Making Exercise Healthy Medicine
How To Fix Common Causes of
Sore Knees, Bad Knees, Cartilage and Meniscus, Pain with Bending, Squatting, Stairs, Walking, Running
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© Jolie Bookspan, MEd, PhD, FAWM
Director Neck and Back Pain Sports Medicine
Headmaster Academy of Functional Exercise Medicine - the Fixa U (tm) School of Healthy Medicine
Hello, welcome to my web site (DrBookspan.com), a no-ad, no-hype site. My work is evidence-based primary-source sports medicine methods that you can use yourself, right away, to make your life better. There are hundreds of articles here on my web site. Main navigation links are at the bottom of this page.
This Page is for Fixing Knee Pain. Don't Worry - Much knee pain can be easy to fix. This summary shows how to spot and stop common sources of knee pain and injury. You can start fixing your own pain yourself, now, today using this summary. Don't wait.
Then there is a wealth of knowledge still to give. See me for appointments and classes and read my books for more.
It's not health care if it's not healthy. Not all exercise is medicine. Not all medicine is healthy. I change that. You can stop the costs, time, and worry currently spent in treatments that are unnecessary, and often unhealthful. I have developed information through years of research in the lab, and put it here on my web site for the benefit of the world. Get better and the world will be better.
Answers In A Nutshell
- My work is not alternative medicine. This is evidence-based sports medicine techniques, applied to real life - where you actually need it. I consider it simple standard-of-care.
- Knee pain and tears are not a "condition" that once you you have it, you have it for life or need surgery to fix. With changes to healthier movement habits, you stop ongoing damage and much can repair. You can be better than before.
- You do not need surgery or extended medical treatments or bed rest or yoga to relieve most knee pain or tears. Many times, surgery for tears results in needing more surgery later, or in more degeneration. Often people have to cut back in activity so much after surgery that it is no cure. Putting more holes and cuts in the area is not what you need.
- You do not need to give up impact activities like running or martial arts, give up weights or heavy occupational work, or activities you love to do. By changing your daily movement habits to healthy ones, you will get the built in exercise you need for health while you prevent causes of most pain. That means that changing bad knee position while you run, to healthy aligned position with good gait, is more effective and far quicker that giving up running and hoping yoga poses or reps and sets of strengthening will magically change your gait or alignment for you. You can do it yourself in moments.
- Not all knee pain is from what shows on an x-ray or other test or scan. You are not doomed by scan results.
- Knee muscle, cartilage, or joint injury are not causes of the problem - they are RESULTs of what you are doing to hurt your knees - things you can fix yourself. Even when inflammation or immune response are identified, they are results, not causes. Understand and fix causes instead of using drugs and surgery for the results.
- You may have several causes of pain. If you fix some of them, you will fix some of your pain. The answer is not to continue on, saying "it just takes time" and allowing the other damaging causes to continue. Check for other causes you may have missed and fix them all. Then you will stop all pain, and instead of alternating feeling better from fixing one thing and hurting from other causes, wondering why you have intermittent results.
- Common medicines and prescription drugs can cause knee pain. Some of the most common shoes, even 'athletic" and podiatrist-prescribed shoes cause much knee and foot pain. Unneeded treatments and surgeries are done - causing more pain and reduction in physical ability. It is a myth that shoes need to "support" or hold you feet in position. Your own muscles do that. Easy changes can stop the need for harmful medicines.
- This article explains all the above. Make sure you understand the concepts (many highlighted in green). The end of this article (where it says "More fun...") gives several links to pages on this site for more help. The bottom of every page on my web site has main navigation links.
A Short History of Developing These Methods (skip this if you want to go straight to fix knee pain)
This information is not copied from someone else who said it, or something I heard in a gym or in medical school. I am the scientist who researches what really happens. These are my results from years of work and years of schooling in physiology and research design. I started lab research studies in the 1970s to find why standard knee and other pain exercises and treatments didn't work. I saw that rehab info was not being applied to how people move, sit, and live in their ordinary daily activities. I applied it. People got better. I saw that common treatments and even the assumptions about why pain occurs, were not done by real researchers but repeated from myths that people liked, and from bad studies. I did painstaking studies and kept careful records. When I was working on studies on the human body during immersion for combat swimmers, the experimental subjects, the physicians, and others in the lab kept saying they had all these aches and pains. The exercises their PTs and docs gave them did not work or made them worse. I fixed them up (quickly, because I had research work to do and wanted to get back to work). Their doctors started calling me (calling the lab actually, as I don't have a phone) asking how I fixed them so well and so fast. They (and their physicians) started coming to study with me directly. In the 1980s, class participants asked me to write everything down for them. I was surprised. I thought they should have taken notes. I typed information sheets for them. More doctors came to me after taking my classes, saying they knew their standard Patient Handouts were ineffective exercises. They asked me to make handouts for their patients. I was surprised. Again. I thought they could do that themselves. I typed Patient Handout sheets for them. I kept collecting data like a good scientist, doing studies to test and retest methods, and develop better ones. In the 1990s I typed everything in several training manuals that became books. One is Health & Fitness In Plain English - How To Be Happy, Healthy and Fit for the Rest of your Life. After two different publishers, the new THIRD edition eliminates wrong things previous publishers added, over my objections. Another book is Fix Your Own Pain Without Drugs or Surgery, with patient stories in every chapter showing how patients get better, or don't, and why. For each, I rechecked new data to make sure the work proved tests of time. Several more books of my life's work tell how to make life pain free, stronger, and more fun. Each book is different. Fitness and rehab myths and fads come and go, but these methods remain effective over time. Get the books on the BOOKS page, and at the bottom of this article. Limited Classes and appointments to train directly with me, and workshop certification by me through AFEM for top students. More about me in Research.
