How To Fix Knee Pain Part 1

One of the most common injury complaints for athletes who do a lot of jump training is knee pain. Unfortunately there can be many causes of knee pain so finding the right one can occasionally be difficult. So with that in mind here are my top 12 tips to help reduce and avoid knee pain. While not every one of these tips will be relevant to everybody, they are simple to implement and doing so will go a long way towards keeping your knees healthy.

1. Ice Regularly

When you do a lot of jump training, weight training, and playing your sport your knees really take a battering and can often have inflammation. One of the best ways to help fix this is with regular icing. For a hard training athlete I recommend they ice daily, and if they have performed a particularly taxing session, sometimes twice a day.

Best practice when it comes to icing is to always do it following a good 10-15 minute cool down consisting of some lower impact and intensity exercise and stretching. If you have really trained hard and have noticed higher levels than usual of soreness in the knee joint, then I would recommend icing again later in the day.

A good set of ice packs is one of the best investments you will make. I use and recommend ColdOne reusable wraps. They are not exactly cheap but unlike a bag of frozen vegetables or ice cubes in a towel, they are not messy and they are easy to use.

ice packsIce Packs: Very Useful

As a side note about icing, there has been a recent push from some segments of the athletic training community suggesting icing isn't very effective, and can even be counterproductive. However, at this stage I feel that the vast majority of coaches, myself included, have seen more than enough cases of icing being very helpful that to stop using something that appears to be so effective without more evidence isn't the best approach.

Personally I try to keep and open mind and am following the anti-icing movement closely, but for now at least, I would still be doing this as a priority if you have bad knee pain.

2. Stretching and Foam Rolling

A common source of knee pain is myofascial trigger points and tightness, often located in the quads, glutes, calves, and in the IT band that runs along the side of your upper thigh. Essentially what happens is that when you get too tight in the quads or in the fascia surrounding the muscles, their ability to contract properly is restricted. When this happens the joints themselves often end up absorbing more of the stresses from your jump training then they should which then causes knee pain.

To help prevent these problems occurring it is a very good idea to instigate a routine of regular foam rolling work (self myofascial release) followed by some stretching of that area.

foam rollingRolling the IT bands is very beneficial for relieving sore knees

By applying pressure to the trigger points which are often very tender at first, you can deactivate them which reduces the referred pain they cause. Anyone who has done some foam rolling will know what I am talking about here. Once you have done that you should follow this up with some stretches to elongate the muscle to help prevent it returning to the tightened state.

A few minutes foam rolling and stretching before and after your workout as part of a warm up and cool down, and again at night is usually enough to keep the muscles and fascia sufficiently loose and to help prevent tightness in those areas.

3. Get Plenty of Sleep

sleepingSweet Dreams: Going to bed earlier can really make a big difference.

The benefits of getting plenty of sleep is something that all athletes should keep in mind because it is when you are asleep that your body does its best work at recovering. Due to the hormonal processes and the fact that you aren't really doing anything, when you are getting lots of restful sleep your muscles feel more refreshed, your CNS recovers and starts to fire more effectively, and of course, your joints get a break from the pounding of training and they too start to feel much better and ready to go again.

Due to the wide range of benefits from a regular, deep sleep, getting plenty of it should be a very high priority for any hard training athlete. Establishing good evening routines is vital for achieving this. I have outlined an evening plan that is simple to follow but highly effective for getting yourself ready for sleep in the 85 page training guide. If you would like to know more details then you can download it from here.

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4. Knee Friendly Workouts

One of the biggest mistakes many young athletes make when trying to figure out how to jump higher is that they do way too much high impact jumping drills, particularly of the 'shock' plyometric kind. The fact is that when it comes to vertical jump programming you need to consider the individual needs of the athlete, their level of development, and then manage the exercises and volume accordingly. Sadly many jump programs available today simply do not do that. This one does of course, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

So what can you do if you are unsure about how to prepare yourself an appropriately designed vertical jump program? Well to help you play it safe here are a few simple guidelines:

  • When performed correctly box squats are easier on the knees than regular squats
  • Double leg jumps are easier on the joints than single leg jumps
  • Jumping onto boxes reduces landing forces
  • Jump on softer surfaces (grass, sand etc)

By basing your program around those guidelines you can actually do a decent volume of work and not have too many knee soreness issues.

5. Strengthen the VMO

A friend of mine who is a rehab specialist at one of our professional football teams here in Australia told me that when knee pain appears one of the first things to stop working properly is the Vastus Medialis (VMO). In order to get better activation in this muscle group he suggested doing sets of leg extensions using a medium load and some higher reps as part of a warm up.

Now I want to be clear about something here. I am not talking about using leg extensions as a means of developing strength to help improve your vertical jump. It is purely as a warm up exercise to help get the VMO activated before your regular strength work. Once you have warmed up the knee joint using the lighter loads then you would move into your more beneficial exercises of your program.

leg extensionsLeg Extensions: Prehab, NOT performance.

I know there are many coaches who are very-anti leg extension, and up until I actually tried this, I was one of them. However since implementing a few sets as part of my warm ups for strength work I have noticed less pain and better training results. From a prehab point of view, I believe they are useful.

6. Strengthen the Calves

In many cases knee pain is caused by your body not being able to efficiently absorb eccentric forces such as those that occur when you land. When this happens it comes down to the knee to do all the work hence the high levels of inflammation that is often experienced there. One of the key muscle groups that is normally involved in absorbing eccentric forces is the calf complex.

If you happen to have weak calves then one thing you can do to help protect your knees is to obviously do some work to strengthen them. Calf training needn't be overly complex or time consuming. A few intense sets of standing calf raises at the end of your strength workouts using a moderate to heavy weight is usually enough for most people. The fact is that the calves already get quite a lot stimulation in most jump training programs because they are called into action on every single take off and landing of every single jump and spending a lot of extra time training them specifically isn't an efficient way to train.

calf trainingStrong Calves: Help with the take offs and landings

Conclusion

This concludes part 1 of the Knee Pain Prevention. Obviously if you want to jump high you really do need healthy knees. Unfortunately jumping high is also very hard on them. For many athletes it is a balancing act between getting enough volume into their program to generate the training response they are after (i.e. more inches on their vertical), and doing so much that they end up injured.

By implementing some of these strategies and those to come in part 2, you will go along way to keeping your joints healthy and having a long and pain free athletic career.

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Related Articles

Injury Prevention - No one likes getting hurt. By taking a few precautionary steps you can reduce your chances of getting injured significantly.

How To Fix Knee Pain Part 2 - Here is the next 6 of our 12 top tips for healthy knees, (including the best and most obvious one).

Jumpers Knee - What is it and what can you do about it.

Foam Rolling for Faster Gains - Like stretching, foam rolling should be an integral part of your vertical jump program.

Fastest Way To Increase Your Vertical Jump - Revolutionary vertical jump training program.