Whether a runner, speed walker, snowboarder, spinning junkie, or a high intenstiy addict, you will likely deal with joint pain at some point in your life. Knee discomfort can be debilitating and disruptive. Despite your favorite workouts or hobbies, your knees are crucial. They directly effect your ability to move and perform in everyday life.
So let’s talk about how to alleviate pain and protect your knees.
It’s important to remember, the body is an integrated unit. We have connective tissue linking our muscles together. Oftentimes, a problem at the knee may actually be a symptom of a larger issue. The pain’s origin could very well be at the hip, the ankle, or even somewhere else. Therefore, when you think about alleviating pain, you must consider “stretching” all the tissue around the knee.
Several muscles overlap at the knee joint potentially contributing to pain. In your calf, the gastrocnemius and soleus, in your thigh, your hamstrings. Furthermore, your quadriceps also crossover the knee. These muscles work tin tandem flexing, extending, and stabilizing the knee. Since most likely you don’t know the exact source of dysfunction, work on “stretching” or mobilizing each of these areas in your body. Below are six techniques aimed at targeting imperative muscle groups and helping you live a knee-pain-free life.
Wall Calf Stretch
Calf muscles often are neglected in our stretching efforts. For those who run, do high impact workouts, or spend a lot of time on their feet this muscles is often overlooked. They can get extremely tight from impact and need to stretching to relieve pain that sometimes refers up the knee.
Find a wall or small block to prop your toe up. Stand in a split stance, prop the toes of your front foot up. Keep your heels grounded and your leg as straight as possible. Lean towards your front leg holding the stretch at it’s deepest point. Contract for five seconds then release each time working to deepen the stretch. Aim for 10 - 15 repetitions or more if you are still experiencing tightness.
Calf Smash with lacrosse ball
Sit on the ground. Take a lacrosse ball and place it below the knee. Pull your foot closer to you butt so that the ball is sandwiched between your calf and hamstring. Once you create a compression force by pulling your shin towards you, move you foot in all directions to help create space in the knee joint. Dr. Kelly Starrett calls this the “gap and smash”, it allows you to work out tension in both the calf and hamstring and create space in the knee joint. Do both the inside and outside of the calf in order to stretch both parts of the gastrocnemius.
The front and sides of your calves need attention too. If these muscles are tight they could be creating pressure on your knee joint as well. For this stretch you can either sit on the ground crossed legged (think a double king pigeon position) or sit in a chair with one foot planted flat on the ground and cross the other ankle over knee. Take a lacrosse ball and wedge it firmly between your calf and shin bone, apply downward pressure. While pressing the ball into your calf do circles in both directions with your foot and ankle.
Continue both of these stretches until you feel the tightness in these areas being relieved.
Half kneel Hip and Quad Stretch
This is one of my favorites. It feels amazing and it does double duty for your hip and quad muscles. Kneel on one knee with your other foot planted flat on the ground. Make close to 90 degree angles with both of your legs. Lean forward towards your front leg, stretch the front of your hip down. Next, grab the ankle of your down leg and pull it towards your butt, giving you a deep hamstring and hip stretch down the front leg to the knee. Move in and out of this stretch for 10 - 15 repetitions or more depending on your level of tightness.
Quad foam roller stretch
Stretching your quads is important as they get adaptively short from all the sitting most of us do everyday and are often under constant tension. To get this large muscle group back to functioning at its best, try using a foam roller.
Lay face down with one leg on the foam roller. You want the majority of your bodyweight on the leg you are working. Roll slowly and against the grain of the tissue. Instead of just rolling up and down, roll your leg from outside to inside putting pressure and focus on tight spots. Continue rolling until it is no longer painful. This can take upwards of 10 minutes depending on your level of tightness, so set ample time aside.
Wall Hamstring Stretch
Your hamstring muscles also effect the knee and can be the source of discomfort or pain. Lay on your back with one leg flat on the ground. Take the other leg and prop it up on the wall or table. This stretch should radiate down the back of your leg starting from your knee. In this position once you find the deepest point of your stretch you can contract and relax the muscle of the leg that is propped up. Contract for five seconds and then relax. Repeat. This should allow you to deepen the stretch. If you have greater flexibility you can hold the ankle of your up leg and pull it towards you. Aim for 10 - 15 repetitions to start and continue if you are still tight.
Hamstring Smash with foam roller or lacrosse ball
For your hamstrings, sit on the ground and place the roller under one of your thighs. Cross the other leg on top to add more pressure, then roll cross fiber like you did with your quads. When you find places that are particularly tight or sore, focus in on that area with extra pressure. There are three muscles that make up the hamstring, so rolling across the leg allows you to hit all of them. For a more intense approach sit on a hard chair and use a lacrosse ball and smash across fiber. Again you want to work on this area until it is no longer painful. This will be different for every person, but set aside 10 minutes or more for each leg if possible.
Each of us has imbalances and discrepancies in our movement patterns that can lead to tightness, dysfunction and pain in different parts of our bodies. Figure out ways to work stretching and mobilizing into your daily routine. This way you aren’t just reacting when you have pain. By actively taking care of your body, you can work to prevent pain from occurring in the first place.