A UK study found that at least ¼ of those aged over 55 years of age suffered persistent knee pain each year. A Finnish paper also found knee pain commonplace, as it was the most likely pain that would make older adults visit their GP. How then can you help your knees last longer? And in particular, can your strengthen your knees in a safe way to help prevent becoming a knee pain statistic?
Some anatomy: The knee complex is comprised of two separate joints; one a pivot-hinge (knuckle type) joint that bends and straightens. The other is a sliding joint where the patella (knee-cap) slides up and down atop a groove in the lower part of the femur (thigh bone). Large muscles in the thigh and lower leg control and move these joints. These muscles also allow the knee to withstand large forces by working as dynamic shock absorbers. The large muscle at the front of the thigh is the quadriceps group and the patella bone lies within the tendon of this muscle. It is through this sliding mechanism of the patella that the quadriceps can perform its shock absorbing function effectively. However the large forces also make this joint the most likely cause of intermittent knee pain – particularly if the patella tracks poorly.
Many muscular and anatomical factors can create ‘mal-tracking of the patella’ – where the patella is not guided well within its groove or pulled away from its correct position. Your techniques as you exercise will be the other most likely reason for mal-tracking. Described below are three of the most common techniques that can contribute to these tracking problems.
Training technique 1.
Avoid letting the knee fall forward of the line of the toes. The further the knee goes forward, the greater the compressive load on the patella. You will have to sit back into this position as if you are sitting into a chair behind you, as well as let your shoulders shift forward.
Training technique 2.
With lunges, step-ups and any other single leg exercise, keep the pelvis square to where you are facing. This helps engage the supporting gluteal muscles and should also help you keep the middle of your knee in line with this middle of you toes (training technique 3).
Training technique 3.
Keep the middle of the knee in line with the middle of your toes. Don’t let your knees drop inward, or force them further out than your toes. This will place undue pressure on other structures around the knee.
Other common knee problems can also be prevented if you strengthen your knees in this fashion and follow a program set for you.