Healthy Beginnings

How to Love your Knees and Help Them Last

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Our knees are located in a very busy part of our body. They are major players in organizing and supporting our critical functions of walking, running, standing, sitting and bending.

Consequently, knees often suffer from pain and injury related to:

  • Inappropriate use of the knee joint causing damage to cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bones; and
  • Skeletal misalignment in the hips above the knee and the ankles/feet/toes below the knee.

You can learn how to reduce pain and improve knee function with increased self-awareness and a few Feldenkrais concepts; these may also help relieve knee pain in debilitating, degenerative medical conditions.

Let’s start with some anatomy. The knee is a hinge-type joint between the upper and lower leg, held together primarily by 4 ligaments. For more details, go to https://wb.md/2RCfQ6J.

Range of movement is restricted in the knee, except in the forward-backward direction, where a healthy knee can move +/- 150 degrees. Side-to-side and rotational movements of the knee are extremely restricted ­­— a critical point to understand for healthy, pain-free knees.

Here are 2 important general strategies:

  1. To protect your knees, lateral (side-to-side) and rotational movements need to take place more predominantly in your hips, spine, ankles and feet.
  2. When you receive discomfort or pain messages from your knees, LISTEN TO THEM. They mean you need to change something to avoid injury and find safer movement.

Now let’s look at the pelvis and how it can affect knee comfort and function. The pelvis is a somewhat mobile structure made up of three parts: right and left hips (ilium), seat bones (ischium) below, and sacrum in between. For details, go to https://bit.ly/2LZPbvF.

It’s not uncommon for one hip to be rotated forward, backward, tilted or hiked up a bit. Doctors/chiropractors will sometimes tell you that one leg is longer than the other — but in reality, the discrepancy is more likely to be a simple skeletal misalignment in the pelvis or spine (as in scoliosis). You can change and/or improve these by doing specific movements to create better alignment.

Improving self-awareness and changing movement patterns based on what you feel and know are the real secrets to knee health. Here’s why:

HIPS: Uneven hips cause downward shearing force into the knee that can produce extreme pain as cartilage gets worn away by asymmetrical downward pressure. Surgery and/or manual adjustments do not fix this problem.

ANKLES/FEET: Similarly, how you use your ankles/feet/toes can exert a huge impact on your knees and hips. You can learn to use the bones and ligaments in your ankles and feet to improve the alignment of the junction at your knee joint! You’ll recognize your success with reduced pain and increased stability.

This 3-step process will get you started on the pathway to healthier, happier knees:

  1. Visually inspect your legs, knees, ankles and feet in the mirror:
    1. Determine whether your knees/ankles pronate (tilt inward) or supinate (tilt outward), and what your feet do.
    2. Look at the bottom of your shoes for wear-patterns to confirm your conclusions.
  1. Notice/feel how you use your knees, how you stand, sensing where muscular work occurs in your legs, what parts of your feet press into the ground. Check one foot/leg at a time:
    1. Practice rolling onto the inside or outside edges of your feet to explore a different pattern of use. Hold onto something sturdy for safety.
    2. As you move your feet/ankles around, sense what feels comfortable and supported and what causes pain/discomfort in the knee or hip.
    3. Do what feels good and avoid discomfort. Experiment as you walk, stand, bend.
  1. Commit to sense and explore using your knees in ways that are safe:
    1. Don’t over-rotate or twist your knees.
    2. Minimize side-to-side (lateral) movement and avoid lateral impact with humans, pets, objects.
    3. Pay attention to what you feel/sense every time you walk, stand, bend, sit, and apply all of the above!

Feldenkrais principles have a profound effect on how you move and feel. They provide a practical place from which self-sensing grows into self-knowledge, self-empowerment and more comfortable, long-lasting stability and function, not just in your knees, but also in your entire self. You’ll feel the love!

Carole Bucher, BA, is a Guild-Certified Feldenkrais practitioner/teacher and owner of Reno Feldenkrais Integrative Movement. Visit renofeldenkrais.blogspot.com to learn more.