You’ve probably seen it in competition: an athlete suddenly goes down, grabbing his or her knee in pain. Just thinking about it is probably enough to make you wince. Here are six suggestions for preventing knee injuries and staying on your feet.
1. Strengthen Your Lower-Body Muscles
It’s essential to train the muscles around the knee that support and stabilize the joint and allow you to withstand repetitive jumping and split-second changes of direction.
Leg and hip-strengthening exercises build up hip and thigh muscles and help maintain strong quadriceps, hamstrings and hip and groin muscles.
Strengthening the calves, ankle plantarflexors and dorsiflexors helps prevent knee and ankle injuries when you land awkwardly or twist/turn suddenly while running.
Key lower-body exercises include Barbell or Dumbbell Squats, Wall Squats, multi-directional Forward, Reverse, Diagonal and Lateral Lunges, Step-Ups, Bulgarian Split-Squats, plyometric Box Jumps and single-leg balance movements (e.g., Single-Leg Squats, Hops and Jumps.) Check out the video player above to learn the best lower-body kettlebell exercises from strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle.
Learn five simple knee injury prevention exercises
2. Always Do a Dynamic Warm-Up
Spend at least 5 to 10 minutes before games focusing on dynamic warm-up movements for the legs and hips. Excellent lower-body dynamic warm-up exercises include Walking Forward, Diagonal, Reverse and Lateral Lunges and High Kicks to Opposite Hand Walks (Frankenstein Walks.) Check out the video player above for an example of a High-Intensity Dynamic Warm-Up.
3. Perform Lower-Body Static Stretches for Range of Motion Every Day
Tight quadriceps, hamstrings, calf and gluteal muscles limit your knees’ range of motion during kicking, punting and jumping. Also, tightness in one part of your body can cause your knee to experience greater stress than it’s designed for. If you feel tightness in the hamstrings, hips, groin or quadriceps, do some static stretches—e.g., standing quadriceps stretch, supine hamstring and hip stretches, and seated butterfly stretch for the groin—before you perform your pre-practice or pre-game dynamic warm-up and again after each practice or game.
4. Wear Proper Athletic Footwear
Keeping your knees and the muscles supporting them strong and flexible is important for preventing knee injuries. But it’s equally advisable to wear the proper athletic shoe, with good arch and heel support. Your shoe should be designed specifically for the sports surface you normally play on.
5. Avoid Overtraining
Excessive running—especially downhill running or running on hard surfaces—and too much jumping, lunging, skating, pivoting and squatting greatly stress the knee joint, contributing to knee soreness and other inflammatory issues, such as tendinitis and bursitis. Applying an icepack or a towel dipped in warm water mixed with anti-inflammatory Epsom Salt can help subdue the discomfort. Resting the knees—and temporarily replacing running and jumping with active-recovery, non-weight-bearing activities such as riding a stationary bike or swimming—helps to maintain conditioning without overly taxing the knee joint.
6. Wear a Knee Brace, Pads or Guards
If you’ve experienced previous knee problems, wearing a brace provides protection and cushioning. Check with your team doctor or athletic trainer for a properly fitting knee brace if you need the added protection.
RELATED: STACK Science: How Knee Injuries Occur and How to Prevent Them
Tis, Laurie, Ph.D., FACSM. “Basic Knee Injury Prevention” acsm.org (January 10, 2012)