Knee issues and injuries are a debilitating problem for people of all ages, however, there has been a shocking 70% increase in young Australians having ACL reconstruction surgery over the last 15 years. This is largely due to sports that involve impact and sudden direction changes such as skiing, netball, football and martial arts. As children's sport becomes more professional and the demands on young bodies more rigorous, solutions are needed to reduce the rate of knee injury which is also putting them at risk of Osteoarthritis in later life.
Many of my Pilates clients deal with knee pain at some point in their lives due to a large and varied number of reasons.
How Does Pilates Offer Solutions?
Pilates provides the perfect tools to assist with stabilizing the knee joint and strengthening the surrounding muscles, but as muscles don't work in isolation it's necessary to view the body as a whole. Everything really does work together and knee issues can benefit from core, glute and adductor strengthening as well as strengthening the muscles of the feet. Our feet really are our foundation and strengthening the foot muscles creates a stable base which not only improves foot function but supports the joints above including, of course, the knee joints.
VMO Strengthening and Awareness
The Vastus Medialis Oblique muscle (VMO for short) is part of the quadriceps group and extends the knee and stabilizes the kneecap or patella. Knee pain and injury usually cause this important stabilizer to switch off leaving the knee joint without vital support. You can locate this muscle in the seated position if you place two fingers on the inner or medial aspect of the knee joint about 2-3 cm back from where the knee bends. Press your foot down and forward into the floor and you should feel a contraction of the muscle. Its'quite a subtle contraction and then feel it release as you release your foot. This is also an effective way of becoming acquainted with and activating the VMO, you can start with 10 contractions on each side. Many Pilates exercises incorporate the activation and strengthening of these muscles and just as importantly the mental connection and awareness of them. These muscles respond very much to thought and awareness so being aware of the VMO activating while performing various sports and squatting, lunging and running helps to reinforce the activation of the muscles.
Long-Term Strategies for Knee Health
In order to lower the rate of knee surgery for young Australians and promote healthy knees throughout life, measures need to be taken to prepare athletes of all ages for the demands of their sport. Pilates is equally perfect for cross-training athletes in preparation for sport as it is for post knee surgery rehabilitation or even delaying surgery with strengthening. Other factors include using Pilates to correct posture and alignment particularly of the lower limb, which helps the knee joints to function as efficiently as possible. Take care too that you have supportive shoes for your chosen sport and renew them at least every six months, to reduce wear and tear on the knee joint. Pilates programs can be tailored to individual needs and ideally athletes should also be using Pilates exercises as a warm-up before training or playing a game and then using the exercises to cool down again. Pilates really is the perfect tool for maintaining healthy knees throughout life.
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