Sometimes those moments that seem the hardest, end up teaching us the most. I am passionate about running but when I strained my knee, I thought my adventures with running might be over. This fear was only strengthened when my orthopedist kept telling me that running was not good for me. Obviously, he had no idea that running has been my therapy for anything that ails me for years. It is the reason that my blood pressure stays low and my spirits high.
I was lucky that when I hurt my knee, I only strained it. There were no rips or tears, but I strained it badly enough to need four weeks of physical therapy. Any runner knows that the last thing a runner wants to hear is that you cannot run for weeks. While a non-runner will say the rest will probably be good for you, a runner sees all the hard work going out the window. We know that at the end of the six-week period, we will have to rebuild and gradually get back in shape. The positive aspect of my injury was that I wanted to make sure it never happened again, so I asked lots of questions and researched ways to protect myself.
My goal in this article is to give you some hints to take care of your knees so that you will not have to take any time off because of knee injuries. I am focusing on running, but these tips and exercises will help you no matter what sport you do.
Everything is connected
Everything is connected so when something is off balance in one part of your body, it can throw off everything else. My problem actually started with a sore hip which changed into a sore hamstring, then a super tight it band. I ignored it until I started to have pain in my knees and even then I kept running until one day a searing pain ripped through my knee and I could barely walk. The interesting thing is that the affected knee was on my right leg and all my problems had been on my left. I was definitely out of balance and my body had been sending me signals that something was wrong for a while and I had not been paying attention.
Strength training is a great way to keep your entire body strong. You do not have to do complicated exercises or spend hours in the gym, a routine with basic strength work for about 20 minutes will help keep you strong. Most gyms have someone who will show you a good routine. Experiment with the right weights. You should lift weights that allow you to have good form. If you cannot afford to go to the gym, you can do most strength exercises with things found in your home or using your own body weight. Do tricep dips with a chair or low table. Do bicep curls with 2 milk jugs. Pushups, sit-ups, and planks are always good exercises.
Work your core
Your core is like mission control for your body. If your core is weak, the rest of your body will suffer. Do sit-ups, pushups, planks, balance exercises, and anything else to work your middle. One easy exercise is to hold two weights at waist height and twist back and forth about twenty times, then drop the weights to your sides and bend to the right and then left about twenty times.
Power comes from the hips
Your strength, your speed, and your power are in your hips. Not only do you need to keep them strong, but you also need to keep them flexible. Do good stretches at least once a day. The following are good ones for the hips;
- Hold on to the wall and lift your leg out to the front side and back 20 times and then switch to the other side.
- Put your feet inside a resistance band and lift your legs to the side
- Do squats and lunges
- Stand with feet together. Lift one leg to the back and touch the floor. Do 20 on each side.
Stretching really does matter
You need to keep all your muscles and joints limber and flexible. Find the time to stretch and you will see a huge difference. Go to youtube for some ideas for stretches. Here are a few good ones; Kneeling hip flexor and hamstring: From a kneeling position, plant the right foot on the ground in front of you, so the leg is bent 90 degrees, with the knee and ankle, aligned. Keep your back straight and press forward into your right hip while keeping your left knee pressed into the ground. This will stretch your left hip and right hamstring. To increase the stretch to the left hip flexors, squeeze and contract the gluteus muscles of your left hip.
Standing quad: Stand with legs together. Bend your left leg, bringing your heel toward your butt, and grasp your left foot with your left hand. Press your shoelaces into your hand, so that your leg does the stretching instead of pulling up with your hand.
Standing calf: Stand facing a wall with your hands on the wall at about chest level. Place the ball of your right foot up against the wall, heel touching the floor, and gently lean into the wall keeping your leg straight until you feel a stretch in your calf Leg swings: Hold onto a sturdy object, stand on one leg and swing the other leg forward and back. Do 20. Then swing that same leg side to side 20 times. Each swing should build until your leg is close to its full range of motion.
Walking lunges: Take a large step forward with your right leg, and bend the knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor and the knee is aligned with your ankle. Push back upward, draw your left foot even with your right and step forward with the left. Try to keep your walking lunges fluid, and focus on proper form. Do 20 (10 per leg).
Exercises for knees
Here are a few specific exercises for the knees.
· Step-ups. Use a stair or step and step up with one leg and back down. Do it 20 times on each leg
· Stand with legs apart, touch your toes while you lift one leg up behind you. Do 10 on each side and build up to 20.
· Use the leg curl machine at the gym or sit on the floor with your feet straight out and lift one leg straight up twenty times and then switch.
Simple balance exercises will help your core and your knees. I brought home a balance board and my whole family used it. Try doing your side leg lifts without holding on to anything.
A foam roller can help you work out sore muscles and improve circulation.
Athletic tape will give you extra support if you have a sore muscle.
Rubber bands that can be used as elastic bands can be used for resistance training.
You cannot just run, at least not forever and I want to run for as long as I can. I never feel I have worked out unless I have run, but I know I have to do other exercises to strengthen my body so I can run injury-free. Cross-training, stretching, strength training, and core exercises are all ways to stay strong. Your knees need special attention. If you take care of your body and do your best to keep everything aligned, you can continue to experience the joy that is running.