Our knees take a knocking every time we take a step; whether it is walking, running or jumping, any activity involving the foot puts a strain on the knee. This tension on our knees is further aggravated by arthritis, excessive foot pronation or the overuse of muscles that protect this vulnerable joint. To relieve and prevent knee pain and its causes, try these recommendations from physical therapists.
Strengthen your butt: Knee injuries, including common Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears, can occur when hip muscles are weak. ACL tears, which are eight times more likely in women athletes, have been shown to lead to other cartilage tears and to correlate with knee arthritis later in life. When the main butt muscle (gluteus maximus) is weak, it causes the pelvis to drop and the upper thigh bone (femur) to fall inward. This imbalance creates painful downward stress on the hip, knee and ankle every time you take a step. Hip extensions are helpful exercises to strengthen the glutes.
Stretch the muscles that support your knees: When butt muscles atrophy or become imbalanced because we tend to sit much of the day, the hamstrings and hip adductors (inner thigh muscles) also overwork — to compensate for the underdeveloped gluteus maximus — resulting in compressive force on the knee joint. By stretching out these support muscles, you decrease the chance that they get tight and cause muscle imbalances. So remember the complementary two-fold process: As you strengthen naturally weak muscles like the glutes, also stretch supporting muscles like the inner thigh muscles.
Tone your core muscles: Abdominal weakness will cause your pelvis to tilt forward, creating excessive low-back curvature and shifting the leg bones inward. Strengthening the core helps to keep your back in a neutral spine position and places the lower extremities — specifically the knees — in the best possible position for movement without joint compression.
Watch your feet: You may look great in three-inch stilettos, but keep in mind that high-heeled shoes increase the compressive force on your knee joints. Wearing heels also encourages tight calf muscles, another common cause of knee pain. A tight calf can pull the foot inward to a position called pronation, which essentially collapses the arch of the foot and causes the lower leg to roll inward, placing stress on the ankle and knee. So embrace the flat shoe fashion trend and stretch out those calves. On the flip side, replace your workout sneakers frequently — every three months or a year depending on your level of activity. This is a safe way to avoid wearing a shoe with poor cushioning support for your arches and joints.