The Importance of Hip Strength to Knee Stability
While knee pain is relatively common and can be caused by many things, one thing that is often overlooked is our hip and the strength of the muscles around the hip joint. Hip muscles like the gluteus medius, are integral to controlling the position of your thighs and knees, which could be the key to preventing and treating your knee problems.
The hip has many muscular attachments that help control its motion and the motion of your leg. The gluteus maximus (buttocks muscle) is a powerful extender of the hip, while the gluteus medius muscle helps to abduct the hip and thigh (pull your leg out to the side). When your gluteus medius muscle becomes weak, it allows your thigh to rotate inward abnormally and may cause increased valgus, or 'knock-knee'. This abnormal position of your thigh causes altered alignment, excessive strain on your knee joint, altered position of the patella and may increase your chance of patellar maltracking and ligament strain.
To illustrate how much of a factor hips are in knee health, females tear their ACL four to eight times more than males with the same amount of exposure to activity. Female anatomy, with its wider hip structure, predisposes women to injury as the wider pelvic bone causes a more exaggerated angle from the hip to knee, increasing valgus. Landing on your knee with increased valgus will increase the risk of ACL injury.
The good news is that muscular imbalances are easily corrected by strength training. A strengthening program to target specific hip muscles, can prevent knee problems or treat knee pain. If your gluteus medius is weak, a physical therapist can prescribe exercises to help strengthen the gluteus medius. Athletes who performed a hip-strengthening program, as well as patients with osteoarthritis and patellofemoral pain, have reported an improvement in knee pain after increasing hip and core strength. Engage your health care provider to learn if your knees can benefit from a targeted hip strengthening routine.