by Colleen Stow, DPT, March 29, 2017
Spring is finally here! Sports like soccer and lacrosse are in full swing and yard work beckons. With the onset of warmer temperatures and sunnier days, it's tempting to get outside and get active. Outdoor activity is a great way to add variety to your fitness routine, but before you lace up your cleats, running shoes or yard work boots, take a moment to consider the health of your knees.
In 2010, about 10.4 million patients visited their doctors' office due to common knee injuries. The knee is the largest joint in the body and the most easily injured due to its size and the structures that help to stabilize and cushion it. The knee joint is made up of three bones: the femur, tibia and patella. The inside surface of each bone is covered with cartilage which ensures a smooth glide as you move your knee. In between the femur and tibia is the meniscus, a built in shock absorber which provides cushioning and stability. The knee also has four ligaments that act as safety belts, preventing the knee from moving in unwanted directions: medial and lateral collateral ligaments prevent side to side motion while the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments restrain excessive forward and backward motion. Finally, the knee is surrounded by the tendons of the muscles that move the knee. When all of these structures are intact, the knee functions beautifully and usually painlessly. Damage to one or several structures can make simple day to day activities painful and difficult. Taking a few simple steps before engaging in physical activity can go a long way to keeping your knees healthy.
- Warm up first. Take 5-10 minutes to walk/jog to warm up your muscles and mentally prepare for the activity you are about to undertake.
- Avoid sudden direction changes. Stopping quickly, rapidly turning or cutting can cause excessive forces on the structures that stabilize the knee, placing them at risk for injury.
- Stretch. Flexibility is just as important as strength. Make sure you are stretching muscles in all planes as you stretch. Skipping stretches due to time considerations or due to boredom could set you up for a muscle imbalance that could increase your risk for injury.
- Check your form. Correct mechanics when performing squatting and/or jumping activities are critical for the health of your knees. Make sure your knees aren't travelling in as you squat or land from a jump, as this too places excessive forces on the structures that stabilize the knee.
Talking with your physical therapist is a great step in the right direction for keeping your knees healthy this spring. They can give you ideas for appropriate warm ups, stretching as well as exercises to strengthen key muscles. Physical therapists are movement experts that will work with you to ensure that you are utilizing correct mechanics when squatting and jumping so that you can embark on your spring adventures safely!