by Mark Elmasry
Nobody can deny the bad habits we all do which lead to future knee injuries and chronic pain. There is no doubt that a small slice of the population over 35 have “good knees” and that a majority of us have the questionable knee which might be tolerable day to day. In reality we all worry, somewhat about our knees when we squat or climb stairs or do any activity especially with contact.
Of course a warm up is imperative to any physical activity, but what about all the movement we do that might make us sore the next couple days? What about even a seemingly safe hobby of jogging? Do we know how efficiently our knee bends and flexes? Well there are simple red flags we can identify to avoid knee pain and future knee injuries.
1) TIGHT HAMSTRINGS.
How tight are the back of your legs? If we can keep up with simple hamstring stretches and make sure your pelvis is not being pulled into a compromising position which will also damage your spine over time. Tight hamstrings will definitely pull our knees out of alignment over time. It is highly important that we have a sharp awareness of exactly where we are tight behind the knee and stretch it out according to what we need, whether it is inner hamstrings or outer hamstrings (biceps of your femur) where a majority of us are tight.
2) TIGHT ANKLES.
Body mechanics shows us that the joint below and a joint above the affected joint (your knee problems for example stem from a poor ankle and or a stiff hips) are compromised and may tell us the leading cause to an injury. We can apply that principle to every joint in the body.
Stiff and weak ankles set up the knee for dangerous movement patterns and deform our knees accordingly. Wolfe’s Law is the principle that the constant stress applied to our joints will shape them over time, either in a healthy way or incorrectly. One easy trick we can do is to grab a tennis ball and massage the muscle that runs along our shin bone. The second most important trick is to consistently practice flexing our ankle upwards and stretching our calves intermittently while sitting for a period of time.
We get tight ankles without knowing more quickly than almost any joint in the body just from sitting. Make sure we flex our ankles when placing our feet on the gas pedal to be a safe driver and to be healthy to our ankles and knees.
This is the most determining factor of the longevity of our knees as well as our lower back! If our hips are constantly flexed and turned outward, not only are we gonna start walking like Charlie Chaplin but our knees are not gonna last over time. Tight hips can pull on the muscle that goes around the back or our hip and low back area, and also force us to use the front of our legs way too much which is a terrible stress on our knees. One test you can easily perform daily is to keep one foot firmly on the ground and swing the opposite leg for 30 seconds forwards and backwards, then for 30 seconds left to right and then switch legs. If there is a tremendous difference between sides then we can identify which hip is the tighter and in need of foam rolling and which hip is in need of strengthening. Simple hip strengthening exercises to always include from week to week, at any level of fitness would be simple hip swings in all directions and any other single leg movement you can safely perform.
My two favorites are the single leg squat and the single leg dead lift: While holding on to a wall for a beginner we can try to lower down into a squat on one leg or to dead lift we hinge over and pick up a pencil on one leg, while making sure our knees are lined up right in between the first two toes of the grounded foot. And on a more unnoticed scale, do we drive, or sit at work in a dangerous position? Or do we stay locked up in a compromising position that only shows us how stiff we’ve gotten when we move out of it?
Not that we have trouble remembering to eat fatty foods, however, are we getting the right fats? Are we getting the correct amounts or mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats? Not that those terms are meant for doctors only, but we need essential fatty acids Omega 3, 6, and 9 to give our body its proper lubricant. Studies show that people who include foods with healthy fats (avocados, salmon, raw nuts and seeds, coconut/olive/sesame/hemp seed/safflower oil, the list goes on) have noticeably mover vibrant hair, skin, and nails, as well as properly “greased” joints. These perfect fats also help reduce the amount of stress we put on our bodies as well as bring down inflammation and swelling. Your sore knee might just be aggravated and inflamed and simply need some healthy fats and a little less of the unhealthy processed foods’ fats that you have been eating.
5) A BODY IN MOTION STAYS IN MOTION!
As vague and generic as this quote sounds, it is true!! we have all taken a break from physical activity that went on for too long, and when returning to our activities we can be extremely sore the first few times. Turning sedentary for even a brief period of a few days throws our bodies’ good mechanics out the window and teaches us the bad postures we have recently learned from the chair, couch, or whatever indoor lazy position we have repetitively done. Furthermore, is your workout missing something?
Whether it be an adequate and specific warm up to open up your sore knee, or lack of experienced attention to your hip, knee, and ankle mechanics when you do use them. Everybody needs and craves movement, but are we giving our bodies a repetitively boring and redundant movements? Is Thursday the only “leg day” in the gym and for that matter do we only stick to a select two or three leg machines and then call it a day? I hope not. Our knees crave the freedom of movement under a variety of stresses, as in lifting weights, and under minimal stress, as in walking and swimming. Joints get rusty and worn out doing the same few things over and over again, keep a healthy and safe amount of movement weekly for your knees and every other joint too!
So, the 5 tell all signs that a knee may be in more danger than you think are: (1) tight hamstrings in all angles, (2) tight ankles which are so easy to neglect, (3) tight hips that typically give us low back pain but is actually destroying our knees over time, (4) not enough essential fats in our diet and too much unnecessary fats causing inflammation, and lastly (5) the quality and quantity of our movement day in and day out. Keep up with these 5 avenues and there should be no gradual build up that leads us to knee surgery.
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