“I can’t [fill-in-the-blank] because I have bad knees”, is a common complaint. Moreover, it’s one of the reasons I hear people give for becoming less active over time. Knee pain can be caused by something structural, like a tear or wearing down of the meniscus (cartilage) in the knee, or arthritis. Sometimes however, (remember It’s always best to be diagnosed by a physician) the problem could stem from somewhere other than the knee itself.
Unless you suffered trauma directly to the knee, knee pain can also start out as being “mechanical;” that is, it’s brought on by a muscle imbalance from over-use or poor mechanics. Here are a few basic assessments which will reveal some of the “usual suspects” involved in the mechanical causes of knee.
Suspect # 1 tight hip flexors:
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor. To assess your right hip flexor, pull your left knee to your chest and straighten your right leg along the floor. Does your right thigh contact the floor in this position, or is there a good bit of space under your leg? If there’s some space under that right thigh, your right hip flexor is tight. A tight hip flexor can literally “shut down” your butt muscles, creating more stress in the knee in virtually all activities.
Suspect #2 tight quads:
Stand tall, holding on to a counter top for balance. Bend your knee so that your heel goes toward your butt, and grasp your ankle. Many of us have to do something pretty heroic to grab that ankle—did you? Could you get it at all? If you had to lean over, twist, bend your other knee, use a stretch strap, or couldn’t get the ankle at all, your quadriceps muscle is tight. Like the hip flexors, a tight quad can shut down the butt, placing more stress on that knee.
Suspect # 3 tight lateral hip/ IT Band:
Lie on your side with your bottom knee slightly bent for balance. (Be sure to put something under your head to align the head and neck.) Grasp your top ankle with your hand or a towel, bending the top knee. Can you get the top knee to touch the bottom knee? If not, the muscle that overlies your IT band is likely very tight. This can create a misalignment of the knee cap, creating knee pain.
Suspect # 4 Foot and ankle alignment
These two tend to work as a team. With shoes and socks off, look at your feet and ankles in the mirror. Do you have a high arch or a low arch? (Either extreme can be problematic.) Do you tend to stand on your arch, tipping your inside ankle bone inward? If so, you likely have a fallen arch or flat foot. I would guess too that your knee pain is mostly on the inside (toward your midline) portion of your knee.
Okay. So is this what is causing my knee pain?
Your knee pain has its own unique origin which may include one or more of the above scenarios, as well as several others not mentioned in this article. I didn’t share the examples above to give you a way to assess and address your personal knee pain, but rather as a means to show you what could be contributing to it. The message is: knee pain does not need to be a sentence. Many times, with the right exercises and some persistence, you can resolve its source before it becomes structural. Even if you already have arthritis, have experienced a meniscus tear or other knee injury, strengthening and balancing the muscles around the hips, and/ or correcting the alignment at the foot and ankle can still reduce or even resolve your pain. For more information, or to schedule complimentary injury screen, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.