Is Knee Pain Hindering You?
Knee pain is one of those ailments that promptly highlights an area of the body which is fundamental to overall mobility but has perhaps been taken for granted prior to any issue having made itself known.
It can be both surprising and irritating how quickly pain within the knee leads to difficulty with simple, day-to-day activities such as walking, climbing stairs, lifting items and even sitting down and getting back up again.
If you like to keep active, there aren’t many sports that don’t involve the knee in some way or another. As a result, many high-impact activities such as running, cycling and tennis can prove incredibly uncomfortable and may even seem impossible.
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Knee pain is an incredibly common issue, affecting around 18 million adults a year. There are various reasons for knee pain to strike but, primarily, it is the complexity of the knee structure that is the main root of the problem. The knee is composed of two joints as well as bones, ligaments, cartilage and joints.
There are ligaments on both the outside and the inside of the knee and these work together to evenly distribute load. These ligaments are remarkably capable despite the weight they need to support.
However, they are also thin and prone to injury. An activity such as climbing the stairs involves a great deal of biomechanical force, with up to 8 times our body weight being supported through the knee as we go.
If pain in the knee is hindering you, in even the most ordinary tasks, consulting a physical therapist could work wonders for reducing or even resolving your pain completely.
Let’s take a more detailed look …
Physical Therapists Possess Expert Knowledge on Knee Pain
Understanding physical structures within the body, how and why they go wrong and how to remedy discomfort is what a physical therapist excels at so you would be in very good hands when it comes to tackling knee pain.
A physical therapist can use their specialist knowledge to assess your situation and treatment on an individual level.
Within your initial session, your chosen therapist will aim to determine the cause of the pain you’re experiencing as well as any other issues that may be occurring simultaneously.
It is common for an injury to cause another as we adjust the way that we move and behave in-order to avoid the pain that is experienced when moving around normally.
Following assessment and diagnosis, your physical therapist will then be able to tailor treatment options that are best suited to you as well as monitoring progress and making adjustments where necessary.
Exercise Is Key to Beating Knee Pain
It pays to receive proper instruction from a qualified physical therapist before beginning an exercise plan as sloppy technique will only exacerbate the problem.
Let’s take a look at the main exercises your physical therapist is likely to recommend for banishing knee pain …
1/ Straight Leg Raises
This is one of the simplest exercises that you can do to counteract the pain you’re experiencing, with minimum strain going through the knee. This movement strengthens both the quadriceps muscle (located at the front of the thigh) as well as the hip flexor muscles. In time, your physical therapist is likely to suggest adding ankle weights to maintain the benefits of this movement.
2/ Prone Straight Leg Raises
Similar to the movement above but working with your abdomen on the floor, prone straight leg raises strengthen both the hamstrings as well as the glutes. This is another exercise where the addition of ankle weights will allow you to gain further strength in these areas after the initial improvement.
3/ Hamstring Curls
A good all-round movement for tackling knee pain is known as hamstring curls. You can perform this maneuver either on your abdomen or while standing upright. If performed while standing, this exercise not only strengthens your hamstrings and glutes but it also tones up your core and upper body too.
4/ Hamstring Stretch
You can also work the hamstrings by stretching them out while lying down on the floor. Begin by lifting a leg up towards the floor and then, using both hands, pull your leg towards you before releasing again. Doing this a number of times on each leg will stretch both the hamstrings and the glutes. For a more comprehensive workout, you can also add the calf muscle to the mix by flexing your foot slightly.
5/ Quadriceps Stretch
This stretch is often performed by athletes before and after exercise. It is a simple move but can work wonders for flexibility within both the quadriceps and the hip flexor muscles.
6/ Heel & Calf Stretch
This movement makes use of a solid structure such as a wall to provide you with support as you push down and stretch out both the heel and calf muscles. There are two muscles within the calf – the gastrocnemius and the soleus – both of which attach to the Achilles tendon at the ankle. It is the gastrocnemius that connects above the knee and the stronger this muscle is, the better your overall knee function will be.
You may have previously tried leg presses at the gym. When performed correctly, leg presses are an excellent way to build strength with your quadricep muscles without putting any stress specifically on the knee joint. It’s important to find a balance between working enough weight to make a difference and knowing your own limits to avoid injury. Your physical therapist will be able to guide you on how to perform this exercise without making your pre-existing knee pain worse.
8/ Side Leg Raises
This movement is reminiscent of 1980s exercise classes and would be perfect for showing off some new legwarmers! If that’s not enough to get you going, side leg raises are also ideal for building the muscles on the sides of the knee, which can often be missed by other exercises that tend to work the front and back. This exercise also strengthens the gluteus muscles and area around the hip, giving the knee greater capacity to absorb the forces encountered while running, jumping and walking.
Step-ups are often overlooked as an exercise for tackling knee pain. Perfect for building bulk and strength within the glutes, step-ups can also improve flexibility around the hips. The key is not to make the mistake of putting the effort through the wrong leg and it is good to make a careful, controlled return to the starting point after the movement has been executed. Your physical therapist can advise on how to make the most out of this humble exercise.
10/ Leg Extensions
Leg extensions are a great way to strengthen the quadricep muscles and, because you’re using your own weight rather than a weighted machine in the gym, they are simpler to perform while helping to keep unintentional pressure away from the knees. You will need a chair to perform this movement.
11/ Half Squat
Half squats are another excellent all-rounder for combating knee pain as they work the quadricep muscles, glutes and hamstrings simultaneously while also avoiding strain within the knees. It is important to work this motion primarily from the hips and not from the knees, otherwise you’ll be making matters worse rather than better. Your physical therapist will be able to advise you on the correct method.
Knee Pain: Additional Treatments
A physical therapist understands the holistic nature of the body and will therefore likely suggest some additional treatment(s) to accompany the exercises you’re completing.
This may include the use of heat and ice packs, which can calm inflammation as well as allowing the muscles to move more easily. Another common treatment is massage, which can clear out metabolic irritants as well as releasing endorphins, which serve as natural hormonal painkillers.
Your therapist may also suggest the use of a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENs) device or an ultrasound machine. Both send impulses into the area where discomfort is being experienced.
A TENS device uses small electrical impulses, whilst an ultrasound machine sends sound waves to the area that hurts. Both work in similar ways, reducing the pain signals that are going to the brain whilst also stimulating the opioid system.
Improving Your Overall Wellbeing
In addition to the above-mentioned techniques, a physical therapist will likely make some recommendations on your weight as well as your general strength and flexibility too.
As well as helping you to combat the causes of knee pain, a little work in this area can significantly improve your overall wellbeing as well as ensuring the pain stays away.
Working with a physical therapist to learn key exercises for building strength and flexibility within the lower body as well as receiving additional treatment to reduce discomfort meantime is a double-pronged plan of attack against knee pain.
Your physical therapist will ensure all exercise is carried out in a safe yet effective manner while supporting you throughout the process, enabling you to beat knee pain more quickly than you might think possible.