How to Banish Knee Pain | Part 1


Active people often take their knees for granted, until a nagging or sudden pain gets in the way of all that free and easy movement. The cause is often down to over-strong, tight quad muscles pulling on the kneecap, or patella, which is the bone embedded in the quad muscles and tendons. If some of the thigh muscles are out of whack, too tight or not firing properly, the patella – which works like a pulley helping knee tendons to even out forces and glide smoothly with movement – can be pulled out of place, causing upset and ouchy knees. But taking it one step further, unhappy hips could be sharing their grief further down the line.

Sound familiar?

So, how do you banish those grumpy knees? Recent research on treating runners showed that whilst improving quad imbalances can improve knee pain in runners, hip and core strengthening not only improved knee pain but also enabled the runners to get back sooner and less prone to further injury.

Whilst a good ol’ professional assessment might be knee-ded (Har har!) for a more complicated diagnosis, you can start in the mirror: Which way are your knees pointing? Imagine your kneecaps are your eyes – which way are they looking? Are they cross-eyed? Staring wildly outwards? Or, maybe one is at ‘home’ and the other ‘away’? This can be the first step in understanding the healthy function, or dysfunction, of your knee biomechanics. Cross-eyed knees can be due to weak gluts (in particular, the gluteus medius or ‘jean pocket’ muscle); pointy-out knees may mean tight hips, such as the external hip rotators muscles; or if one knee is ‘out’, a habitual or postural issue could be causing those hips to be misaligned.

1 | Remember, always stay on the good side of your pain and avoid these exercises:

  • Deep squats or lunges: A deep knee bend, where hips are dropped below knee level or where the knee moves past the toes of the bent leg, will place strain on the ligaments, cartilage and other under-the-weather inside parts.
  • Hurdlers stretch: Sitting with one leg straight forward and the other tucked behind the butt will also strain the knee joint and possibly hyper-extend and squish the opposite knee.
  • Hero Pose – A no-no for sensitive leg-elbows.
    Downward frog – Even with a rolled-up yoga mat, your body weight may be too much to bear.

And of course, the foam roller is your friend! Use your body weight to roll out tight quads, ITBs (the side of your thighs), gluts and even calves.

2 | Resisted side steps
Loop a resistance band around your shins, stand with your knees slightly bent and your feet far enough apart that there’s strong tension in the band. Step to the right with your right foot, keeping feet facing forwards and knees aligned with second toes. Plant your right foot then step your left foot the same distance towards the right. Take 20 total steps to the right and then reverse your direction, taking 20 steps to the left. To make the exercise more challenging, move the resistance band higher on your legs.

3 | Step ups
Using a staircase or even better, a low block or aerobics step facing mirror, step up onto the step with your right foot, with your arms included in a running motion (left bent elbow follows forward in time with the right knee). Tap your left foot on the top of the step, and then lower with control. As you step up, your knee should be directly over your ankle, no further forwards. Repeat 5 times, then swap sides and repeat twice more. This exercise is great for retraining and strengthening the whole hip / knee / ankle team to work in harmony – as you become stronger you can increase the step height and velocity of movement.

4 | Wall sitting
Stand with your back against a wall with feet aligned and hip width apart. Press hips and small of back into the wall and walk your feet forward sliding your back down towards a sitting position, knees over ankles and thighs parallel. Try to get as near to a 90 degree knee bend as possible, without causing knee pain – if you feel pain, move higher up the wall. Hold for 30 – 60 seconds as you smile, stand up and shake out, then repeat twice more. As you get stronger, increase the time held (this is a great ski-season prep!) or even alternate lifting one heel off the floor at a time.

Check back tomorrow for 4 more tips to help you banish knee pain for good!

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Colette ONeill

Colette has raced and medalled as an age group triathlete for Great Britain, has set race records and competed successfully in running, cycling, swimming and rowing. She is currently completing her Yoga and Pilates Teacher Training, has a physiotherapy degree and strives to help others achieve their personal best through massage, coaching, mindfulness and self-empowerment.

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