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The Anatomy Of Knee Pain
Life would be simple if knee joint pain were a thing of the past, with surgeries fondly remembered as an old-fashioned method of treating knee pain. Occurring sooner than we think, more and more individuals who are diagnosed with knee injuries are using an alternative to surgery and strong medication. This alternative method is used to strengthen the muscles that support the knee joint with exercises – much cheaper, less invasive, and just as effective with the patient more in control of their own healing.
The knee consists of several parts – bones, tendons, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. Each part can become damaged and develop into a serious knee injury or the knee pain can results from parts of the knee wearing out. Up until recently, orthopaedic surgeons have been the answer for surgically treating all bones, joints and soft tissues for extensive injuries or knee diseases, when damage is more extensive. But if tears are minor and the pain is limited, muscle strengthening exercises are used, building the hamstring muscles to increase the knee’s strength and flexibility.
Types of knee joint exercises to strengthen the knee muscles
– Before beginning any exercises, warm up by riding a stationary bike. Then straighten the injured leg and raised it slowly a couple of times.
Note: Water is excellent to strengthen supportive muscles of the knee joint
(1) Press the back against the side of the pool while in chest-deep water, raising each leg 90-degrees; (2) do a quick walk while in water that is chest-deep; and (3) hold onto the side of the pool and perform several flutter kicks in the water.
-While sitting on a chair on or on the couch, extend the injured leg with a weight worn on the ankle.
– Lie flat on the stomach on a soft floor mat, raising the injured leg in the air as high as possible.
Using knee exercises to strengthen muscles for knee tendon injuries
Once a person injures the knee tendon (tendinitis), the muscles surrounding the area will become painful due to swelling and inflammation. Initially, the injured knee should be rested and elevated, with ice applied to the knee and compressed wraps used. Aspirin or ibuprofen can be taken to relieve any pain and inflammation during this time.
When the knee tendon is partially or completely torn, knee exercises are used as a primary rehabilitation to restore its ability to bend and straighten the entire knee area. The exercises are also used to strengthen the knee for prevention of further knee injuries. Knee ligament injuries would use similar exercises but are more vigorous in their application. Strengthening the muscles that support the knee joint with knee exercises is an excellent preventive for further injuries, or a way to work out the present painful knee injury. Even after surgery for a seriously damaged knee, knee exercises are needed in order to keep the knee flexible and mobile.
Your knee plays a major role in the chain of weight bearing in the leg. It has to respond to ground forces from below and the load of your body from above. It is a relatively simple joint, but it has to be ready to quickly react to force from the ground while balancing the load of the rest of the body at the same time. Your knee is at the mercy of what’s going on in the joints directly above and below: the hip, pelvis, ankle and foot.
Although there are many reasons for knee pain (arthritis, meniscus and ligament damage for example), long term relief of knee pain has to start with an assessment of your whole structure. This assessment begins with your feet to see how they influence the alignment and forces at the knee. Any joint is only as good as its structure, and poor alignment in the feet and ankles has a negative influence on the knee, creating muscle imbalances and eventually pain and stiffness.
The hip joint also has a similar affect on the knee – poor mechanics and muscle imbalances in the hip creates problems for the knee. And because the socket of the hip joint is formed by the pelvis, it has to be aligned correctly too. In fact, when doing a full assessment of the knee, the whole body must be evaluated, since any structural imbalances in the body can affect the knee’s ability to function.
The good news is that a well balanced Pilates-based Physical Therapy program addresses the whole body. Pilates is a recent addition to many Physical Therapy programs and is rapidly growing in popularity throughout the world. Combining Pilates with Physical Therapy will improve your body awareness, alignment, strength, flexibility and balance. You’ll learn how to move with more efficiency and less pain.
At first, new and balanced movement habits feel weird and unfamiliar because they’re foreign to your nervous system. Working with a skilled Pilates trained Physical Therapist will help you understand your own unique postural and movement habits and help you practice correct patterns effectively.
Here are a couple of things you can do right now to find out how your knees stack up:
1. Stand in shorts, barefoot in front of a full length mirror and look at your leg alignment. What do you see? Are there any funny angles between your hips and your knees? What about your feet? Do you have an arch on the inside of your foot? Can you see that your whole leg influences the alignment of your knee? This includes the alignment of your pelvis, since the pelvis is the top of your hip joint. Be aware that when you do any exercise “for your knees”, you must also consider the rest of your body, especially the foot, ankle and hip.
2. While standing, imagine a line going through the centre of your leg from your hip joint, through the centre of your thigh, your knee joint, the centre of your lower leg, ankle and out the 2nd toe. This is the ideal alignment for your leg. A word about your hip joint: did you know that your “hips” are not the wide bones of your pelvis, but the place where you crease when you bend your knee towards your chest? This is where your heel should line up when your foot hits the ground when walking. The hip joint itself is really quite narrow – about the same distance apart as your sits bones in the back.
3. When you stand, walk and exercise, the alignment of your whole leg affects which muscles you use to move. And the way you use your muscles strongly influences your alignment. Be very aware of keeping correct alignment from your pelvis to your foot – hip to 2nd toe – so that you create good balance around your knees. If you do exercises like squats and leg press, do you pay attention to your leg alignment? Your knee program will be far more effective if you do. Remember that pain is your body’s way of telling you that something’s not right, so if you can’t modify your position to relieve the pain, skip the exercise. Remember also that not every “recommended” knee exercise is right for every knee – you need to find out what’s right for your knees.
The point is that your knee pain is usually just a result of the alignment you set up from the ground (you feet and ankles) and the load you put on them from above (your hips, pelvis and trunk). Figure out how to de-stress your knee joints by changing your whole-body alignment and your knee pain and stiffness will resolve.
If you have knee pain and want to find out how to get relief, seeing someone who has a strong knowledge of alignment of the body, like a sports massage therapist or physiotherapist, who will assess your whole body, rather than looking only at your knees is the best thing to do. But equally you could also try a Pilates exercise program. It is a great way to reduce pain and stiffness in your knees and will help you sort out your unique imbalances. Then you’ll know exactly what to do for YOUR knees.
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