To keep this quick and easy, much is shortened.
Use this summary to get better now, and get the books and eBooks for the rest:
Now go fix your knees
Knee Pain - Why?
Most people know that bending and standing badly can cause a sore back. The same is true for knees.
Legs have posture and position during movement. After years of bad habits allowing knees to slouch or twist, they can begin to ache and wear. Knee pain that seems to begin suddenly is often the result of gradually pressuring and straining over months or years. Much "wear and tear" arthritis is preventable, and pain from it eased, with the healthier movement mechanics summarized in this article.
Instead of doing a bunch of artificial rehab exercises then going back to damaging daily life movement, try living and moving in healthy ways. Instead of wearing shoes that make knee pain, and spending time doing stretches and therapies, then putting on the same pain producing shoes or orthotics, check causes. Here is how:
Knee Pain Fix #1 - How To Keep Cartilage Healthy
Two common habits can build up to cause pain and injury: A) letting your knees sag inward, and B) letting knees rotate toward each other:
A) Increased inward angle of the knee (valgus knee): An increased inward angle is a slouch and is easily preventable. "Knock-kneed" is often simple bad posture. The knees may sag inward from flattening the ankles, or the ankle and arch may be fine and the slouching motion comes from the knee, or sometimes from the knee and hip together.
B) Letting the knees rotate inward - so that the kneecaps face more toward each other than straight ahead. Rotation is sometimes called torsion and other names. The name doesn't matter as much as easily identifying when it happens, and instead, using your thigh and lower leg muscles to comfortably hold kneecaps facing the same as the feet - straight forward.
Knees have posture like your back and shoulders - good and bad and you can control it. Exercises do not fix these two bad knee habits. You quickly can fix it yourself with instant repositioning, then using that new healthy position during all you do. Then your knee joints don't rub and wear.
Letting ankles and knees sway inward, and kneecaps that rotate inward instead of facing straight with the feet, are bad habits that contribute to knee pain. It is not a "condition," it is something you can control using your own muscles to hold your ankles and knees straight.
Allowing knee sagging and rotation are sometimes a hidden contributor to poor kneecap tracking. The kneecap can start to move slightly sideways instead of up and down each time you move your knee to walk. This rubs the cartilage on the inside of your kneecap. The friction can eventually break down and wear away the cartilage. This is called degenerative change.
Many people are told to accept meniscus tears and degeneration as aging, or inevitable from their sports, along with all the pain and disability that accompany it. They may be told they are flat-footed, or have a problem called over-pronation (too much pronation, which roughly means turning inward) or letting the ankles or knees sag inward so that your knees angle toward each other, called "knock-knees." But often, the cause is avoidable. Letting the foot and knee sag, and or rotate, is easily corrected by using your leg muscles to keep comfortable healthy position. It is the same as not letting your shoulders round forward.
Backman! is trademarked and copyright Dr Jolie Bookspan
Like tires that are crooked, knees that tilt inward too much will wear out too soon.
The cure for tire wear is not to stop driving (give up activity) or change the tire (wear orthotics or have surgery).
The cure is to check why the tire is crooked and fix that. Learn how to hold your leg in healthy straight position. Then, unlike tires, you can heal.
How to Check for Sway and Rotation. Stand and look at your bare legs in a mirror. See if your knees angle greatly or your kneecaps tilt or turn inward instead of facing the same direction as your feet. Notice if it is from letting your body weight sag inward or rotate inward at the knee and/or flattening the arch of that foot. Check both legs. Some people slouch on one side and not as much as the other.
Notice if you hold kneecaps straight ahead when standing still, but sag the moment you put them under load of your body weight. Check standing on both feet and check again when standing on one foot. Check if the knee of that leg starts to rotate inward to face the other leg more. See if you flatten the arch of that foot.
How To Fix Sway and Rotation. Where needed, move the knees using thigh muscles so your kneecaps face forward in the same direction as your feet. If your knees are tilting and sagging inward, see if not allowing your weight to fall inward works - pull your knees to straighter position. If tilted sagging knees are coming from tilted sagging ankles, use your muscles to deliberately lift your weight off your inside arch, gently to the whole foot, without rolling too far to the outside of the soles - don't overcompensate.
Practice correcting your own leg position until you can walk with healthy, straight, comfortable leg positioning that keeps weight on your leg muscles, not on the cartilage and joints of your knee. Like any new habit it may feel strange at first. It should not hurt to stand straight. Don't force.
This method of healthy functional movement exercise prevents cartilage from wearing away faster than you re-grow it. Your body repairs a certain amount of cartilage with the right exercise. You will stop causes of pain using this healthy movement mechanics method, and stop hurting while your body does normal repairs. Position Is Trainable. Many people are told that turning ankles in and letting arches sag cannot be fixed or that if you try to hold straight you will cause harm. Think of a beginning skater. They let their knees and ankles sag inward until they learn to hold their feet and ankles straight in healthy position. It is simple practice in holding position, not something that cannot be changed.
