The knee is the largest joint in the body. The fact that it sits between the long levers of the thigh and lower leg makes it vulnerable to injuries. Active young women are particularly prone to knee injuries. Hormonal differences, structural differences, musculature differences and mechanical differences between men and women make women more susceptible to certain types of knee injuries, according to a 2007 review article published in the Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice. The good news is that many of these injuries can be prevented through proper muscle strengthening strategies.
It's Not Just About the Knee
Think of the knee as the shy cousin of the hip and the foot. The knee takes little initiative in movement, and passively goes where the hip and foot tell it to go. With this concept in mind, the key to stability of the knees is to be sure that you have a stable yet flexible base of support and focus your strengthening efforts on the hips.
Strengthening the Hips
Using weight machines to isolate muscle groups may help build muscle, but does little to improve muscular coordination through movement patterns that tend to cause knee injuries. Instead, choose hip exercises that are based on weight-bearing, multi-joint movements. Try squats, lunges and non-weighted, single-leg dead lift exercises to build strength in your hips. Making sure your knees track directly over your feet during these exercises reinforces the role of the hips in providing stability to the knees.
A specific training program based on plyometrics has shown promise in reducing serious knee injuries in young women engaged in competitive sports programs. The program focuses on improving lower extremity strength through jump training, with particular attention on improving landing mechanics. Participants in a study, published in 1999 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, worked on increasing their jump height while learning to decrease their landing forces by focusing on muscular control during landing. Add plyometric drills like vertical jumping, single-leg hopping and box jumps to your routine. Be sure to focus on soft, controlled landings.
What About the Foot?
If you have very flat feet, or if you tend to over-pronate when you walk or run, your lower legs will tend to rotate such that your knees collapse inward when you run or jump. Additional arch support may be needed to provide a stable foundation. Consider adding arch supports or orthotic inserts to your shoes if your feet need more support. Poor flexibility of the ankles can also result in unhealthy compensations at the knees. Stretch and mobilize your ankles regularly to maintain proper motion at the foundation.
- The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice: Recognizing Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears in Female Athletes: What Every Primary Care Practitioner Should Know
- American Journal of Sports Medicine: The Effect of Neuromuscular Training on the Incidence of Injury in Female Athletes. A Prospective Study
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