Some of the more common strain injuries runners get have to do with the knees. Ever heard of runner’s knees? Most runners have and what’s more, are all too familiar with the problem. While runner’s knee isn’t actually one specific injury or strain but rather a method to describing a certain kind of knee pain, many who experience it have no clue about what’s causing it. That includes me by the way. I’ve mentioned a couple times here in the blog about how I completely wrecked my knees last summer when I started running after a long break. I didn’t want to admit my bad condition to myself and pushed myself way too hard right from the start while almost completely ignoring my glutes, hamstrings, peroneals, calves and well, pretty much all the muscles needed for lower body stabilization. Little did I realize, the core cause for my debilitating knee pain was knee valgus or ’’knock knees’’.
Knee valgus is something many of us have without us even noticing. I sure have noticed myself having this but I always thought it simply was my leg anatomy and not something that could be fixed. Oh the pain and frustration I would’ve avoided had I done my research before attempting to start running. We notice this posture easily in others without necessarily knowing what it is. It sticks out as a ’’weird’’ posture and it can be spotted often at the gym where it shows while squatting, lunging, jumping, landing and in more serious cases, even deadlifting. It can also be seen when running on the treadmill. In knee valgus, both knees appear to point at each other, the femurs (thigh) point inwards and the tibia (shins) point outwards when standing up.
In addition to the knee valgus not looking very pretty, it has a destructive effect on the knees and it effects the entire posture badly. It makes us more prone to ligament injuries such as the notorious ACL tear (anterior cruciate ligament). In most cases the ACL gets completely torn and additionally, surrounding structures get damaged in about 50% of cases. Knee pain when beginning exercising regularly is what often occurs first and leads to the person recognizing the issue of knee valgus. Key aspects of how knee valgus develops concern several leg muscles and their imbalances. Here are some of the causes behind knee valgus:
Flat feet is a postural deformity in which the arches of the foot collapse causing the entire sole of the foot to come into contact with the ground. As you can see in the photo below, this causes the ankle to tilt inwards. This tilt doesn’t stop there. As the tibia is connected to the foot as well as the femur, the tilt of the ankle will pull the entire tibia down with it. This tilt resonates all the way up to the femur via the knee. In other words, the tilt of the ankle directly causes the knee to tilt as well. This shows up as knees pointing inwards. One common (and easily fixable) cause for this is the tightness of the peroneus and anterior tibialis muscles. Besides having these muscles all tightened up, they probably are also weak so I’m going to include a good way to stretch as well as strengthen them just below:
HOW TO STRETCH:
Sit down on a chair with your feet flat on the ground and knees at approximately a 90 degree angle. Lift one ankle over your other knee. Point your toes like a ballerina and grab hold of the foot. Twist the ball of the foot up so that you can see the sole of your foot. Then pull up towards your upper body. You should feel stretching on the outside of your shin below your knee. When you have located that muscle, you can release the stretch and massage it with your fingers.
HOW TO EXERCISE:
Calf raises put several of your lower leg muscles to work including the peroneals, soleus and gastrocnemicus. Stand upright with your feet silghtly spreaded and simply raise your heels from the ground while maintaining your posture and balance.
For this one you’ll need a resistance band. Secure the other end of the band to a fixed point, such as a couch leg. Sit down with your legs straight in front of you and the point where you secured the band directly to the left side of the foot you’re going to exercise. Begin rotating your foot to the outside, away from where the band is secured to (to the right in this case). You should feel your muscles working on the outside of your shin. Repeat for both legs.
2.INADEQUATE HIP STRENGTH
This problem consists of a couple different issues. First off, inadequate quad function will cause the hamstrings and adductors to compensate and therefore, become tight. As these muscles tighten (and shorten), they will pull the femur inwards resulting in knee valgus. As you might guess, tight adductors mean weak abductors. This just means that the opposing muscle group (abductors) are too weak to balance out the inward pull the adductors cause. This imbalance results in knee valgus. Again, the fix is simple: you’ll want to stretch those adductors and strengthen the abductors.
Standing Lateral Lunge Adductor Stretch
First, begin in a standing position with a wide stance. Make sure at this point that there is no ’’slack’’ in the adductors so that you only need to shift slightly to generate the stretching action. Bend one knee and shift the hips to one side. You should feel a stretch on the inside of the opposite thigh. Hold the stretch for 1-2 seconds then return to the starting position to release.
Adductor Lunge Stretch
Kneel down onto the ground in a lunge position. Bring the outside of your shoulder towards the inside of the lead knee. Lean forward so that your hip slides forward. You should feel a stretch along the inside of the upper leg. Hold for a couple of seconds and repeat for the other leg.
The easiest way to strengthen you abductors is to do the side plank lift. Lay down on one side with your legs straight and on top of one another. If you want to do the easier version, take your top leg and place it on the ground like in the picture below. Begin to raise your hip off the ground using your abductors and only helping with your other leg. To increase difficulty, extend both legs so that you only use the abductors to raise yourself up.
As someone who has suffered from knee valgus (and still do somewhat), I can assure you that these simple exercises are totally worth it. Your posture, knees, hips and even lower back will thank you! I do hope you found this post helpful as I assume that if you found your way here, you’re probably experiencing this problem.