The Why and How of Your Knee Pain
Have you ever felt a sharp pain inside of your knee around the knee cap when you lean onto your leg? The pain might be present when you climb up stairs, when you run, and when you jump. You might feel it during and/or after an exercise session, or even a day after. You might not remember anything in particular that caused it - it seemed to start out of nowhere.
If this sounds familiar, this article is for you.
Why you’re feeling the pain
There could be many different factors contributing to knee pain, but the most common cause that you are likely to have is this: your thigh muscles are tight.
The quadriceps are the largest muscles in our body, and they run over the most major joints: the hip joints & knee joints. If the quads and other muscles (ITB, Sartorius, Gracilis) that also cover those joints become tight, the pressure inside of the knees increases, which irritates the knee joint itself or the ligaments surrounding it.
It is then most common to experience a sharp pain when the muscles are used and the tension increases quickly. Hence, you feel discomfort when you step on the leg.
Who is affected?
This is a very common type of pain for runners, people who casually play sports, those who often wear heels, and people who tend to skip proper warming up or cooling down. Especially if you have the habit of going back to a sedentary lifestyle straight after exercise; the quads muscles tend to get tensed up even when you are not trying to use them.
Muscles become tight if you use them too much, or don’t use them often enough. Basically, in this case, the pain is a sign that the frequency and degree of maintenance you carry out on your muscles is not in balance with the workload on your legs.
How to remedy it
In order to release the pressure and reduce the pain, maintenance of the thigh muscles is key. It is very helpful to know how muscles work when trying to work on maintenance, so take a look at the following pictures:
When you think about muscle structure, think about dry spaghetti. There are bunches of thin muscle fibres, and a thin layer that wraps the fibres together (called a facia), which forms a muscle. Each fibre and facia are elastic, but when you use your muscles too much, or don’t use them often enough, your muscles can develop locks that disturb the stretching and contracting movements of the fibres and facia. These locks are called “trigger points”, and can cause many issues including joint pain.
For instance, when you have these locks, that part of your muscle will not stretch as much. So when you are performing yoga or stretching, you end up relying on other parts of the muscles that are not locked, which could result in overworking that part and can end up causing an injury in the long run.
Therefore it is important to get rid of these trigger points in your thigh muscles so that you can move them freely and remove the pressure; this will be the main purpose of your maintenance work.
What to do
Muscle maintenance work has 3 steps: (1) remove trigger points, (2) stretch the muscles, (3) activate glutes and hamstrings so the workload of the quads reduces.
Additional things to note
There are many other things that could help remove the tightness in your thigh muscles: water intake, stress reduction, sleep improvement, walking/running form, posture and nutrition. If this maintenance program doesn’t improve the pain, some of these other factors may be contributing to it. Therefore it is recommended that you try to improve them as well as continuing the maintenance work on your muscles (I will touch on that in other articles).
If your knee pain comes from an incident such as falling, there could be a structural problem that needs to be checked by your doctor. If that’s the case, do not follow these instructions, stay away from heavy exercise for at least 72 hours until the internal wound starts to heal, and see your doctor as soon as possible.