Knee pain is very common and at one point or another we have experienced it or known someone who has. With knee pain, our normal inclination would undoubtedly be to rest. It is common advice to rest your knee, even doctors incline to recommend rest and if it just hurts, you should rest it. Even once we start moving again, we may be advised to stay away from exercises such as lunging, deadlifting, and squatting. But what if there is a better way of managing pain? What if the path to strengthen a joint is actually to work it out more? In fact, unless there is some chronic condition going on, this is usually the solution to knee pain.
Lack of movement can have several detrimental effects – loss of bone and mass, muscle shortening, decreased joint flexibility, and loss of energy. This will lead to increased pain once movement does happen. Exercise will cause the opposite to occur and even help us deal with pain by the release of endorphins which inhibit pain and bring about senses of euphoria. How many people say they regretted a workout? How many people really feel worse after moving?
Our bodies are amazing machines built to adapt to virtually any type of stimulus. This ability usually makes us stronger but can also hinder us and prevent progress. For example, if you have a sedentary job and sit in front of a computer screen all day, one can guess that adaptations for that lifestyle will not be beneficial. On the other hand, if you regularly exercised and challenged your body, the adaptations made will help you perform better and increase the longevity of your joints and other tissues. Your body will literally start growing stronger bones, increasing blood flow, building the muscles, and reinforcing the joint that is being used. This is something that cannot occur without exercise.
Learning to move our bodies in ways that prevent unnecessary stress, especially on the knee is crucial. Moving properly is a skill that can only be acquired through practice.
Are there certain exercises to help you avoid knee pain? Yes
Can you slowly work on your ability to do them? Absolutely
Let us take a look at the banned knee killer… the squat. As it turns out squatting is pretty necessary for our lives. Anytime you sit down in a chair, stand up, or even sit to go to the bathroom, you are squatting. In fact, in places like Japan, Thailand, China, Kenya, and countries in the Middle East, squat toilets are pretty common. Basically in order to use the bathroom they are required to squat over a hole in the ground. It just so happens that in the US every time we intend on squatting, a chair or toilet gets in our way. We have essentially untrained our bodies to squat and with that, we have weakened our knees. So it is crucial to learn to squat properly before heading into the gym to do several sets. Luckily there are modifications to the exercise that can be made. You could squat to an elevated surface (chair/box) or squat with a Swiss ball against the wall. Both modifications will allow you to learn the movement properly, keep you away from pain, and strengthen both the knees and the muscles around them.
Keep in mind that if an exercise feels too easy, it probably is. If you feel pain, back off a bit, and let your body ease into the workout. It will take time for your body to adapt and the process should not be rushed. One thing is true, once you start moving you will feel better. If you have knee pain do not shy away from exercise, go towards it. If you are apprehensive, get yourself a trainer that can help you learn to properly move. Start slow and gradually build up.