Our knees take so much wear and tear for us, but maintaining proper knee health ensures we can stay active during any phase of life. The knee is a complex joint consisting of bones, tendons (connect muscle to bone), ligaments (connect bone to bone), muscles, and nerves (that innervate those muscles). There are also many other structures that make up this complex system, such as skin, cartilage, bursa (fluid filled sacs), lymph nodes and arteries.
Ideally, this system works together to keep us stable during a range of activities, from daily chores to exercise. For many, getting knee replacement surgery seems like an inevitable part of aging, but it doesn’t have to be! Undue wear and stress on the knee can be avoided with proper exercise and stretching.
The quadriceps muscles have a tendon that runs from the lower quad to the knee joint and attaches to the patella. The patellar tendon runs from the bottom of the patella to the top of the tibia. Certain exercises in Pilates can help keep these tendons running on track, which reduces pain and increases range of motion. These can be done as part of a maintenance regimen to avoid ever needing surgery, or as a “pre-hab” program before surgery to decrease recovery time.
Two exercises that strengthen lower quads and help keep the tendons in the knee aligning are footwork on the Wunda Chair and Russian Splits on the reformer. These exercises specifically target the lower quad. The Chair exercise can be done by anyone because it isn’t load bearing. Russian Splits take that strength and add an element of balance work.
Another way to ensure our knees stay healthy is to take a look at the joints above and below, i.e. the feet and hips! Oftentimes, where we feel we have a problem is actually pain being caused by an issue above or below. Strong, flexible feet keep us balanced and mobile so that our knees and hips don’t have to take on undue burden.
The Pilates Foot Corrector is excellent for strengthening the feet, as is Foot Work on the Reformer and Foot/Ankle (Soleus Press) on the Chair. There are also exercises you can do at home with no equipment at all!
When looking at the hips, it’s important to notice if we are overusing our hip flexor muscles (Iliacus and Psoas) as well as the Quads, and underusing our hamstrings and glutes. Working with the Leg Springs on the Tower is a great way to find balance, strength, and alignment in the hips.
If our Quads are too tight they can pull our knees out of alignment and cause pain when we squat or kneel. Stretching on the Ladder Barrel is one The Best quad stretches you can get!
As the name implies, Thigh Stretch on the Tower strengthens and stretches the Quads. Foam rolling the quads before and after exercise or walking helps keep things loose and tracking as they should.
Sometimes surgery is unavoidable, but we shouldn’t have to avoid life because of painful or weak knees! Pilates is a great way to keep our knees healthy and to build strength, and it’s a great tool to have in your toolbox.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.