Below, a short video should load of correcting knee rotation:
If the above short video of fixing knee rotation does not load on your device, click directly from my Flick page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thefitnessfixer/16874295529/
Orthotics, Supports, and Special Shoes Not Needed. Many people are given orthotics or told to never walk barefoot. This is usually unnecessary. Your own muscles can place you as correctly (or more) than using an artificial shim or orthotic. Engineered shoes often are a major hidden cause of knee pain (explained below). Separately, by relying on a shoe, you can atrophy your muscles, making you less able to stabilize and balance. Often, modern engineered, even orthopedic shoes hold you in wrong positions and lack flexibility to let your legs move in healthy ways, further causing damage and pain. All over the so-called third world, mountain guides walk the uneven paths in flip-flops.
Stopping Bad Movement Habits During Daily Life is Key. Stop compressing and twisting your joints and cartilage with poor movement habits. You will give your body a chance to rebuild. You will create more joint space. Doing rehab exercises then going back to bad all-day life habits will not help. Surgery removes cartilage that you need, and makes you lose valuable time, health, and needed movement. Many conventional gym exercises, many yoga poses, even exercises given for rehab, are not healthy in themselves, are ineffective, or are done with the same poor movement habits. This and all the other things to check that follow (and more in the books) are part of healthy fix.
Interesting note - Some people have a well-formed arch of the foot, but they still let their foot, or both feet, turn outward and tilt at the ankle so that the inside edge of the foot presses lower against the ground (or shoe) than the rest of the foot. There may not be knee pain from this, but a lot of mystery foot pain. The person and their practitioners are fooled by the lovely arch, and think it is not an arch problem when the pain does come from compressing the bones of the bottom of the foot against the floor or shoe. Using leg, ankle, and foot muscles to comfortably hold the arch level works well to stop the ongoing pain, and to avoid useless treatments, special expensive shoes and inserts, and arch supports that don't stop the pain because the person continues to compress the ball of the foot and other bony areas downward on the arch support, causing them to rub and hurt.
A short video of lifting your own feet and arches from flattened and / or pronated position, to a level and healthy neutral arch is on the Patient Success page, knee pain section.
Knee Pain Fix #2 Check for Duck Feet
Walking with feet turned outward can contribute to knee pain, tightness of the foot and leg, to hip and heel pain, It also predisposes to bunion, because you push off each step on the side of the big toe, pushing the big toe toward the other toes.
"Duck-foot" can be a bad habit, or from the incorrect belief that is the way to walk. Many people were taught it was normal. "Normal" may be confused with "common" - it may be common but it's not good and creates problems. A cycle may develop that walking turned out (duck-footed) doesn't let you get the built-in stretch your Achilles tendon and foot and leg would get with walking with feet facing straight forward. Tight Achilles tendon further makes walking duck footed seem more comfortable. Also tight side of the leg (ilio-tibial band or IT band), tight bottom of the foot (plantar fascia), even tight big toe (hallux rigidus) that doesn't bend to allow normal foot push-off. All can create a cycle of walking in a manner that doesn't give them the stretch they need and all structures getting tighter leading to more disordered walking.
Turning feet outward when you walk wears on the knees, like tires that are crooked. To fix tire wear, you don't stop driving or change the tires, and you shouldn't keep driving that way. You check why they are crooked and fix that. Learn how to hold your own feet and legs straight by using your muscles, not letting them tilt and sag.
Find the source of your turned out position, sometimes nothing more than bad habit. Use your muscles to walk straight. There are some who say that straightening bad ankle and knee posture will cause pain in the hip. If it is the case that you force feet straight without correcting the source of the problem, the rest of the leg may turn with the foot, making more problems. There is no need for that. Know what you are doing, rather than applying mystery exercises and arbitrary "fixes." Keep your entire leg position healthy and there will be less pain, not more.
Knee Pain Fix #3 How To Keep Knees From Hurting When Bending, Exercising, and On the Stairs
Many people don't "lift with the legs" to prevent back pain, because it hurts their knees. Bending knees properly should not hurt, but help fix and strengthen. A major cause of knee arthritis is weak thighs. Good bending will save your back and exercise your legs in healthy ways at the same time:
Healthy squatting for daily life strengthens legs, hips, and knees. Bad squatting can hurt. It is no mystery. Instead of thinking of squats as an exercise to "do" 10 times, use it for real life. Real built in exercise, both back AND knee pain prevention, and knee strengthening.
Bad bending, with knees forward,
shifts weight to the knees
Good bending with knees back and heels down
shifts weight onto your muscles, and off your knees.
It's good exercise, and healthy for your back and knees.
How to bend using a half-squat:
- Bend both knees with both heels down on the floor. Don't let your heels come up when squatting.
- Keep both knees far enough back when you bend that you can see your toes.
Check if you bend by letting your knees come forward. Body weight is shifted to the knee joint. Instead, whenever you bend or lift, even to pick up a towel, keep heels down and knees back, over the ankle. Shift your weight to the heel, off the front of the foot (ball of the foot) and toes. Feel the difference in thigh and hip muscle use when you shift your weight back to the muscles and less on the knee joints. Done right, feeling of pressure or pain should disappear from your knee. Don't let your back arch; keep hip slightly tucked. Use a mirror to practice healthy knee position. Or put the front of your knees against a bench or other object to train yourself to keep them from slouching forward.
