Preventing Knee Injury When Exercising

I have mentioned many times over the course of my posts that I have very weak ankles.  I’ve had problems with my ankles for as long as I can remember – since I was a toddler, I believe.  They’ve both been sprained, strained, twisted, torn, rolled, and broken (yes, both of them).  Because of my ankle weaknesses I am always super diligent in doing my best to prevent (further) ankle injury.  So much so that I sometimes need to remind myself that other parts of my body need to be looked after.
Like the knees.
via Yahoo

via Yahoo

Because I’m so active, and because there is a history of osteoporosis in my family, I have made a conscious effort to be kind to my knees – and I’m going to let you in on these efforts:
First of all, be aware.  That’s pretty easy, right?  Our knees carry us and they take a lot of crap throughout each day.  So, if we are aware of the possible injuries we could endure – and what our lives might be like with a knee injury – we can ensure better care and safer performances.  We want to avoid a bigger situation, such as getting a knee replacement and having ongoing problems after that.  (The Zimmer Persona Knee Replacement is just one example of this.  Coincidentally, a few months ago I posted MOM-spiration and told the story of my mom being injured in a hit-and-run accident and has suffered her whole life with bad knees as a result. She is potentially facing knee replacement surgeries but is doing her best to avoid that option.  She’s been coming on-and-off to my boot camp classes (go mom!!) and has joined a walking group.  Knee replacement surgery is clearly something we all want to do our best to avoid.)
And of course having proper footwear is a key factor in preventing many types of injuries – knees and ankles included.  Making sure you have the right type of sneaker for your particular exercise is necessary, even if it will cost you a few extra bucks, it’s worth it in the long run.  Since I run and do a lot of plyo exercises I find it necessary to have a high end pair of sneakers or two with excellent shock absorption and tread, to start with.  And wearing proper and well-fitting gym shoes will help maintain leg alignment and balance (something I often need help with due to my weak ankles).
Having an exercise routine that includes a warm up and a cool down!!  THIS IS KEY.  I REPEAT <<– THIS IS RIDICULOUSLY IMPORTANT!!!   I make sure my clients, my fitness groups, and myself are all properly warmed up prior to exercising.  I can’t tell you how often I see people at my gym jump right into a workout without warming up.  That right there is one of the biggest factors causing injury.  If the body isn’t warmed up properly we’re not respecting it and we put it at risk.  Warming up before a workout will reduce the chance of soft tissue injuries and will lubricate your joints for easier movement. Cooling down and stretching after a workout is just as important as the warm up.  Our muscles tighten during exercise, so stretching post-workout will help loosen our muscles and joints, getting them back to proper mobility.  Although, we must be cautious of overstretching as this can further ail us by softening the ligaments under the kneecap or pulling tendons and muscles further than they should be pulled (stretched).  The Runner’s Stretch is guilty of this.
Having a strength-training routine is great for me for supporting my ankles and knees.  Strengthening my leg muscles will help me in the long run to reduce further injury, stabilize my muscles and joints, and keep me better balanced.
Knowing how to treat a knee injury is very important.  If it’s an injury due to over-training or over-use then there are several rules to follow.  I had an over-training injury to the side of knee that lasted for months this past winter and spring.  It was a terrible joint injury that caused me more pain than I had bargained for.  Here’s the routine I followed for a very.long.time: Ice and elevation, for starters.  I would come home from the gym, or from work, or from a class and elevate my knee over some pillows and then put the ice packs to it.  I was also very big on Epsom salts baths (Epsom salts are brilliant.  The sulfates play an important role in the formation of joint proteins and easing muscle pain.  Also, the magnesium helps with nutrient absorption, which can help with osteoporosis).  I would soak my knee for a good 20 minutes nearly every night for weeks on end.  I found a lot of comfort in doing this. I also made sure that I did some light stretching while my knee was warmed and soaking.  Compression wraps are something I had to deal with.  It would look big and bulky underneath my gym pants or whatever I was wearing but it had to be done to reduce the swelling.  Anti-inflammatories* became my best friend.  Well, not really, but when the pain and/or swelling got too bad I had to pop an Advil** here and there to reduce both.  (* and **  I am not promoting this, nor do I have any affiliation with Advil.  Please either see your doctor or your pharmacist or other health professional before taking any medication, and follow the instructions and/or recommended dosage of any medication.)  I also spoke to a professional to determine that my injury was indeed an over-use injury.  Because my pain was in a weird place I wanted to ensure it wasn’t anything more worrisome.
Following a yoga practice definitely helped – and continues to help me.  Yoga has helped me: increase my flexibility, enhance my performance, reduce stress, and stretch my muscles.  After all the exercising I do, incorporating a regular yoga practice is probably one of the smartest things I’ve done to help my body recover after my workouts and from the daily wear and tear I put it through.  My body (and mind and soul) continually thanks me for introducing it to yoga.
And lastly, but certainly not less important, knowing my limits and exercising properly is just as important as every other factor.  And this goes for everything I do.  Thankfully, my over-training injury healed up several months ago and I’ve been fortunate enough to not have another flare of it (I’m knocking on wood as I type).  If we are educated properly about exercises – whether it be by a trainer, an instructor, a doctor, or a teacher, then we can prevent almost any type of injury. For instance, we know that when doing a basic lunge the knee is not supposed to come out further than the ankle.  Just like we know that in a plank or push up our lower back should not sink in.  Anytime either of these happens we are putting our body at risk.  But there.  I’ve just told you the most important rules of a basic lunge and of a plank or push up.  Educating ourselves on correct form and exercise basics (what to do and what not to do) and how to avoid injuries is a great start to any fitness routine and respecting our body.
{FYI: I work with a man who has ongoing knee problems stemming from an old injury and ever since I found out about his issue (somedays, when flare ups occur and he’s visibly in pain) I will send him tons of info on preventing knee injury, strengthening his knees, and taking care of himself to prevent further injury/flare ups.  I think, perhaps deep down, he appreciates my scolding and sticking-my-nose-in.}
~Fit Bitch
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