Knee Injury Prevention Guide
More Americans visit orthopedic surgeons for knee problems and knee injuries than any other musculoskeletal complaints. According to a study In 2006, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reported that more than 12 million people visited their doctor to address knee pain issues.
If you are experiencing knee pain from a wide range of conditions, including osteoarthritis, you are not alone. Your knees are fundamental to personal movement and agility, especially if you enjoy playing sports. If you plan on being mobile and pain-free, it can help to learn tips and techniques that will help prevent injury to your knee, ligaments, and more.
Preventing Knee Injuries
The best way to keep your knees and healthy and functioning is to make sure that you properly warm up before any type of activity. Before engaging in high-impact exercise, always warm up with light, low-impact activity such as brisk biking or walking, then perform some light stretches of the quads and thighs. This will help mitigate knee pressure.
Here are additional tips to help keep your knees healthy:
- Strength training on the leg muscles can help stabilize the knee. You can build the relevant muscles by walking up stairs or by working with weights.
- If you have experienced a previous knee injury, wear a knee brace or support to reinforce the ligaments.
- Do not suddenly or drastically increase or change the type of physical activity you do. Ease into change so that you do not over-strain or shock your body. Always speak with your physician before embarking on a significant change in physical activity.
- Knee injury is frequently the result of poorly situated feet. Always wear proper shoes for the activity you are performing and visit a podiatrist if you suspect you have flat or overpronated feet.
- If you ride a bike, make sure the seat is situated at the proper height so that it doesn’t create undo pressure on the knees.
- Weight is a major factor in many knee injuries. Maintain a healthy weight to help avoid weight-bearing strain.
Preventing PCL & ACL Injuries
By far one of the most common knee injuries occur to your posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Together they make up half of the four major ligaments in your knee.
ACL and PCL injuries are all too common. More than 100,000 Americans suffer an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear every year. If you actively play sports, chances are you or someone you know has experienced a knee ligament injury. These injuries have a high incident rate in sports like soccer, skiing and basketball, which involve jumping, twisting and other knee-stressing activities. One of the most dreaded sports injuries, an ACL tear can put you on the sidelines for a very long time and often requires painful surgery as well as post-operative therapy.
The ACL is located at the center of the knee and controls the forward movement of the tibia. Anything compromises this movement can ultimately strain or tear the ACL. This is most frequently seen in landing jumps or when changing directions suddenly. ACL injuries are highly influenced by pelvic positioning. Since women physiologically have wider hips, they often suffer a higher instance of ACL strain and tearing. A female soccer player, for instance, is eight times more likely to suffer an ACL tear than a male player.
The PCL sits right next to the ACL and connects the tibia to the femur, keeping forces that would separate the femur and tibia at bay. Once torn, patients typically deal with a lot of pain and swelling in the joint itself, as well as a long road to recovery.
There are measures you can take to prevent an ACL or PCL tear.
- Strength - Strong muscles can help guard against ligament strain. Lift weights two to three times a week, especially concentrating on the hip, thigh and abdomen areas. Strong leg muscles will stabilize the knee while a strong core provides pelvic stability.
- Flexibility - Stretch regularly, especially before and after sports and exercise. Limber muscles perform better and pare less likely to strain. Activities like pilates and yoga are especially effective.
- Conditioning - Often as we grow older we can only play a sport a few times a month. If you are a weekend warrior, be sure to train regularly between games. A conditioned body is less likely to injure. Practice drills and plyometrics that require balance, strength and agility. You can find out more on ACL drills and training recommendations at the Santa Monica ACL Prevention Project.
- Weight - Excess body fat in the abdomen area can place extra strain on the knees. As if you needed another reason to watch your weight!
- Support - If you have experienced an ACL strain in the past, you are especially vulnerable to a future tear. A hinged knee brace or a soft support can provide extra stability during sporting activity.
Knee Exercises for Preventing Knee Injuries to ACL & PCL
When attempting to avoid a knee injury, incorporate three types of exercises: flexibility exercises, strengthening exercises and cardio exercises. We’ve compiled a list of important tips and exercises to help you strengthen your knees against ACL tears.
- Stretch and Warm Up - No matter the intensity level of the exercise, begin every physical activity with a brief and gentle warm up. Jog in place, do a few jumping jacks and get the blood flowing to your muscles. Having warm muscles can help reduce injuries and keep you out of an ACL brace.
- Exercise Regularly - Many knee injuries occur the first time getting back into the sport and exerting oneself too hard. Certainly not all injuries occur from a lack of pre-sport conditioning, but in many cases, you can prevent knee injuries by consistently practicing the sport. Note: remember to utilize your medical knee braces when exercising if you’re prone to knee problems or have previously suffered a knee injury.
- Listen to Your Body - Pain is your body’s way of speaking to you and warning you. Get to know your body’s warning signs and the difference bet. We like the New York Times’ article, “That Little Voice Inside Your Twinge” which discusses the differences between pain and discomfort.
- Begin a Plyometric Exercise Program - Plyometric training is used to develop faster reacting muscles while strengthening tissues which can help improve performance and helps prevent injuries. The basics of any plyometric program are a series of exercises, or drills, which involve heavy muscle loading and muscle contractions like hops or jumps.
- Ball Squats - Place a fairly large ball between your knees and squeeze to hold it in place. Lower into a wall squat position with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Do 3 – 5 sets of 10 -20 ball squats to strengthen your knees.
- Flamingo (Single Leg) Dip - Stand between two chairs for balance. Lift one leg, keeping it either straightened or loosely bent while the other is firmly on the ground. Slowly lower down to a 90 degree angle, keeping your hands on each chair for balance. Slowly use your leg muscles to push back up to standing and switch legs.
- Step Ups - Channel your inner Richard Simmons and get out at least a 6 inch high step or stepping stool. Start by stepping onto the step with your left foot. Place it solidly on the step and place the majority of your weight on that side. Next, raise your right foot off the ground and bring it to the step, without placing it fully on the step – almost like a tap to the step. Then, lower your right foot back to the ground (without having placed it on the step) and then your left foot. Switch sides.
- Big Tire Jumps - Imagine there is a large truck tire on the ground that you have to jump over. Stand on your right leg and hop high and wide “over” the tire, landing on your left leg. Pause and hold your right leg in the air as you balance on your left leg. Then push off your left leg back “over” the tire to the right and land on your right leg. Repeat 15 times.
Knee health is imperative to leading a quality life. Prevention via strengthening, stretching, and proper warmup time are the key ways to prevent knee injury, and knee degradation.