forces. Structurally, if all these joints are coordinating their movement and muscle firing patterns, then in theory no pain should exist and arthritic production will decrease. If there is stiffness or tightness in spine or other lower extremity joints, it can lead to excess stress and impact on the knee joint during running, walking, or even standing. This is why when assessing a runners form, we typically begin in the hip and lower spine and move down the kinetic to the foot, then reverse this and assess the ankle/foot on up ensure the runner is able to maintain the proper lower extremity mechanics. To read more on the kinetic chain during running check out this article on RunningMechanics,com, "Running Injuries and Kinetic Chain Disruptions."
Decreasing knee pain can simply take a few extra steps to improve function and lower extremity mechanics. With these additions to a training regimen the lower extremity joints will perform better, improve knee pain and reduce the breakdown of the knee joint. So if you are suffering from knee pain, rather than just “running through it”, try a few of the tips I suggested above. If this doesn’t help within a few weeks stop by one of our clinics for a thorough assessment by one of our physical therapists trained in running and gait mechanics. We look forward to helping you!
- Brett Barnes, PTA
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