Why Strengthening This Muscle May Fix Knee Pain

Athletes need to strengthen their VMO muscle to prevent knee pain and improve their performance.

A big, strong VMO is associated with bodybuilders who desire defined, sculpted quads. If you're an athlete, your VMO doesn't need to look like it's bursting through your skin, but it still needs to be strong.

The VMO, or vastus medialis oblique, is one of the four muscles of your quadriceps. If you flex your quads, you'll notice a large muscle toward the inner part of your thigh. That's your VMO.

The VMO contributes to running, jumping and nearly every other basic athletic movement, because together with your other quad muscles, it's a powerful knee extensor. Anytime you push off the ground, your VMO is involved.

It's also an important knee stabilizer—a critical function that's often overlooked.

Vastus Medialis Oblique muscle (VMO)

The VMO attaches to the patella (i.e., your kneecap) to maintain its position relative to the femur (i.e., your thigh bone), allowing for normal knee function—especially during squatting and multi-directional movements. "If you don't have a strong VMO, you may experience knee pain and nagging injuries," says Mark Roozen, owner of Coach Rozy Performance.

Specifically, Roozen refers to patellofemoral pain syndrome. A misaligned patella results in pain on the front of the knee, ultimately caused by a weak VMO. This is particularly problematic for young athletes, who often lack sufficient VMO strength to support their high level of activity. According to the University of Southern California, patellofemoral pain syndrome is the root cause of 75 and 33 percent, respectively, of adolescent female and male knee pain.

A stronger VMO will enhance your performance and prevent nagging knee pain,which can range from annoying to completely debilitating.

How to Strengthen Your VMO

The go-to exercise for VMO strength is the Leg Extension, but we've already discussed why this exercise is a poor choice.

Instead, Roozen recommends Step-Up variations, saying, "You still get knee extension, but through different ranges of motion. The loads come from different angles. This prepares your VMO to stabilize against multi-directional movement—essential for athletes who play team sports."

Integrate the following three Step-Up variations into your workouts once per week. Choose a box that's about the same height as your knee.

Dumbbell Step-Up

Stand with your feet hip-width apart about 6 inches away from a box. Step onto the box with your right foot. Extend your right leg to drive your body up and place your left foot on the box. Step down from the box, and repeat.

Sets/Reps: 2x8-10 each leg

Lateral Step-Up

Stand with your feet hip-width apart about 6 inches to the left of a box. Step onto the box with your right foot. Extend your right leg to drive your body up and place your left foot on the box. Step down from the box, and repeat.

Sets/Reps: 2x8-10 each leg

Cross-Over Step-Up

Stand with your feet hip-width apart about 6 inches to the left of a box. Step onto the box with your left foot so your thigh crosses your body; keep your knee over your anke. Extend your left leg to drive your body up, and place your right foot on the box. Step down with your right foot, and repeat.

Sets/Reps: 2x8-10 each leg

Read about more exercises that alleviate knee pain.

References:

Sheehan, F., Borotikar, B., Behnam, A., & Alter, K. (2013). "Alterations in in vivo knee joint kinematics following a femoral nerve branch block of the vastus medialis: Implications for patellofemoral pain syndrome." Clinical Biomechanics, 525-531. 

USC.edu

 

 


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: QUADS | QUADRICEPS | KNEE PAIN | EXERCISE | STABILIZE