We’ve all heard the excuse before, or maybe even used it ourselves; “I can’t train today, I have a dodgy knee”. Knee pain is a fairly common problem – it can range from a light ache or painful tightness, to a sharp catch or inflammation after exercising. The pain can be experienced in the front of the knee, around or under the knee cap (inside), or on the sides.
The most common cause is weakness in the knee and surrounding muscles. This can develop from inactivity, a previous injury, general wear and tear, or even biomechanical issues in the soft tissues and hard surfaces of the knee.
When the muscles on one side of the knee become weak, the muscles on the other side will tighten, causing the knee cap to track out of line of the knee joint. When this part of the knee is loaded – walking up or down stairs, running, jumping – pain is brought on as the surrounding tissues, fat pads and cartilage are impacted. Over time, the hard cartilage of the knee cap can break down and crack.
Luckily, there are some very simple solutions to managing and avoiding a dodgy knee. If you’re new to exercise, it’s likely you are already experiencing weakness or tightness due to previous inactivity. That’s why it’s important to take it slow and progress over time – intense exercise with too much impact or load and not enough rest can trigger knee problems.
Be sure to stretch regularly with a focus on legs and hips, and use a foam roller to release the ITB – the ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh. If you’ve never tried foam rolling, these essential exercises are a great place to start.
Your training program should also focus on improving your core stability. Without the fundamentals of a strong, stable core it’s impossible to improve stability in the hips and knees. Check out these techniques to improve your core posture and help strengthen the muscles surrounding your knees.
Training with a dodgy knee is certainly not impossible. Choose low-impact exercises – a spin bike over a treadmill; swimming rather than walking long distance; deadlifts instead of squats or lunges. Stopping exercise altogether may temporarily ease the pain, but ultimately it won’t fix the problem. In fact, it will de-condition and weaken your body, so when you get back into the gym it’s likely your dodgy knee will come back with a vengeance!
Running as a cause of knee pain has long been a concern, but it has never been shown to increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis (the irreversible wearing of knee cartilage). In fact, running builds and strengthens muscle tissue in the lower limbs that provides stability to the joints. Some of the most common causes of running related injuries are overtraining, poor flexibility and strength, inappropriate footwear and biomechanical issues. As with any exercise, it’s important to start slow and condition your body for running over time by increasing distance and intensity.
If you’re experiencing knee pain, be sure to treat it very carefully to prevent bigger issues arising. A good method to remember for injury treatment is ‘RICE’ – rest, ice, compression and elevation. If you experience pain during a workout, stop immediately. If in doubt – seek advice from a physiotherapist.