One of the most common issues I (and most trainers and therapists) hear during an initial consult include the phrase "bad knees", or "knee pain," followed by a long littany of things this pain prevents them from being able to do! It doesn't have to be this way! Yes, with aging, knees and other joints do tend to lose some strength and integrity. But even with a history of acute injury, knee pain is preventable and reversible by our day-to-day habits. This new blog series is dedicated to that effort, so be sure to check back for future posts as we explore knee health!
DID YOU KNOW?? The source of chronic knee pain is very rarely from in or around the knee itself!! Most knee pain originates with dysfunction downstream (foot and ankle) or upstream (hip and lower back)!
To kick off the series, I would like to highlight the top three exercises you should be able to perform WITHOUT pain.
Test #1. Get off of the floor without using your hands
I often use this exercise with my clients as part of basic movement screening, so it tests more than just the knees. It is a powerful indicator of overall functional strength and basic mobility.
Begin by laying on the floor, flat on your back. Now, while keeping your hands completely free and up in the air, see if you can get off of the floor without touching anything! NOTE: there is more than one way of doing this successfully! If you did it once, great! See if you can do it my mirroring which side or leg you counted on during the first test - can you do it just as easily both ways, and without pain or discomfort? Are you able to stand up onto both feet at once?? (this is very difficult for most adults to do without hands)
If you had to put your hands down for leverage during the stance portion of the test, chances are you have lost the confidence in your legs to get you up.
Test #2. The Surrender Lunge
The surrender lunge is another excellent indicator of functional mobility, motor control, and strength (see video of me doing a surrender lunge, from my recent post on cinder block exercises ). With the controlled deceleration down, and tension required to transfer legs, it translates into how you would perform stairs, and other critical single leg movements required during day-to-day life.
Stand with at least 5 feet of space behind you (overhead weight is optional). Step back into a reverse lunge, lowering down to both knees (the surrender position), and then reposition your stepping leg forward to lunge back up to starting position. It might take a few tries, but see if you can get into a rhythm until you can perform it successfully. Retest, leading with the other leg. If you are able to keep an upright posture throughout the whole sequence without knee pain on either side, you passed!
Didn't pass? That's ok! Try performing reverse lunges or walking lunges. If you need your hands to push on your legs during the stance portion, or if there is knee pain associated with lowering or standing, it is an indication you lack proper strength and mobility for optimal knee health.
Overhead squat with parallel feet
The third functional test is the overhead squat with parallel feet. You might recognize this from another one of my recent posts on using the overhead squat self-test, but this is simply a great indicator of knee health. If there is pain or buckling in the knee, there are upstream and downstream issues that are preventing proper tracking of the knee. By placing hands overhead, it puts strategic tension through the whole body, but will illuminate tracking issues related to the knee.
How to perform an Overhead Squat Assessment
You must have a mirror for this self assessment at the very least, but it's the best if you have a superfriend, loved one, or anyone else around with a camera to take pictures from the front, side, and posterior and then compare them to the pictures below. Or, simply use voice commands on your phone to take a picture.
You PASS if you can squat to 90 degrees, keeping your feet straight, and without buckling or pain in the knees! NOTE: there may be other impairments with the squat, as detailed in my previous post, but in terms of knee pain, it's a great sign if you can do this pain free!
Didn't Pass?? If you experienced pain, try the same test with a wider stance, and feet flared out into a V shape. If that is easier and doable without pain, it points to hip mobility as the culprit! If pain persists, it may be lack of glute activation or strength and/or ankle mobility.
Try these exercises for yourself, and see if you can train up to doing them properly. Performing these is the first step to knowing whether you have issues that need to be addressed. If there is persistent pain, dysfunction, and discomfort in those simple movement patterns, it is a good indicator that you are a good candidate for chronic knee pain! Be sure to follow along to the rest of this series as we explore solutions.
Until next time!
Welcome to the Broad Scope Narrw Focus Blog! I hope you find a lot of useful and applicable information as we explore the broad world of Wellness together. Check in often, as there will be new posts weekly! Enjoy