A knee issue that is troubling you
You have knee pain. You have been to the doc, and fortunately imaging doesn’t show any sign of a disc tear, but there is some evidence of arthritis, ligament strain, or bursitis. What can you do? You have given your knee area a lot of well-meaning attention–stretching, massage, ice, wearing a neoprene brace–and you are just not getting very far with improving the situation. Your knee is still aggravated by activity.
I am going to suggest that addressing your knee issue might be like parenting a cranky teen (whose schoolwork is suffering, and they are very resistant to your parenting efforts). The strategy you use to help your knee recover its good mood and functionality can be similar to the approach you might use with your teen.
Here’s the scenario:
As a parent, you know there is a homework problem to address. The progress report that came home last week says your teen is not applying himself, and his preliminary grades do not look good. You’d like to help him avert the painful consequences of another late paper, or having to push a project to completion in one day that he should have been working on all month. But your teen is evasive when you try to talk about upcoming school projects, saying, “Don’t worry about it. I can handle it.” Clearly, your teen needs to develop better time management and self-discipline around school work. His current “strategy” is not working, and your efforts to address the problem directly do not seem to be working either.
The indirect approach may be easier
What if you offered to take your teen out for bubble-tea and talk about something that is not school-related? Maybe he is willing to tell you about something cool that one of his friends is doing. You could segue into talking about something new your teen wants to do or try, which could lead into talk about managing priorities and breaking a project down into steps … Or, maybe it is a good time to go together to Ikea and get a new shelf for your teen’s room, then offer some help setting it up and some support for cleaning out the old and re-organizing.
Helping your teen to get organized in an area that is less resistant to change might lead to easier discussions about planning and better organization in the realm of schoolwork.
Improving organization above and below the problem
Similarly, the best thing you can do for your knee might be to give some attention to areas nearby. For instance, your ankles and feet may be stiff, and your hips might be lacking flexibility. In many cases, knee pain or instability, can start with tight hips and stiff ankles, which together put greater stress on the knee joint. Working on one or both of these stiff areas that don’t feel as vulnerable as your knee can relieve a lot of stress on the knee itself, making it easier to strengthen the muscles around the knee without causing pain. With better organization and joint action above and below, and less strain at the knee, you may be able to get back to exercising, and hopefully will hold off progression of arthritis due to chronic inflammation.
Steps to reducing strain on the the knee
If you don’t already have a yoga or movement practice that includes stretching, here are some steps you can follow to improve mobility at the hip and ankle, which should help reduce knee stress. (Even if you do have a strong yoga practice or do some regular stretching, you might find it is helpful to consider these concepts. What element could be missing in your routine?)
- Start with your hips, and do the stretches that you already know feel helpful for your body.
- Then make sure you stretch the opposing muscle group. If you already did some variation of drawing your knee across your body to get the outer hip, then do something that involves opening your groin area for balance. Find a stretch across the front of your hip and a stretch deep in the back of your hip, searching for multiple angles. I suggest giving attention to both hips before you move on to the ankles.
- Next stretch your lower leg muscles, calves first. One way to do this is lying on your back and holding one foot in the air. Support your thigh with your hands, use your thigh muscles to straighten your knee, and then make some slow ankle circles. Draw your toes toward your knee for a few counts, using your shin muscles. Or hold that foot in an improvised sling (using a strap such as a dog leash or bathrobe belt), keeping your knee “soft” instead of locked, and experiment with different foot angles until you feel a good calf stretch.
- Lastly, be sure to stretch the top of your foot and front of your lower leg. (This will be easier with shoes off.) You can simply point your foot while you continue holding your thigh in the air. I also like to stretch this area with a bent knee while lying on my side, so that I can more easily reach the top of my foot.
There are hundreds of ways to refine stretching, and these tips are very general. The main “take home” idea here is that you can help your painful knee by giving some attention to your hips and ankles: stretch each hip in multiple directions, then work your ankle in multiple directions.
If you feel sharp pain or joint pain while you are doing a particular stretch, of course back off the stretch, change your alignment, or ask someone for help.
Balance throughout the body
Developing a routine for yourself based on the above steps may give your knees much relief. If you want further help in re-organizing or balancing your structure, so that all your lower body joints are working more harmoniously, I am here to help. We might consider doing a short tune-up series or a slightly longer injury recovery series, depending partly upon how long this knee pain has been a problem. Click here for more information.