Knee Pain: A Very Basic User’s Guide

I was struggling to find a topic for my latest article when my old friend and singer of the unbelievable band Marrow, Erin Fortes, suggested talking about knee pain and how to prevent it. Her suggestion specifically was to discuss weakness in some specific muscle groups and the tendancy of women to develop knee injuries because of that. I’ve decided to open it up a little, though, and talk about the things that I see in people all the time that can lead to knee pain and the things that you can do to prevent and improve it.

1. Get your backside stronger and moving better! The most common thing I see in relation to knee pain is simply that people simply aren’t strong enough through their backside (hips, glutes and hamstrings) and don’t move well through their hips. 

All over our body we have opposing muscle groups on our front and back side. Chest and back. Biceps and triceps, etc. Each muscle group pulls in a certain direction and, in a perfect world, the opposing side has about the same strength. This keeps our bodies balanced. In the case of our knees, we have our quadriceps (the muscles on the front of our upper legs) vs. our hamstrings (the muscles on the back of our upper legs). In today’s world many people have much stronger quadriceps then hamstrings and this creates a pull on the knee joint causing pain.

On top of that, most of us sit in front of our computers all day, which causes some major tightness through the hips. This creates problems with our movement that can also cause knee pain. How do you know if this applies to you? Here’s a quick test to give you an idea. Stand about a foot and half in front of a wall facing away from it with your feet in a nuetral stance. Now try to push your hips back and touch your butt to the wall. Go do it. I’ll wait.

OK. One question: Did your knees bend? If they did, your hip movement is probably not very good. That’s OK, though. Almost noone does it right the first time. If you had problems with it, get a little closer to the wall and work on it. And make sure you push back. No falling into the wall!

2. Women and knees. Yes, it’s true. Women have knees. It’s also true that knee injuries are a nearly epidemic problem for female athletes of all ages. There are a few reasons for this. The one that gets talked about most of the time is something called the “Q angle”. What this refers to is the angle of your thigh bone in relation to your kneecap. Since women tend to have wider hips, they also have a wider “Q angle” which can put additional strain on the knees. Go hereto find an easy way to measure your Q Angle. When you compound that with the issues that many women have with resistance training you can see the issue.

How can women combat that? Three words: proper resistance training. Please take note of the word “proper”.

Do exercises that focus on good movement through the hips and that use a large number of muscles. If you are sitting and/or using machines, you are more than likely not working on proper movement patterns.
Squats and deadlifts are two tremendous exercises and squats shouldn’t hurt your knees no matter what you’ve heard. If they do, it probably means you aren’t sitting back or opening your hips enough.

Also, if you or your daughter are playing sports, doing some basic work on landing mechanics can be a very good idea.

Please know that I’m not an orthopedist and there can be many more causes of knee pain other then what I’ve covered here. If what I’ve suggested doesn’t feel right to you go see a good sports medicine doctor.
Please let me know if you have any questions about what I’ve talked about or anything else. Have a great day!

Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Lean Eating Coach
510-754-7113
Discover Your Strength!