- Go up and down gently, a small amount at first. Done properly, it should feel like exercise for the thighs and hips, not pain in the knees. If you do squats in a gym, don't prop up your heels or stand on the ball of the foot (half-toe stance with heels up). Stand flat on your whole foot, rocking weight back more to the heel.
How to bend using a full-squat:
- Keep both heels down on the ground. Don't let your heels come up when squatting all the way down. Avoid a lot of squatting on the balls of your feet (heels up). Toe-squatting shifts your weight forward onto your knee joint. Instead, to sit or crouch in a full squat to rest, to do chores, or to go to the bathroom in the woods (or wherever else there is no "sit-down" toilet as in much of the world) keep your heels down on the floor. Heel down squatting is a customary sitting posture in much of the world. This reduces pressure on the knees and is a great stretch for your Achilles tendon. Keep knees and feet facing the same direction so the knee does not twist. Keep your knees over your feet, not drooping inward.
Another healthy way to bend for things during real daily life is the lunge, with one leg in front and one in back. With healthy knee position you can bend without knee pain and have a daily habit that strengthens knees rather than hurt them. Keep the front knee over the ankle, with your body weight toward your heel, not sliding forward to the front of your foot. Shifting forward transfers your body weight through your knee joint, instead of keeping it on your leg muscles.
Bend properly using the lunge for all the many dozens of times you bend to reach things every day.
Keep front knee back toward the ankle (left) not forward (right).
Using the lunge strengthens legs, hip, and knees. Keep your body weight evenly between the front and back leg. Bend both knees to dip straight down, and up again, gently.Use good bending, shown in the left hand drawing above. Done properly, it should feel like exercise for the thighs and hips, not pain in the knees. Instead of thinking of lunges as an exercise to "do" 10 times, use it for real life. Real, built-in exercise, back and knee pain prevention, and knee strengthening. Imagine how many times you bend for everything during a real day. Imagine doing that many bends in damaging ways. No wonder things hurt. Now bend right and get real exercise and pain prevention. No gyms, therapy, or pills needed.
Retrain your bending habits to help your back and knees at the same time, and give you free leg exercise too. You can become more mobile and strong while reducing your knee pain, by using your muscles instead of throwing your body weight on your knee joint.
Check how you bend for exercise. Use the same good bending - even to get your equipment (mat weights water bottle) to and from the floor. There is junk food, and junk exercise. Bad bending is junk exercise, yet people are mystified when they hurt when they junk exercise.
When going up stairs, keep your weight back toward the heel of the foot that is stepping up. Most people don't step this way because their leg muscles are too weak. They throw their weight forward, stepping up onto the toe. This transmits body weight onto the knee joint in a vicious cycle of weakness and pain. Keep weight back and knee pain will disappear. When going down stairs, keep the knees back (not shifting or sliding forward) in the same way, stepping down lightly, ball of the foot first (not heel). I will put more about stairs here soon. Until then, use my former column on Healthline, (The Fitness Fixer) article: Down The Stairs. (The Healthline company lost my illustrations and photos when they migrated to a new site. I cannot restore them, only they can. To see the drawings and videos, come back here to DrBookspan.com for more.) Send your own success videos and photos in so everyone can benefit - see the Projects page.
Knee Pain Fix #4 Your Own Body's Shock Absorption - Understanding Impact
Many people are told to give up impact activities, however, they may allow more impact during mere walking and using stairs than someone with good movement mechanics will run and jump. Do you walk, run, exercise, jump, and step heavily, letting each foot flop down without muscle use to decelerate? Shock transmits to the joints of your ankle, knee, hip, back and neck, and can strain your calf muscle and Achilles tendon. A certain amount of impact is necessary for body health and bone growth. Impact with poor movement mechanics magnifies damaging forces. I see patients who are instructors of "low-impact activities" such as Pilates, stretch, yoga, rowing, martial arts, and Alexander technique, for degenerating joints. It is simple misuse.
When going down steps or a hill, for example, beside the good knee positioning mechanics shown above, use your leg muscles to step down lightly. Use the leg still on the upper step to decelerate. Instead of banging down onto the lower step, keep weight on the upper leg to lower yourself lightly, then add shock absorption from the leg that steps down. Bend the knee and use thigh muscles as you touch the ground. You will get free leg exercise, burn more calories, and reduce shock and wear on the knee.
Use the same principles for normal walking and running. Use it for exercise classes using a step bench or balance platform. It's no mystery when people hurt "even though they are doing their exercises" when they are slouching, flopping, slamming, and straining knees and Achilles tendons, and calling that an exercise class.
Knee Pain Fix #5 Don't "Lock-out" the Joint with Hyperextension
Some people stand and move while "locking" the knee out straight, or pressing it backward. This hyper-extended joint posture is sometimes called "splay-legs," or "splayed knee" and can even make the leg look more crescent-shaped than straight. Hyperextension can press the joint slightly out of place, putting damaging forces on the cartilage and surrounding tissue.
