Overcoming Knee Pain: A Guide to Strong, Pain-Free Knees

Understanding and Strengthening Your Knees for Pain-Free Living

We all know somebody with knee issues, whether it be ourselves or someone else. Those during or after run flare-ups are constantly on mind. We think to ourselves, “How do I get rid of this?” or “Will it always be like this?” Nagging issues like this will most likely present themselves, but you should be able to enjoy your active hobbies without worry.

I tried all sorts of sports when I was in high school. My sophomore year, I decided to give hurdles a go, even though they came up to my waist. My last meet of the year, I went out hard but clipped a hurdle along the way. The result was a complete ACL and a partial meniscus tear. I got the surgery and went through PT, and my knee felt as good as it had. Years of powerlifting later, and my knee was constantly nagging me. I knew I had to address this differently to get out of pain. Before I could fix the issue, I needed to understand the knee better. So, let’s break down the knee. 

The Science Behind Knee Movement

The knee has two primary movement patterns: extension and flexion. Knee extension is the act of straightening the leg, while knee flexion is the bending of the leg. Knee extension is primarily driven by four muscles contracting in your quadriceps. The rectus femoris (top) and vastus intermedius (bottom) are stacked on top of each other in the middle of your quadricep. The vastus medialis (inner) and vastus lateralis (outer) run along the sides of your quadriceps. Knee flexion is handled by three muscles contracting in your hamstrings and one in your calf. The semimembranosus (bottom) and semitendinosus (top) are stacked on the inside of your hamstring, and the biceps femoris is the outer portion of your hamstring.

As a runner, this means a couple things. Knee flexion happens as your foot lands on the ground to help absorb the impact and as your leg swings forward to prevent the foot from hitting the ground. Knee extension occurs after you land to help you push off the ground behind you and right before your foot strikes the ground to prepare for a stable landing.

Exercises for Stronger Knees

Now that you understand the knee & how it functions during running, let’s see how we can rebuild our knees stronger. This video shows three exercises you can do at home twice per week for stronger, pain-free knees. The first exercise is to walk backward for 10 minutes. Actively think about pushing through your toes the entire time. Start slowly on flat ground and gradually increase speed with time. You can increase the difficulty more by going uphill, dragging a sled behind you, or using a turned-off treadmill. The second exercise is a reverse step-up, which works knee flexion on the way down and knee extension on the way up. The third exercise is an atg split squat, which works a much deeper level of knee flexion and extension. It’s best to start with the front foot elevated; you can use stairs or a chair at home. To help engrain knee flexion, place two fingers behind your knee and think about crushing both fingers on the way down.

If you want extra guidance and a personalized plan from a team of professionals on your journey back to pain-free running, book a Success Strategy Session with a coach at Global Human Performance. A naggy knee shouldn’t constantly be on your mind; let us help you move pain-free again.

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