An Athlete's Guide to Preventing Knee Injuries
by AZ Pain Doctors, on Sep 29, 2021 9:06:00 AM
Did you know that more than one-third of athletes experience knee injury or pain at some point? Knee injuries are the most common type of sports injury.
Your knee is a complex joint, interlocking bone, ligaments, and tendons. In addition, it's the source of all your pivoting and twisting motions and absorbs a lot of impact in the gym. For all these reasons, knee injuries are rampant among athletes.
Rehabbing a knee injury can take months, robbing athletes of valuable time doing what they love. However, these injuries are not unavoidable. You can actually prevent most knee injuries with a bit of care and attention!
Read on to learn how to do it!
Don’t Avoid Stretching
If you're like most athletes, you hate stretching! Stretching is one of the most misunderstood and neglected tools for athletes. Because it can be boring, many athletes put it off or don't put in the time required to support the body.
However, stretching can prevent most common knee injuries!
Your knee is supported by all the muscles in your leg, from your glutes down to your ankles. Even your core helps control your leg movement. For this reason, it's important to stretch everything in the chain.
Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
For a long time, sports experts thought that static stretching was the only way to go. Stretching was reduced to holding each position for a couple of minutes, and calling it a day.
Now, experts call for dynamic stretching, working on the full range of motion by moving your muscles as you stretch them.
But, the perfect stretching routine uses a combination of both dynamic and static stretches.
Dynamic stretching improves your proprioception, balance, and coordination. It will also fire up your nervous system and get your muscles ready to move. This makes it a great way to warm up. And it's got proven benefits on sports performance, too, in addition to injury prevention!
In contrast, static stretching is holding each position for an extended time, rather than moving the muscle. The purpose of static stretching is to relax and lengthen the muscles, improving flexibility, motion, and mobility.
The benefits of static stretching are best for cooling down. Static stretching before a workout can actually increase injury risk because it doesn't warm up your joints and muscles in the same way as dynamic stretching. However, when used as a cooldown, static stretching can help prevent overuse injuries like jumper's knee.
To sum up: use dynamic stretches before your workout to get your body into gear, and use static stretches to cool down and relax your muscles.
Get Strong and Stay Strong
The stronger your muscles are, the more they're able to protect your body and your knees from injury. Even if your sport doesn't require a lot of muscle mass, it's important to keep the area strong and resilient. You can build strength without building bulk that will slow you down.
For example, your hamstrings are an incredibly important set of stabilizing muscles for the ACL. Your ACL is a knee stabilizer ligament that runs from your thigh bone to your shin bone through the middle of your knee. Essentially, it keeps your shin bone locked into place and supports knee flexion.
This functionality is mirrored and therefore supported by the hamstrings, the muscles on the back of your thigh. Studies have shown that patients with ACL tears often have weak hamstrings, highlighting their ability to reinforce knee function.
Similarly, your PCL is a ligament running the opposite way from the ACL. Just like how the hamstrings protect you from an ACL tear, your quads protect your PCL. All the surrounding leg muscles need to be strong to prevent knee injuries in athletes.
The human body is a fascinating machine of interconnected muscles, tendons, and ligaments. If you're not an expert, it can be difficult to parse exactly what's going on. If you've ever experienced knee pain and taken to google, you've probably seen at least five potential causes.
Without an experienced eye, it can be difficult to assess your own condition. If you're experiencing any minor aches and pains, it's easy to write them off as just part of aging. However, this risks a more serious injury down the line.
Your knee pain might be a sign of something serious or the result of poor body mechanics. It's best to listen to your body and see an expert before it turns into something worse. Check-in with a pain management specialist for comprehensive treatment that keeps your body supported in the gym.
Take Care of Your Equipment
Up until now, everything we've discussed has been about taking care of your body. However, properly maintaining and replacing your equipment can also help with knee injury prevention.
For example, did you know that your running shoes wear out? Even if there's no visible damage and you still have tread on the bottom, the foam and carbon plates inside can be worn down or broken. This means your shoes don't provide as much spring or support.
Running a mile is approximately 2,000 steps. In other words, if your shoes are worn out, you're performing 2,000 reps on a faulty set of equipment.
Without proper shoe support, your knees are forced to absorb more impact, causing pain and risking acute injury. It also risks conditions like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and more.
Most shoes have a lifespan of about 300 to 500 miles, although this number can vary. Racing flats and less padded shoes tend to have a shorter lifespan, so always check your specific model and replace them on schedule.
Be Proactive About Preventing Knee Injuries
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! With a bit of preventative care, you can keep your knees in great shape, preventing knee injuries and improving your performance. Take the time to stretch, strengthen, and care for these important joints and you'll reap all the benefits of a long athletic career.
For help with knee pain, sports injuries, and more, reach out to Arizona's top pain management doctors. At AZ Pain Doctors, we've seen it all can help support your body both in the gym and out of it. Schedule your first appointment today!