Knee pain is often caused by either a one-time acute injury or repetitive motions that stress the knee over time, particularly as we age. There are some steps you can take to avoid knee pain and injuries.
"One of the most common things that causes knee injuries is the runner's stretch," says Robert Gotlin, DO, director of sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "That's when you grab your foot, bringing heel to butt. We all do it, but it's one of the things that tends to increase knee pain. By bending the knee all the way, the kneecap gets jammed into the bones below it."
Dr. Gotlin said the runner's stretch can set the stage for chondromalacia patella, a condition where the cartilage under your knee cap becomes softened, which is the most common form of knee pain. "By repeatedly jamming your kneecap, you are promoting more chondromalacia," he says.
Generally, Gotlin says the best knee injury prevention starts with becoming familiar with your own body and learning how to exercise correctly. If your knees are the type that are prone to chronic pain from arthritis, for example, impact-oriented exercise is not a good idea. Opt for an elliptical machine rather than the treadmill at the gym.
Tips for Avoiding Knee Injuries
In addition to Gotlin's advice, you can avoid knee pain and injuries by doing the following:
1. Maintain your weight. Because extra weight can increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis, maintain a weight that's appropriate for your size and age to decrease stress on your knees and to avoid increased chances for knee injuries.
2. Wear sensible shoes with a good fit. It will help you to maintain proper leg alignment and balance, ultimately preventing knee injuries.
3. Warm up. Before starting any exercise, warm up and then do stretches. If you stretch muscles in the front and back of your thighs, it decreases tension on your tendons, ultimately relieving pressure on the knees.
4. Do low-impact exercise. At the gym, opt for a rowing machine or a cross-country skiing machine. Both offer a strong workout with low impact to your knees.
5. Swim or walk. When exercising outside of the gym, opt for swimming or walking.
6. Weight train. Strengthen your leg muscles to better support your knees and avoid injuries by working out with weights. But be sure to consult with an expert first on the right way to life weights to prevent knee pain.
7. Don't decrease your activity. A decrease in activity will lead to weakness, increasing your chances of injuries.
8. Don't suddenly change the intensity of your exercise. Build up gradually to avoid knee pain.
9. Consider physical therapy. If you already have a knee injury, visit a physical therapist who can help to set up an appropriate exercise regime.
You may notice that some people with knee problems wrap their knees during exercise or at other times. Gotlin says people generally do this because it feels good. While it won't hurt your knee, it won't help to avoid an injury. If you wrap, be sure to avoid wrapping too tightly, because that can also cause a knee problem.