Many people push their knees into hyperextension when standing and walking. Others "bang" the joint into straight position in exercise and aerobic boxing classes when rising from each crouch or squat, or when kicking. The locked out joint position is sometimes taught in yoga and dance classes. It is unnecessary and injurious over the long run. Sometimes it is given as a PT exercise for people who have such stiffness that they can't fully straighten. Some people continue to force the joint straight or past straight to too much backward angle (hyperextension) long after the need to help it straighten is over. Also there are far better ways to help a stiff joint straighten that use this "pushing the knee backward" maneuver. Pain from hyperextension is commonly felt after long sitting or upon waking. Instead, stand and move without locking the joint straight.
"Locking" the knee out straight, or pushing it back in hyperextension eventually wears at the joint.
Instead, stand, walk, and move without banging the joint straight.
My Academy Student Jennifer Lattouch demonstrates allowing knee hyperextension (#1 left), and correcting to neutral knee (#2 right).
Knee Pain Fix #6 Gait, Walking, Stairs, and Running - Heel First? Toe First?
One way some people hyperextend their knee(s) when walking and running is to raise their toe too high and land too far back on the heel. That is not a healthy heel-strike gait. A heel-strike gait can be one of a few efficient, healthy gaits. The foot-strike lands first on the bottom of the heel (not the very back of it) then quickly shifts weight to the mid-foot and forward. When some people hear the phrase "heel-strike" they think it means they must hit the heel hard and all the way at the back, instead of a soft quick roll from the bottom of the foot. Other people roll inward on the ankle and arch of the foot making two movements (called eversion and pronation) and strike the inside (medial) surface of the heel, making their heel hurt. They may be misdiagnosed with fasciitis or spurs when they are just bashing their heel. Pain stops as soon as you stop landing on it badly and unevenly.
Different gaits work differently for different speeds and purposes of movement. For slower running gaits and for "dog-trots," a mid-foot strike works fine for many. Remember that the word "heel-strike" used in describing movement does not mean to strike hard like a hit or blow, It means the moment of touch. Check if your gait includes bashing your foot hard, or too far back, or unevenly to the sides, instead of evenly on the bottom of the foot, or if you rigidly-straighten or hyperextend your knee.
Next, check if you do the opposite - Many people read articles repeating the "fad-of-the-day" not to run heel first. While it is true that bad heel-first running can hurt, a good heel landing and roll works as described above. A problem comes when people think they must avoid landing at all on any part of the heel, and instead they do too much of the opposite. They either start running only on the ball of the foot, almost tip toe, and lose much of the propulsion, or they "trudge" meaning they slide the knee forward upon each landing. The knee-forward gait transfers body weight, momentum, and shock absorption phase to the joint, when it is better kept on the leg muscles by not landing that way.
The answer is not that heel running or mid-foot running is right or wrong, but that bad heel running and bad mid-foot running can hurt, while there are healthy efficient gaits using both for different kinds and speeds of movement. A bit about barefoot running in #10 below.
For walking down a flight of stairs or stepping down from heights, usually best is to land ball of the foot, quickly following by shock absorbing. That means bend the knee a bit in healthy lined up form, letting thigh muscles decelerate you, not landing on a straight or hyperextended knee. For walking down a slope, in general, it works best to use normal rear-foot to forefoot roll, rather than trying to trudge down toe first.
Knee Pain Fix #7 - Good Range of Motion Without Twisting
Your knee joint is shaped to bend and straighten. Unlike your shoulder or hip it is not supposed to "swivel" or twist much. Check and see if you twist your knees without knowing it. One common way to twist your knee is to plant your foot, then turn your body in a different direction without also moving the foot. People often do this going down stairs where the stairs turn. Or when changing direction in sports and running. Some people even do this walking and running, by stepping down, then letting the heel swing to the side while the foot stays planted on the ground.
Twisting can wear away at the cushiony cartilage in your knee, called the meniscus. You can strain or tear your meniscus (and cruciate ligaments) suddenly from a big twist, or gradually by letting your weight fall inward, or by moving with your feet and knees pointing in different directions. The leg bones twist, step after step, day after day, year after year.
People often injure their knee by twisting deliberately, doing common but bad stretches. They are stretching, but it is not a healthy or needed stretch. Twisting stretches the ligaments that hold the knee together. Overstretched ligaments can make the joint unstable, allowing the bones to rub and grind. That hurts and also slowly injures the joint.
Your knee joint is not shaped to bend and twist to the side at the same time.
That can overstretch the joint and make it too loose, so that it rubs and wears out sooner than it should.
Knee Pain Fix #8 - Ilio-tibial Band or "I.T. Band"
Your I.T. band is a fibrous band that attaches from the side of your hip (your ilium, which is the top of your hip bone) to the side of your knee (tibia bone). That's why it's called "ilio-tibial." Tight I.T. bands can yank on the side of your knee, leading to knee pain, and even change the way you walk. When a tight band pulls and rotates your leg to the outside, it can add to walking "duck-footed" with your feet and legs turned out instead of facing straight forward, which leads to other pain and problems.
A commonly taught stretch for your I.T. band is done standing sideways at arms-length from a wall, crossing the opposite leg in front of the leg nearest the wall and leaning toward the wall. A more effective stretch is done lying down: Lie face up on a floor or bed, or wherever you're comfortable and flat, with legs wide. Cross one ankle on top of the other with both legs far to one side. Keep both legs straight and make sure you lie flat with both hips touching the floor. Hold for a comfortable stretch - at least for a few breaths - then switch sides.
