Don't Ignore Your Knee Pain!
Before getting into knee pain and some of the most common overuse injuries that afflict this joint, let's go over the role of cartilage and meniscus in the knee.
Cartilage is a thin, elastic tissue that protects the bone and helps joint surfaces slide easily over each other. It comes in two forms: articular cartilage which covers the surfaces of the knee joints, and the meniscus, which sits in two thickened, disc-like shapes within the tibio-femoral joint. Meniscus acts as a shock absorber, providing structural integrity and spreading load forces.
Various factors affect how well the meniscus and cartilage function: foot or knee position, stance, posture, age, weight or previous injury. If you're athletically inclined, previous injury is a big factor and it's quite possible that your knee pain is from cartilage damage due to an injury from playing sports. This can be fairly insignificant and heal quickly but as minor as these injuries may seem, they do add up over time.
The joints of the human body are subject to wear and tear simply through repetitive action. Just like any mechanical component, if something is out of alignment it will cause an unequal wear pattern. In the same way, poor technique when doing squats, lunges, jumps, dead lifts and many other movements, can create wear on the meniscus. Over time this leads to a dysfunction and then inevitably to pain.
Trainers, physical therapists and coaches consistently drill about form when performing complex movement. However as we fatigue, form lapses and injuries can happen. It's very important to pay attention to pain as it's our body's way of alerting us to possible ‘shearing’ of articular surfaces or meniscal tears.
If you suffer with any of the following symptoms, it may be worth getting a physical therapist to take a look at your knee:
- Locking or popping of the knee
- Instability of the knee
- Persistent swelling that is exercise or activity related
- Pain or inability to fully squat (sit on heels)
- Pain/pinching with your leg fully extended
- Pain on twisting, turning or change of direction.
Even if you don't suffer from knee pain, there are some guidelines you should follow when exercising:
- Know what movements/exercises your form lapses in and try to correct faults.
- Talk to your trainers and get others to watch you perform movements.
- Look at your alignment with all knee movements - it should be symmetrical between left and right knee.
- Wear the correct footwear! Do you overpronate or underpronate? Knowing the answer to this is critical to buying shoes that support your movement.
- Maintain flexibility in your hamstrings, quads and glutes by stretching and foam rolling.
Two takeaways from this if nothing else are to rest your knee if it hurts and do not ignore pain. Resting your knee doesn't mean you have to stop training, just be smart and work around it! Being proactive and getting pain in the knee diagnosed, may go a long way towards preventing bigger knee problems down the road.