Knee pain. It happens to nearly everyone at some point in time and it can impact any and all aspects of someone’s life – running, gym activities, playing with kids, taking care of family members, work tasks, etc. You name it, knee pain can impact it. And it is not fun!
Because it happens to so many people, and you are very possibly one of them, you likely think the knees are just bound to hurt at some point, so you just accept it as part of life. Lucky for you, it does not have to be that way!
And just so we are clear, the running and lifting you are doing in the gym is NOT causing your knee pain, regardless of what your friends, family, or physician tells you. It may be contributing slightly, which I will dive into shortly, but not causing the problem.
Since you are not destined to have knee pain and since the activities you are doing are not directly causing the pain, let’s discuss why knee pain occurs.
Lifestyle changes are possibly something you never considered as contributing to your knee pain. Most people don’t. Since the knees start to hurt when training, the pain is often associated with something that training has caused. Not always!
The lifestyle change I am specifically talking about is…sitting! I have talked with a lot of athletes over the years who developed knee pain when training. With further discussion, it was revealed that they had been sitting more in the weeks or months leading up to the onset of pain.
Increased sitting stiffens up the hips, shuts down the glutes temporarily, and yes, even impacts the mobility of the ankle. Once the hips and ankles are not working the same, the knee is no longer moving the same, either. Because of the anatomy of the hips, knees, and foot and ankle complex, the knee tends to take the hit first.
If you have no option but to sit during your day, do not worry! It does not mean you are just going to have to live with your knee pain. It simply means doing things to counteract the sitting is going to be important to add to your routine.
Mobility and strength deficits
Because of the anatomy of the knee and how it responds to other joints, knee pain (and yes, even those meniscus tears) is often a symptom of something else in the body not moving properly.
If your hip is lacking control, your knee takes increased torque and forces. Same goes for when the foot and ankle lack control. If your hip is lacking mobility, your knee attempts to increase the motion to allow you to function. Same things happens if the foot or ankle is not moving well. Even how your pelvis, back, and shoulder are moving can impact what happens at your knee.
If you haven’t noticed yet, our bodies are 100% connected from head to toe!
Rather than just addressing the knee symptoms and ignoring the rest of the body, it is important to look elsewhere in the body to see what is truly causing your pain. Only by addressing that root cause, or driver, of your pain will the knee pain fully resolve.
The body is great at conserving energy and moving along the path of least resistance, even if that means causing harm to a joint…or two or three. As areas of the body get tight or weak, the body will find ways to work around it to still allow you to accomplish the task you are looking to accomplish. Before you know it, the body is moving in all sorts of compensated patterns.
If you have the opportunity to observe people of different ages squatting or running, you will notice a huge difference between the toddler, the teenager, and the adult. In a squat, you will see a number of changes happen, including decreased depth, an increased forward trunk lean, and perhaps the heels coming off the ground. Assuming no major injuries have occurred to the body, nothing anatomically has changed over those years other than the fact that a person gets taller. Therefore, the only reason someone is unable to squat like when they were younger is because of compensations the body has made due to tightness, weakness, and resultant learned habits.
Taking myself as an example, I have a nice looking full depth squat now because I spent time working on the mobility and stability to get there. When I started Crossfit nine years ago, my squat definitely did not look as nice as it does today. In fact, it was pretty darn awful…and my knees felt it! And we cannot forget the knee pain I had for many years as a result of my weak feet.
As mentioned above, the movement compensations the rest of the body makes can all impact the knee. As long as you continue moving in your learned movement patterns, the pain is not going to go away. Fix the movements patterns and you can fix your pain.
If you are dealing with knee pain and have not been able to resolve it, start looking at something other than the knee. The knee is your symptom. Find the cause! Need help doing that? I would love to help you. Schedule a FREE DISCOVERY CALL with Dr. Brianne Showman to uncover your cause and what to do about it.
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