The New Reason To Strengthen Your Knees
By Bari Lieberman
If you’ve ever tripped over a few steps, or barely saved yourself from doing a face-plant on the sidewalk, you know the importance of being quick (and staying steady) on your feet. Strong, healthy knees are vital to capable legs—but new research warns that the way women are going about knee strengthening could be upping their risk of injury.
An estimated one in four women experience knee pain on a daily basis, and women are also more prone to knee injuries than men, earlier research has shown. Given that data, researchers at the Loyola University Medical Center sought to explain this increased risk. After analyzing the jumps of several athletes, they determined that the leaping positions of female athletes increased their odds of injuries, particularly tears of the ACL, one of four major knee ligaments.
“Women tend to land with the knees straighter and feet rotated inwards, compared to men who tend to land with more of a bend in the knee and the feet rotated slightly outward,” says Dr. Patrick McCulloch, an orthopedic surgeon with the Methodist Center for Sports Medicine in Houston who was involved in the research. “This puts the knee in a better position to absorb shock.”
When these same experts put female athletes through a six week training program designed to recalibrate their jumping technique, those women reduced the likelihood of ACL injury by up to 50%.
That program included plenty of exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knees, which is one vital part of reducing injury risk, Dr McCulloch says. “A training program which (among other things) focuses on landing with good technique and learning to develop and recruit the hamstrings can create the muscle memory that stays with the athlete going forward,” he advises.
Unfortunately, some of the factors that put us at increased risk of knee injury—smaller ligaments than men, and different hormones—can’t be changed. But exercises to strengthen the quads, hips, and glutes can all help eliminate pain and keep knees safe from future injury. “When the surrounding muscles are strong, they take pressure off the joints, which allows for greater activity with fewer aches and pains,” says Jordan D. Metzl, MD, sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
Exercises like squats and lunges are must-dos (see how to master them with How To Get A Better Butt and 9 Exercises You’re Doing Wrong). If you hate squats, use a resistance band and focus on these 3 knee-saving exercises instead.
And be smart about your fitness routine. While we love plyometric exercises, like jump squats, they’re not a good idea for anyone with degenerative conditions or arthritis, Dr. McCulloch says. Instead, he recommends a low-impact fitness program. Check out these 8 Low-Impact Workouts For Big Calorie Burn.
Lieberman, Bari. “The New Reason To Strengthen Your Knees”. http://www.prevention.com/fitness/strength-training/risk-knee-injury-increases-women