(Credit: Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune Up® Newsletter)
by Tiffany Chambers-Goldberg, Certified YTU Teacher
Knees selflessly support you from the moment your feet stumble out of bed in the morning, funneling the weight from your hip down to your ankle. Running, jumping, walking, and stair climbing all possibly contribute to knee pain. In this article, we will discuss the basic anatomy of the knee and ways to keep them healthy, supported, and pain free!
What’s In A Knee?
The knee joint is where the femur (thigh bone) meets the tibia & fibula (lower leg bones), and is capped off with a patella (knee cap). It is the most complicated joint of the body and supports almost all of a person’s body weight! Due to the number of bones, ligaments and tendons involved, there are many reasons why knee pain may occur from misalignment, overuse and degeneration. Some injuries include tendonitis, ligament tears, arthritis, or iliotibial band syndrome. (The IT band is a ligament extending from the pelvis to the lower leg that tightens as we walk or run). The tendons, ligaments, muscles, cartilage and bursae (fluid-filled sacs) work together to stabilize, absorb shock, flex, extend, and even slightly rotate the knee. The quadriceps (thigh muscles), allow for extension of the knee (kicking a soccer ball). The hamstrings, adductors (inner thigh), and calf muscles are responsible for knee flexion and external rotation (jumping rope and the Charlie Chaplin stroll). Lastly, the iliotibial band (down the side of the leg) stabilizes the knee.
What Causes Knee Pain?
As an ex gymnast who tumbled for 8 years, then proceeded to run the concrete streets of Los Angeles, I developed tight IT bands which led to knee pain. As a yoga teacher, I have found an overabundant number of students with tightness in both IT bands and hamstrings. This is true both of athletes and couch potatoes!
As we have become a society of chronic sitters, the increasingly tight IT band results in lack of mobility in the hip and the knee joint. When we sit for long periods of time, the muscles essentially dry out like shrink-wrap, tightening and limiting mobility. Too much sitting contributes to weight gain, which can cause knee pain as the excess weight of the body is funneled through the small joint. The patella houses the thickest layer of cartilage in the body, protecting it from the pressure of the quadriceps when the knee is flexed, as in stair climbing. Stair climbing can put as much as six hundred pounds of pressure on the patella, not to mention the added weight created by obesity.
On the flip side, for athletes, habitual physical motion creates strength but also tightness in the muscles. Overuse of the knee can create a variety of problems: ligaments tear and muscles strain, especially from twisting motions. Irritation and inflammation develop resulting in tendonitis. Bursitis is caused by inflammation of the fluid filled sacs (bursae) surrounding the knee brought on by trauma, gout, or arthritis.
Life Without Knee Pain
There is hope, and it starts with self-care! I have a deep love for movement and every week you can find me practicing yoga, dancing, performing aerial arts, and running. Here are a few recommendations to live knee-pain free.
1. Yoga/Yoga Tune Up®
Stretching the muscles that surround and support the knee is vital for knee health. Yoga is one of the best ways I know to keep pain away. Hip limitation directly affects knee pain, so the more available your hips are, the greater amount of mobility you will have in your knee.
The Yoga Tune Up® Post Athletic Stretch DVD is a wonderful aid to keep the hips, back and knees supple, and of course, the new KneeHab DVD.
2. Massage/Foam Roller
Massage can alleviate tight muscles, especially the thigh and IT band, allowing for freedom in the knee. Foam rollers can be purchased for under $30 and massage yourself by rolling away the tightness!
3. Yoga Tune Up® Balls
My ALL TIME favorite self-care tool are the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls. Their size allows for greater manipulation of the muscles, tissue, tendons, and ligaments both “uptown” and “downtown” that support the knee. They’re also great at helping to loosen adhesions all around the knee.