The most common IT band stretch is the standing stretch (left) but a more effective stretch is done lying down (right).
A properly done IT stretch will feel good and help your knee, hip, and other things.
Knee Pain Fix #9 - Knee Pain That Does Not Come From Your Knee - And Why Some People Are Told Stretching Fixes Knee Pain
Your quadriceps muscles, and other thigh muscles, are attached around your knee. (Interesting note - there are four quadriceps muscles, so when talking about the group, the plural is used "quadriceps"). Sometimes, people have tight thigh muscles. When these tight people try to lunge, or stretch their quadriceps, or do activities that need to lengthen the quadriceps like running, the tight muscles pull and yank instead of stretch on the place where they attach - around the knee. People are given stretches in rehab or PT and told that stretching fixes knee pain. They never really had knee pain - there was nothing wrong with their knee, so it is a misleading idea. These same people will often not use the lunge to bend properly because they think it is hurting their knee. It may be that the tight quads were the problem, and lunging (gently and not so hard that it yanks the tight muscles) is what they needed.
Knee Pain Fix #10 - Stop Bad Shoes and Orthotics That Cause Pain - Plus, What About Barefoot Running?
Pain from Your Shoes. Hard, "supportive" shoes and high tech running shoes are a frequent cause of knee pain, documented in studies to contribute to knee and lower limb arthritis. No need for shoe "straight jackets." Soft, flexible shoes that let your feet breathe and stretch when walking are healthier for your feet, knees, and hip. Expensive, engineered shoes are not needed, and may even be causing your pain. Your own muscles can be the support needed, as explained above.
Pain from Your Barefoot Running. When some people hear that engineered shoes are bad, they automatically assume the opposite must be true - that no shoes have to be automatically healthy. Going barefoot will not automatically make you walk and run well. If you run and walk badly barefoot, you can still hurt. It is not true that barefoot running automatically makes or forces a mid-foot strike instead of a heel-strike, or changes you to any specific gait. Make sure your feet get air and light every day for health, and you use good and healthful lower limb mechanics and habits so that you can go barefoot in healthy ways when you want to. A bit more about gait and running in #6 above.
Pain from Orthotics. An extremely common scenario is someone who goes to the doctor with a little pain from bad foot or knee mechanics. They are prescribed foot orthotics, which is a rigid shaped shoe insert, mistakenly believed to "hold" the foot in proper position. However, consider this - some orthotics are molded sitting or lying down, not when the person is standing where they need it and when foot position changes. Other times, the orthotic is "custom shaped to the person's foot" which was in the wrong position to begin with. Often the rigid and hard nature of the orthotic causes new pain in the leg and hip. Then the person is told to further reduce activity, go for physical therapy, or give up and live with pain. Forcing an arch to change, especially over a rigid painful device isn't healthy or correct. A moderately low or high arch may be perfectly healthy with no "support" needed except what you can do yourself using your own muscles. Orthotics are usually not needed in the first place. You can hold your feet and knees in healthy position.
More on shoes, orthotics, bad gait with shoes or bare feet, and other causes of pain is in the books and eBooks.
Knee Pain Fix #11 - Not All Pain is Orthopedic - Pain From Your Medicines
Many medicines cause body aches. Common prescription and non-prescription medicines cause much musculo-skeletal pain - statin drugs, anti-anxiety drugs, cholesterol drugs, stomach acid drugs, and more. The pain is not a rare effect as previously thought. Are you on medicines for lowering cholesterol? Sleeping medicines? Drugs for depression and anxiety? Irritable bowel drugs, stomach acid drugs (a large contributor to osteoporosis and thinning bones, too) drugs to concentrate, to help wake up, to calm you, for allergies. Increasingly, drugs are found to make more pain as side effect, even drugs you are taking for pain. Trying to stop them causes rebound and withdrawal pain - good for drug companies to keep you on them, but bad for you, your bones, your stomach, and your health.
Stop the causes of poor health instead of taking medicines that cause new problems. If your diet is poor so you take cholesterol and heart medicines, it is likely your diet is too poor for you to feel good or be healthy. Use my free web site DrBookspan.com for many articles on getting healthy again, come take classes, plus almost 800 articles on my Fitness Fixer Index.Stretches and exercises do not fix this kind of pain. In a worsening cycle, side effects are "treated" with yet more drugs with effects that lessen and degrade your health. That is not "side effects" and that is not health care. Many of these drugs are not needed. Some, like stomach acid drugs, cause the problem in the first place. Others have even more serious consequences.
A top health priority is to stop the need for these drugs so that you can lessen, then stop the need to take them. If you are in pain, so don't exercise, then get cholesterol and other health problems from not moving, can't sleep, then take cholesterol and sleeping medicines that cause dependence and more pain, use the healthy principles in my free summary articles and all my books so that you can move again, and be healthfully tired at the end of the day and sleep well at night. It is not true that all exercise is good medicine. Healthy exercise as healthy medicine will stop the pain and need for medicines that cause more problems.
