Apart from our tailbone, wisdom teeth and the tiny muscles around our ears, which allow us to wiggle them, almost every component of the human body plays an important role in keeping us functioning. Your knees, the biggest joint in your body, are no exception. In fact, you ask a lot of your knees with every single step you take! So, it’s important to take care of them! Let’s look at the why, how and what below.
Your Knees are Amazing
Did you know that each step you take requires your knees to absorb pressure equal to about 1.5 times your body weight. And that’s just walking! When you run, you apply about four times your body weight in pressure on each knee with every stride.
When you play sports which involve jumping and changing direction sharply, you ask your knees to not only hinge back and forth, but to rotate various degrees either inwards or outwards while, in the case of jumping, absorbing even more pressure!
Your knees are not only the biggest joint in the human body, they are also the most complex and unsurprisingly, given the amount of pressure they bear and the range of movement we ask of them, they are very prone to injury.
In fact, in Australia, we have the dubious honour of possessing the highest reported rates of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in the world. Thanks in part, no doubt to the popularity of sports like AFL.
So how can you reduce your knee injury risk? Yes, we already gave this one away: warm up properly before expecting your precious knees to play sports!
Why Warming Up Helps Prevent Knee Injuries
“Performing warm-ups increases muscle temperature and blood flow, which contributes to improved exercise performance and reduced risk of injuries to muscles and tendons*. This is relevant to your knees because the joint is controlled by two distinct muscle groups, these being the quadriceps and the hamstrings. Warming up before launching into any high intensity sport enables you to prepare psychologically for the task at hand as well as to prepare physically.
Incidentally, it’s thought warming up also helps your cardiovascular system to adjust to demanding aerobic exercise.
So, what types of warmups should you do to protect your knees?
Warmups to Prevent Knee Injury
First off, it’s worth noting that the specific warmups you should perform will largely be determined by the type of sport you are about to play.
As a rule, your warmup should essentially mimic the activity you are about to perform, but at a lower intensity. If the sport you play involves running for instance, you could start out by walking briskly and then step up the pace to a slow but steady jog. When you warm up, you’ll want to focus on the larger muscle groups first, such as your hamstrings. Remember your hamstrings are one of two muscle groups which are attached to your knee joint, so you most definitely want to warm these guys up anyway!
As a general guide, regardless of the sport you play, the following three exercises can all help warmup your knee-related muscles and reduce your knee injury risk:
- Slow and steady cycling on an exercise bike for five minutes
- Gentle squats (don’t overdo it; stick with what’s comfortable)
- Climbing up and down a set of stairs for five minutes
This advice is a general guide only; if you have any concerns regarding your knees, seek advice from your surgeon or sports physiotherapist before playing any sports.