10 Ways to Prevent Knee Injuries:
Here are some suggestions and thoughts that I can share from my experience working as a Physical Therapist in an orthopedic setting for several years. Knee injury prevention is a topic that should be more widely discussed publicly. We always focus on treating injuries, illnesses and conditions in the health field, but prevention is the best way to keep staying active and live a healthy lifestyle.
Always warm up before any sport or exercise: If you are about to play any sport, don’t without a warmup. Increased blood flow and body temperature loosens up your muscles and joints for better free flowing movement and mobility. A walk, light jog or bike ride is sufficient for 5-10 minutes or even a hot pack to the knee if you have a history of knee problems.
Choose a low-impact exercise: Biking or swimming provide less joint forces and decreased pressure on your knee joint. This type of exercise is suitable in many cases for those with a knee condition like osteoarthritis or meniscus injuries.
Proper Footwear: Just as we measure properly for knee, ankle, hip and back braces, it is critical that everyone is fitted for proper athletic shoes when performing any activity or sport. The most important reason is to prevent injury to your knee. Biomechanically speaking, wherever the forces are distributed to your joints in the lower part of your body, it can cause a knee injury without proper footwear.
Mix up your activities: If you an active individual, try to spread out your exercise regimen so that you are not overloading your knee. For example, if you enjoy running, don’t run on consecutive days. Try to run on Sunday, bike Monday and run again on Tuesday. Same thing applies to strengthening exercises for your knee at the gym. If you are using weight machines for knee extension or leg presses, do not try to perform these exercises on consecutive days. Your muscles go through a process that requires resting of the muscles so the tissue can regenerate and become stronger.
Proper Leg Strengthening: Having more strength in your legs will allow for more support around your knee joint. This also places less pressure and forces on your knee when weight bearing, whether you are standing or walking. You will even notice simple tasks like getting up from a chair become easier with less need to use your arms. Understanding how to strengthen your lower extremity properly is important to consider. Seek guidance from a physical therapist to know what type of strengthening program is most appropriate for your needs and understand that it is more then just strengthening your quadriceps. You want to make sure that a muscle imbalance does not occur, so don’t forget to strengthen hamstrings and calf muscles as well.
Proper Stretching: Knowing what to stretch and when to stretch is a component of preventing injuries to any body part. There are many theories and several research articles that have been done in this area. In protecting your knees specifically from injury, I believe there are several important muscles to stretch and methods of stretching. What is most appropriate for you depends on factors such as the sport or activity you are participating in, your medical history (ie. past surgeries, previous injuries, your flexibility and rom(range of motion), etc..), and other factors which is why you should seek proper instruction from a physical therapist. The last thing you want is to stretch a muscle the wrong way. I see many patients who believe they are stretching a muscle properly but in fact their technique and length of time stretching is not effective.
Healthy Lifestyle: This goes without saying, however it is still probably the most important consideration to take when preventing a knee injury or any injury for that matter. At the time of their discharge, patients ask me all the time “is there anything I can do to prevent this knee pain from happening again?”. Besides patients continuing their home exercise programs, I always make sure to tell them that staying fit and living healthy is likely going to be the best possible way of preventing any injury, including the knee. Unfortunately, the obesity crisis is more prevalent than ever and excess weight means you are putting a lot more force and pressure through your joints, most notably your knees.
Stay Active: Avoid sitting for long periods and move around. Changing positions is a good way to prevent your knees from getting stiff and keeps the blood flow moving. Try to avoid sitting more than 30 minutes at a time. If you have a job that requires you to sit all day, try to get up and walk around for one minute. Even just that little bit of walking can get your muscles and joints from becoming stiff and uncomfortable.
Avoid Overtraining: There are lots of you out there who think “the more the better”. This expression can lead to injury and it is something I see more in the
active person who enjoys group classes like Zumba or Crossfit. Break up your week and try not to do the same repetitive motions every day like squats for example. This can lead to injury and your body will eventually break down from a repetitive strain injury. Also using too much weight at the gym, whether you are pushing too much weight on a leg press or lifting to much on a weight machine,
can lead to poor technique and too much stress/force on the knee joint which can lead to injury.
Pay Close Attention to your Posture and Body Mechanics: When most of us play a sport or perform an activity, we don’t realize what we look like when we are doing it. We don’t always have a mirror near us to see what our posture looks like. When playing a sport, our form can be a leading cause of injury. So whatever you are doing, do not take your posture for granted. Have someone videotape you or take a picture so you can make the necessary adjustments.
Author: Avi Bregman, PT, MPT