When you reach for anti-inflammatory medicines and pills (even foods) remember that most knee pain and other pain from bad habits is not inflammatory in nature, and may be why all those pills aren't working. Change the bad habits that are the cause. Reduce inflammatory foods for all the conditions with inflammatory components like heart disease. Unhealthful fad diets are increasingly recognized for joint and muscle pain effects, specifically Atkins and other low carbohydrate diets that restrict fruit rather than junk sugar. People will stick to these diets no matter how unhealthy; they'd rather lose weight through a fad diet than through healthier ways (low carbohydrate diets reduce water in your muscles - water weight loss - making muscles susceptible to pain, weakness, cramping, and other health troubles).Vitamin D is needed for pain free living. Better than taking pills and vitamins, get active again in healthy ways out in the sunshine. More on medicines, orthotics, and other causes of pain is in the books and eBooks.
Body Weight and Knee Pain
Some people are told they have knee pain because they are overweight. When I check them, I often find they stand, bend, and walk with weight poorly distributed on the joint. When we change that, the pain diminishes. I have seen patients, some greatly overweight, who say that retraining gait and stance stopped their knee pain, so that they can go out and walk and exercise for the first time.
People who are not overweight, but walk with poor mechanics, poor positioning, or poor shock absorption can put more weight on their knee joint than a heavier person who walks in a healthy manner. How you bend and walk can matter more than your body weight. Someone with good mechanics can land from a jump with lesser force than most people pound away when they walk, reducing loading on the knees, and especially the damaging forces of twisting and torque that bad movement mechanics cause, and weight loss cannot fix. Light weight people can do huge damage to their knees with awful habits. With good mechanics you can do more exercise for the weight loss you may want and need for the many benefits.
Why Common Knee Exercises Don't Help Knee Pain
Strengthening alone doesn't fix knee pain that comes from poor mechanics. Plenty of muscular people have pain. They may do knee exercises, but strengthening is not what changes bad knee positioning during all the things you need to do in real life.
The best exercise is functional - how you bend and move all day in real life, not doing sets and reps of artificial knee exercises then going back to the other 24 hours a day of injurious movement habits. Bend properly for all the many dozens of times you bend for things every day. Use good bending described in #3 above. You will strengthen at the same time that you prevent ongoing injury and get free, built-in, real life (functional) exercise all day.
Letting the joints of your knees, hip, or ankles sag under your weight instead of using supporting muscles to stand and move in healthy position loses the benefit of any rehab exercise, and slowly wears joints. Keep knees in healthy positioning during walking, standing, lifting, and bending. You'll get exercise and free knee rehab without going to a gym or PT.
Why Surgery Is Rarely Needed
Much is already known about why knee surgery is usually not needed. Even people who had physical therapy and "it didn't work" usually didn't have all needed info about how to fix daily movement habits, not just do exercises. My Fitness Fixer (tm) column ran on Healthline.com for 4 years. Several Fitness Fixer articles documented studies that showed that, when looking at long term results, knee surgery does not improve outcomes more than not having surgery, plus the pain and bills for the surgery. When my column ended in 2010, the company kept the articles but removed most of my photos and all the movies and reader comments with my replies. I can't restore the photos, only the company can. Until I can collect and put my Fitness Fixer articles on this Knee Pain page on my web site here, below are the links. Let me know if these links still work:
Surgery for Knee Arthritis, Meniscus, Unnecessary
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Surgery Unnecessary
What Works Better Than Knee Surgery?
Surgery For Achilles Tendon May Not Improve Recovery
Knee Tracking Surgery - Tracking Outcomes
Knee Surgery - Arthroscopy Results No Better than Pretend Surgery
Here is a Blogspot archive I recently found that allows use of my "label" tags to group articles of same topic. In this case, surgery. This archive also retains most of the original photos, movies, and comments. Let me know how it is working for you: http://healthlinefitnessfixer.blogspot.com/search/label/surgery
Medicine and allied medical fields (including "alternative medicine" have a history of prescribing things that may seem to "work" at first, but are not healthy.
Practitioners are not usually scientists; they may only be repeating what they were told by their teachers repeating things that were not so, and by people who sell pills and surgeries.
How Long Does It Take To Stop Knee Pain?
Don't wait. Stop causes of pain starting right now.
If your pain comes from mal-positioning your knees, hips, ankles, and / or feet, you should feel the pain stop or lessen when you reposition to healthier ways. If you're not feeling better right away:
- Check what you are doing compared to what is presented above.
- Are you over compensating? Are you pushing too hard the other way? Are you straining to "hold straight" which is just as painful, in many cases, as slouching into poor positioning.
- Are you fixing one segment and leaving others still in painful positions? That does not mean that these methods do not work, just that you have not identified and fixed all needed.
- Are you walking heavily?
- Are you tightening or clenching muscles?
- Are you doing bad exercises that lean on or twist the knees? Many conventional "knee" exercises are not healthy. Several commonly done yoga poses twist cartilage and grind knee joints. Make sure you can understand healthy movement before using any exercise or movement.
- Are you going back to bad movement habits during the day? Check my free article on Bad Exercises, this one on bad stretches, and this one showing better health and understanding what abdominal muscles really do with The Ab Revolution. All show better movement that helps the whole body including knees.
Make sure there is not something else contributing to your pain. Exercises and good positioning will not stop pain caused by orthotics, medicines, shingles, surgical mistakes, growths, and things unrelated to movement habits and positioning.
Can this hurt? Not if done right. Pain means you must stop and check what you are doing wrong. If anyone, adult or child, has ongoing pain, check other causes. Make sure you don't lose time on fixes for things you don't have. Healthy movement is good for you in general, but don't lose time if infection or other non-movement issues are causes.
