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How to Decrease Risk of Knee Injuries

Few people realize how vital their knees are to everyday activities until they suffer a serious knee injury.

Michael Jordan remembers the effect that an anterior cruciate ligament tear in a college teammate, Buzz Peterson, had on his friend's level of play. "It's like I can punch a hole in your heart," he recalls telling Buzz as a way of pointing out how tentative his friend's play had become.

No one could say that Buzz didn't have a warrior's heart on the basketball court; prior to his knee injury, he was a standout star who was bound for a solid NBA career. But even with the best rehab available at the time, he never seemed to gain enough confidence in the stability of his injured knee to play without worry. Unfortunately, this is a common tale for many high level athletes who suffer serious knee injuries.

This isn't to say that people can't bounce back from anterior cruciate or medial collateral ligament tears. What we do know is that all of us can significantly lower our risk of experiencing knee injuries with the right blend of warm-up exercises prior to any vigorous activity. These exercises include light jogging, moderate sprinting, backward jogging, strengthening the hamstrings, plyometrics, agility runs, and stretching.

The key is to do these exercises with good form and a clear understanding of your objectives with each movement. We have The Santa Monica Sports Research Foundation to thank for coming up with comprehensive guidelines on how to do a proper neuromuscular warm-up of our knees to minimize risk of injury.

Please have a look at the following video that beautifully demonstrates how to take your body through each phase of a proper warm-up and training session for strong and healthy knees (many thanks to Megan Huning for creating this valuable resource):

By following this program three times a week, medical studies tell us that we lower our risk of injuring the following structures that support our knee joints:

  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL)
  • Patellar tendon
  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • Menisci
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)

The menisci that lie within your knee joint serve as shock absorbers, while the rest of the structures noted above are positioned to help prevent frank dislocation of your knee joints while they're in use.

The knee is a hinge joint, which is to say that it's inherently more stable and less likely to undergo a frank dislocation than the more mobile ball-in-socket shoulder joint.

Being as stable as it is, when the knee is exposed to overt trauma, before it gets to a point where it can dislocate, typically, one or more of the supporting structures listed above tend to tear, sometimes partially and sometimes in full. Ironically, pain in the acute phase is usually much greater with partial tears, as full tears don't tend to send feedback to our brains letting us know that a tissue has been torn, but I digress.

For the written guidelines on how to prevent injury and enhance performance, produced by The Santa Monica Sports Medicine Research Foundation, click here: The PEP Program

Also critical to decreasing risk of knee injuries is deep pressure work to the muscles and tendons that surround the joint to prevent accumulation of waste products and to promote healthy blood circulation; both of these factors allow muscles and their tendons to recover optimally after vigorous activity, thereby decreasing risk of strains and sprains during subsequent workouts.

Here are links to foam rolling exercises that you can do around the knee region to accomplish most of what deep tissue work would:

How To Improve Blood Circulation In Your Legs

How To Foam Roll The Anterior Compartment Of Your Legs

How To Foam Roll Your Iliotibial Band

How To Foam Roll Your Thigh Adductors

You'll also want to foam roll your quadriceps muscle group, which is the large group of four muscle bellies that line the front of your thighs - these are the muscles that come together to form the tendon that crosses over your knee cap to become your patellar tendon. Take care to foam roll the entire length of your quandriceps, beginning in your hip flexor region and working all the way down to the tops of your knee caps, and going back and forth several times according to your tolerance level.

Those who play soccer, football, hockey, baseball, basketball, and racquet sports, as well as high level athletes that participate in gymnastics, skiing, martial arts and other sports that require intense footwork and sharp changes of direction stand to benefit from all of the action steps noted above. If you have any questions on this topic, please feel free to share via the comments below.


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Thanks for sharing Dr Kim. I've had an anterior cruciate ligament tear in my right knee and despite surgery and some recuperation time (about a year) to strengthen the muscles I find that the joint is stiff and still painful at times. Is this residual inflammation or will I have to put up with this for the rest of my life? I work in an office job so while it doesn't put much strain on the knee I wonder if it is actually holding me back from recovery.

Arthritis runs in my family so I am particularly worried if this injury will cause early onset of that.

Do you have any recommendations on recovering from such injuries?

Thanks and best wishes