Learning how to fix knee pain can be a daunting task. It might seem like you've tried every fix in the book, but the pain persists; it's frustrating and discouraging.
Odds are you're looking in the wrong place.
The joint-by-joint approach popularized by renowned physical therapist Gray Cook states that your joints alternate from mobility-focused to stability-focused from the ground up. For example, your ankles are mobile, your knees are stable, your hips are mobile, your lower back is stable and so on.
If a mobile joint lacks mobility, your body will find the mobility it needs to complete a movement in another place. It's incredibly adaptable, but that can cause problems, because a stable joint usually ends up picking up the slack and moving more than it's designed to.
According to Dr. Matt Stevens, physical therapist and owner of Pure Physio (Strongsville, Ohio), the ankle is often the culprit when it comes to general knee pain, especially if you experience knee pain during squatting movements.
The ankle is an incredibly mobile joint with the ability to rotate 360 degrees. Your ankles are so mobile that you might wonder how they could ever be a problem. But athletes (and others) sometimes have a problem with certain aspects of ankle mobility, especially dorsiflexion, or the ability to bring your foot toward the shin.
And this throws everything out of whack. You won't be able to squat with correct form. Your knees could come too far forward or collapse inward, placing stress on the structures of the joint, which results in knee pain or worse, an injury.
An easy way to check your ankle mobility is with the Wall Ankle Mobility Test.
If you fail this test, you need to address ankle mobility. Not only might it cure your knee pain, it might prevent injury down the line.
How to Fix Knee Pain
Stevens recommends two exercises to address ankle mobility issues and thus alleviate knee pain. These exercises can be performed as daily maintenance or in a warm-up before lower-body lifts.
Note, this is only appropriate for general, mild knee pain. If you have severe knee pain or have an injury, you need to see a doctor.
Banded Half-Kneeling Calf Stretch
This stretch lengthens the Achilles and calf muscles to improve dorsiflexion.
How to: Attach a moderate resistance band to a wall in front of you at hip height and put a plate on the ground about 4 feet away from the wall. Place your left leg inside the band's loop facing the wall and position the band around your left ankle. Stand with your left toes on the edge of the plate and lower into a half-kneeling position with your right knee on the ground. Without arching your lower back, shift your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your ankle and calf. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds. Shift your hips back to the starting position and repeat.
Sets/Reps: 1x20 each leg
Band Supported Deep Squat
Holding a deep Squat improves your ankles' lateral mobility, which helps the knees stay over the ankles and not collapse inward during a squat movement.
How to: Attach a thick resistance band to a wall in front of you at about hip height. Stand inside of the band facing the wall, position the band just under your butt and take a few steps back so there's tension in the band. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your hips and knees to lower into a deep Squat. Make sure your knees are aligned over your ankles. Shift slightly to the left so the weight is on the outside of your left foot; hold for the specified duration.
Sets/Reps: 1x1-2 minutes each side
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