5 Ways Athletes Can Prevent Knee Injuries
Halfway through the 2013-14 basketball season, the Los Angeles Lakers announced that Kobe Bryant, a 16-time NBA All-Star, would miss the rest of the season with a debilitating knee injury1. And while you can’t blame Kobe’s absence for the Lakers terrible season (needless to say, they didn’t make the playoffs)2, it was clear that this injury was costly in many ways including his performance when he returned, decreased ticket sales and team morale. The truth is, a lot of knee injuries happen every year in professional, collegiate and recreational sports. In fact, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) determined that knee injuries are the most common type of injury in college football.3
Knowing how prevalent sports-related knee injuries are, it’s important that you are incorporating prevention techniques into your training and game-time routine.
5 Ways Athletes Can Prevent Knee Injuries:
- Stretch it out- Improve your joint’s mobility and range of motion by stretching! Don’t just focus on the knees. Be sure to stretch the ankles and hips. If either of those joints has any restriction in motion, it can have an effect on knee motion and loading. Remember to emphasize both “static” and “dynamic stretches.” This article by LiveStrong discusses the difference in both types of stretches4. While emerging research shows the benefits of dynamic stretching, pay equal respect to not overstretching muscles with prolonged static stretches. You are safe to hold a static stretch in the range of 10 – 30 seconds, but stretching that is done as a pre-activity warm-up should not be held for longer than 1-2 minutes. Check out this article by the Mayo Clinic for a bunch of tips on proper stretching5.
- Warm-up – Instead of coming out “cold,” it’s important to not only warm up your muscles but warm up your cardiovascular and pulmonary system for exercise. An active, dynamic warm-up should focus on raising your body temperature, getting your blood flowing, and moving the parts of your body that will be used. Examples are things like, calisthenics, lightly jogging, jumping jacks, various hopping or jumping motions, and sport-specific drills and movements. As a general rule of thumb: “When You’re Sweaty, You’re Ready.”
- Cooldown – Hearing the final whistle and immediately sitting down can cause your joints, specifically your knee, to stiffen up, inflame and cause pain. After physical activity, take a lap, at a slow pace, to keep your breathing under control, your circulation flowing and your body temperature down.
- Be flexible – Maintaining your flexibility, mainly in the hips and ankles, is crucial to minimizing the risk of a knee injury. While stretching before an activity is great for prevention, it’s important to maintain your flexibility in those key areas, even on days you aren’t participating in an athletic activity. The key is to start early, because as we age, maintaining our flexibility gets more and more challenging.
- Don’t “overtrain”- While overtraining can obviously lead to injury, even simple missteps can ultimately increase your chances for a knee injury by disrupting your stretching and flexibility routines (which we now know are critical in prevention). Avoid knee overtraining by selecting appropriate exercises and repetitions for your specific needs. For example, if you are susceptible to lower-leg problems or knee pain, a non-weight-bearing activity such as swimming may be a better choice than running.
The point is…
Although stretching, maintaining flexibility and warming up properly make a huge difference in knee injury prevention, the truth is that most people are either not doing them as often as they should or are doing them wrong. That’s where physical therapists and athletic trainers come in. By focusing on your particular activity, they are able to select appropriate strength and flexibility exercises, while ensuring you maintain proper form. So if have you existing knee pain, want to improve your stretching and flexibility, or just want additional information about preventing knee injuries, request an appointment here and speak with one of our physical therapists.
Article by: Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA
Holly is a practicing physical therapist, partner and Director of Clinical Services at Ivy Rehab Network with more than 40 years of experience in sports management with young athletes, and is board certified as a geriatric clinical specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults. Deuer is certified as an aquatic and oncology rehabilitation specialist and serves as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.