If any of you are like me, you may have a couple of kids. I have four. If you are “fortunate” enough to have kids you know there are going to be about 354 crying episodes per day that make you want to lock them in a closet until they turn 40. Wait…I’m the only one? Yeah right. While crying kids can make you want to do some crazy things they are also sort of fun to laugh at.
This is my oldest daughter. As you can tell she is pretty upset about her painful knee. I can’t exactly remember what it was that she did, but it sure seems like it hurt! Whenever I see my kids cry, you knohat firstcomes to my mind? Nope, I don’t think about helping them. I think about how awesome it would be to have quads like this dude.
I guess it might be a good idea to explain why on earth I think about having super awesome legs while my kids are crying. Well here it goes. See that muscle right above the knee? That muscle is called the vastus medialis, sometimes referred to as the VMO, which stands for vastus medialis oblique – referring to the oblique or diagonal direction of the fibers that are just to the inside of the knee. If you look really carefully, you can see that it sort of looks like a gigantic tear drop, right?
This muscle plays an important role in knee pain. The VMO, along with the other three muscles in quadriceps, is responsible for extending the knee while walking, running, squatting, lunging, etc. It has a unique function, in that right before the knee locks into position it keeps the knee cap from moving out of place. It does this so that there is minimal amount of friction between the knee and the end of the thigh bone. When this muscle is dysfunctional there is an excessive amount of friction which causes pain and can eventually lead to arthritis. Here is what happens when there is a weak VMO and lack of knee stability…
Notice how this guy’s right knee is just buckling inward like crazy? Part of this can be attributed to weakness in the muscles that surround the knee. You may even notice this happening to you.
Here is an experiment. Stand in front of a mirror. Now place your hands on your hips and raise your left leg just off the ground. Next, begin to slowly squat down and watch what happens to your knee. If you are like a lot of people, you will notice that it buckles inward. You may even lose your balance pretty quickly and have to hop around in order to stabilize yourself. Don’t worry, this is actually common. Here are a couple of things that you can do to strengthen the area around your knee.
1) Terminal Knee Extensions
This is a great exercise to focus specifically on that last little bit of extension, the part right before the knee locks into place. Get an elastic band and anchor it down. Then, wrap the other end around the back your knee. From here you will slightly bend your knee, then straighten it out, and squeeze tightly. Try to keep most of your bodyweight on the working leg. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 20 controlled repetitions.
2) Tube Walking
This is a great exercise because it will help improve stability at the knee via the hip area. Along with a weak VMO there is usually some weakness in the glutes. The glutes, primarily the gluteus medius, help to keep the knee from buckling inward by rotating the thigh bone outward. Be sure to keep your feet facing straight ahead and not rotate outward. If you allow that to happen you are working your hip flexors more than the glutes! Here is an example of tube walking. I have my clients do this for about 20 steps to the left, then 20 steps to the right for up to 3 sets.
3) Single Leg Squat Touchdown
The single leg squat touchdown is similar to the movement I had you try to see if your knee moved inward. Now we are going to use it as an exercise. Stand on one leg with the other slightly elevated off the ground. The goal is to squat down and touch the floor. This can be somewhat challenging, so if you are not able to go all the way to the ground then just go half way. Maybe try touching your knee or the middle of your shin then progress to the floor as you get stronger. While doing this, be sure to keep your knee over your second toe. This will ensure that your knee is aligned properly with the rest of your body. I would start with a couple sets of 10-15 reps on each side.
Doing these three exercise on a daily basis will start to improve your knee strength and stability. While these are fantastic exercises, they are merely suggestions to help with a limited joint condition. Knee pain can stem from all sorts of crazy things. The best thing to do is find someone you trust that has the knowledge and ability to assess the joint and develop a safe and effective program to help you specifically.
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