Some Lab Research on the Topic
Some of my work in this area is summarized in my Lower Body Revolution Class Syllabus.
For SMARTER PROGRESS Fixing Your Knee Pain and Keeping it Away:
- All methods here are intended to decrease pain and improve function starting as soon as you begin using them.
- Each technique should make an obvious positive change right then. If it does not make sense or help, you may not be applying it as intended (you are doing it wrong). See "How Long Does It Take To Stop Knee Pain?" above.
- Do not do anything that makes more or new pain. Don't fix one pain and cause another (that's traditional medicine, not this method).
- Understand each thing presented and why it is done - before using it.
Putting It All Together
For healthy knees during all movement activities:
- Mechanical knee pain can stop, if you let it, by stopping injurious movement habits and using good body mechanics instead (good body mechanics, ergonomics, healthy movement, etc.). Studies show that components of knee cartilage increase in volume with exercise. Doing knee exercises alone won't make sure you use your knees in healthy ways. Bad mechanics can wear at knees and cause pain. Keep knee cartilage, joint, and soft tissue healthy with healthy movement habits. Don't grind your cartilage away with bad exercises and easily preventable bad habits then wonder why your knees are bone on bone.
- Watch other peoples gait and movement habits. It helps remind you to avoid unhealthy habits - knees swaying inward unsupported by muscles, feet and knees twisting in opposite directions with each step, stomping without shock absorption. People may move that way because it's easier than using muscular effort, but it is not healthy.
- Notice injurious knee positioning for "fitness and health" moves in fitness magazines.
- Notice your own habits.
- Please don't combine other people's injurious stretches and exercises, then come back to me and say my work isn't fixing that.
- Keep knees and feet facing forward when walking and running, not tilted, sagging, or rotated in or out. Keep the whole leg lined up; don't yank one segment straight, and twist or strain the rest.
- Stop all the bad exercises so common in gyms and yoga studios. Use healthier ones instead. Use this web site to learn how to tell for yourself what is healthy movement. My books tell more, especially Healthy Martial Arts (trains all athletics, and does not teach martial arts but teaches how to make training for body and brain healthier).
- Keep body weight distributed over the sole of your foot, not pressing downward and inward to flatten your arches. Don't overcompensate and roll entirely to the outside of the sole, causing new problems, then wonder why that isn't working either.
- When stepping up stairs or an incline, put your whole foot down, (not stepping on the ball of the foot with heel up). Press through the bottom of your heel and keep your knee back more over the heel than forward toward the front of the foot and toes. Then your thigh and hip muscles lift you, not your knee joint.
- When stepping down stairs, step down on the ball of the foot first (bottom of forefoot), bend your knee gently when making contact with each next step, and lightly on contact for shock absorption. Don't clomp down with a straight knee.
- When stepping down each stair or step, step down lightly keeping your weight supported on the leg on the upper (higher) step. Notice if you let your weight crash down unsupported with each step. Change to using your muscles instead. Better mechanics and better exercise.
- Walk, run, jump, and land lightly with shock absorption, instead of stomping. It's better for balance too.
- To walk and run lightly, maintain normal heel to toe roll. "Heel-strike" means the bottom of your heel and rear-foot, not striking hard on the very back of the heel. Stepping lightly doesn't mean staying only on your forefoot or ball of the foot.
- Check if you take medicines that cause pain. Many commonly prescribed medicines have joint and muscle pain as effects. Do not take this lightly, or assume you can take more drugs to suppress the new symptoms. This is unhealthy, and often leads to a cascade of unhealthy new side effects and expensive pills and medicalization. Multiple prescriptions are a large and serious health and economic situation. Stop the need for these medicines through healthier habits, rather than harming your health more through more medicines and their unhealthful effects.
- Check for other causes of pain - infection, Lyme disease, medical conditions, and so on.
- Use principles learned to identify and eliminate the cause of your own pain.
- Don't "do knee exercises" 10 times then go back to harmful use and positioning habits that cause the pain. Fitness as a lifestyle means the healthy ways you move all day.
- Do send me photos and success stories showing the principles in action. Prizes for best ones and best Twitter Tweets of your successes.
- Please do not e-mail saying you are "doing the exercises 10 times" and want me to tell you how to fix your knee pain when you bend, and from bad walking and running. Here is the answer now: If you stop hurting your knees with bad bending and bad movement and standing habits, and bad exercises, then a major source of pain will stop. It is not the exercises that fix things, it's you.
Start feeling better right now and get your life back. Don't wait.
had no legs that practised not his gait;
LADY PERCY. In William Shakespeare's KING HENRY IV, PART II
What To Do Next
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Read How To Fix Your Knees With Fitness as a Lifestyle (Functional Fitness). Not reps of knee exercises or purchasing training "plans" and knee devices, but making your daily real life into your own mental, emotional and physical playground of strength mobility and health.
The Fitness Fixer - Dr. Bookspan IS The Fitness Fixer. The column ran on Healthline for 4 years. Almost 800 free articles archived so you can still use them to change exercise to healthier ways. Check for articles on Achilles pain, foot, shoes, orthotics, knees, back, nutrition, and more by alphabetical listing. Click here for fun Index. Updates through Twitter, above.
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