The knees are the largest joint in the human body, responsible for many movements such as walking, running, and jumping. According to a study, one in four people over the age of 50 experience knee pain. This pain can be debilitating for individuals and impact daily activities. Read on to learn how to keep your knees healthy, prevent injury, and find valuable tips for optimal functioning.
The knee is the largest joint in the human body. The knee cap (patella) connects your thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia).
The knee is made up of bones, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, and nerves and allows the leg to flex (bend) and extend (straighten). This is crucial for movements such as walking, running, jumping, and squatting.
The knee is inherently a less stable joint compared to the hip due to its structure. It is a "hinge joint" and therefore limited to mostly two-dimensional movement.
Strengthening the glutes, hips, quads. and calves ensures protection and stabilization for the lower body, which is essential for injury prevention.
Knee pain can be the result of strains, ligament tears, overloaded shock absorption, or fractures. Other culprits can include muscle overuse (causing excessive stress on knee joints) and arthritis.
A strong and stable lower body can help maintain knee health, prevent injury, support posture, and reduce the likelihood of falls. If things are out of whack in the lower body, the knees can often take the brunt, resulting in inflammation and pain. Confused or anxious about aggravating your knees further? Keep reading to unlock everything you need to know about knee health and preventing injury.
Knees: what do we need to know?
The knees are an extremely important joint, enabling movements such as walking, running, and bending the lower body — all essential for daily activities. The kneecaps are enveloped by synovial fluid-filled capsules (providing lubrication), encouraging smooth movement and reducing friction when moving.
The knees bear a significant amount of body weight during impact activities such as walking, high-intensity interval training, and running. Your lower body strength needs to meet the demands of your physical activity. One study showed that exercise improved joint function and reduced the likelihood of pain developing. Imbalances can cause excess load on the joints, leading to inflammation and pain.
Possible causes of knee pain
Some possible causes of knee pain include:
- Injuries. Strains and ligament tears can lead to pain during knee extension, especially if the injury restricts normal joint movement.
- Tendinitis. Inflammation of the tendons surrounding the knees can cause pain during extension as a result of force overload to the joint (e.g., jumping) without adequate strength.
- Muscle overuse. Repetitive stress or strain on the knee joint or the surrounding structures can cause inflammation, cartilage degeneration, and joint instability.
- Inflammation. May cause joint pain, swelling, and reduced range of motion.
- Alignment issues. Misalignment can cause abnormal wear and tear to joints. This can cause uneven pressure on the menisci (shock-absorbing cartilage pads in knees), leading to a risk of meniscus tears.
Tips for ensuring knee health
There are important preventative measures we can put in place in order to support knee health.
A well-rounded strength and conditioning exercise routine should be a main priority. Maintaining strength and flexibility around the knees through low-impact exercise such as Pilates provides joint stability while improving alignment and body awareness.
Posture starts with the ankles. Poor alignment of the ankles may cause excessive inward or outward rotation of the tibia (shin bone) causing faulty tracking of the patella (knee cap) which could result in inflammation of the joint, tendon, or fluid.
If you struggle with alignment or have naturally flat feet, you may benefit from wearing special supportive footwear in order to support your arches, which is essential for even weight distribution and shock absorption of the knees.
Injury prevention for knees
When it comes to knees, it is better to invest time in order to prevent and avoid all the possible injuries. Some strategies to prevent injuries are:
- Strengthen the surrounding muscles. Strong hips, quads, glutes, and calves will help support and stabilize your knees.
- Improve flexibility. Good flexibility surrounding the knees reduces the likelihood of strains and tears.
- Technique. Ensure proper alignment and tracking of the knees when training to avoid unnecessary stress and impact.
- Avoid overtraining. Instead, cross-train (alternating days of high- and low-impact exercise), ensuring rest and restorative time for joints.
- Listen to your body. Respond accordingly to your body's needs without pushing through exercise if you are experiencing pain to reduce the risk of further injury.
Exercises, variations, and techniques
Although these are just three exercises, together they are an effective tool to prevent knee injuries and straighten the surrounding muscles.
Seated knee extension with band
- Sit on a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.
- Place a resistance band (small looped band or long resistance band tied in knot) underneath one foot (or tied to a chair leg) and above your other knee.
- Engage your quads, slowly extending one knee while pressing against the band. Hold for a moment.
- Return to your start position. Repeat eight times then repeat on your second side.
Seated knee extension with ball squeeze
- Sit on a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.
- Place an exercise ball or a small cushion between your knees.
- Squeeze the ball or cushion lightly using your inner thigh muscles while extending one knee.
- Hold the extended position briefly and then return to the starting position.
- Repeat eight times then switch to your second side.
Bridge with leg extension
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Lift your hips into a bridge position.
- Extend one leg up towards the ceiling, keeping the hips lifted.
- Lower the extended leg back down and switch to the other leg.
- Repeat four to six times on both sides.
A well-rounded exercise program focusing on strength, stabilization, posture, and flexibility is important for joint stability, control, injury prevention, and optimal functioning of the knee. Consider starting Pilates, which is based around these core principles. Adding props to your training, such as resistance bands, can enhance strength further. The more muscle mass you have, the less likely you are to develop arthritis as you age. Arthritis is one of the main causes of joint inflammation and pain. By taking your training seriously you can decrease the likelihood of experiencing issues.
Consider seeing a medical professional for diagnosis if you are experiencing consistent knee pain. Early diagnosis is important in order to speed up recovery time and start appropriate rehabilitation. Some cases may require surgical intervention to relieve pain and improve joint function. It is crucial you consult with a fully qualified medical professional before taking further steps. Remember to always listen to your body.
- BMC Musculoskelet Disorders. Knee pain and related health in the community study (KPIC): a cohort study protocol.
- Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine. Knee osteoarthiritis prevalence, risk factors, pathogenesis and features: Part I.
- Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises: A Systematic Review.