Friend of the Knee


I wanted to say a big thanks for your comments and emails on the Dodgy Knee Update! It was a knee nerds delight and I learned so much from all the links and information shared.

Among the goodies, P posted three really interesting articles from a website called Aligned and Well. This article articulates with lovely bluntness what the osteopath always says about knee problems being connected to other things going on in your body (hello tight calves and hips). And this Movement IS Medicine post reiterated the need for consistent, low-impact movement… as opposed to yo-yoing between high intensity and the couch. Ahem. Thanks P!

So I'm re-learning how to be a Friend of the Knee. It's totally manageable when I stop going out of my way to harm it. Much of the damage came from nutty attempts to keep up. There were countless kickboxing, running, hiking moments etc where the knee was so painful and hot and crunchy and I couldn't straighten my leg properly, but I pushed on because I didn't want to look wussy. I didn't want to miss out. I didn't want anyone thinking, "Fat gal can't keep up". (Sure everyone would have been lost in their own sweaty thoughts, but sometimes there's no stopping the Paranoia Express!)

But now I'm pushing 35 and understand that you only get one life and two knees. The new motto is: What Would Wilma Do?

Way back in 2006 I got an email from a wonderful woman named Wilma who said that she'd had knee troubles all her life but she worked hard to manage them,  and as a result was still able to do the activities she loved. She had a comprehensive list of stretches and exercises she did to strengthen the muscles around her knee. She performed these consistently every day. She was a Friend of the Knee!

I bet she is still doing that six years later. Are you out there Wilma? I hope you are well!

At the time I took her advice very seriously… but not consistently. I'd modify my exercise routine and religiously perform the exercises… those tedious moves like squeezing a cushion between your knees that feel so utterly pointless and dammit I'd rather be at BodyPump… but they made a difference. My legs got stronger. But then I'd get frustrated and bored and throw myself into a high impact activity. Then I'd get hurt. Then I'd crawl apologetically back to kneehab. Repeat nauseam for half a decade.

Those days are gone, old chaps. GONE!

Current Friend of the Knee habits:

  • Stretchy stuff:
    • Daily stretch routine
    • Yoga class
    • Pilates class
  • TRX class – with modifications.
  • Lots of Omega-3s
  • Wearing sensible shoes – no flimsy flats, no high heels. Zzzzzz… but makes a huge difference.
  • The Stork exercise – Up & Runners will groan in recognition… standing on one foot. Brilliant for activating the feet and working the calves.

Things I'm working on:

  • Adding in more walks – on even, joint friendly surfaces. Just plain ol' walking seems to help.
  • Making sure I don't sit down for too long – that's when it locks up and gets painful
  • Look at my diet – I'm reading up on inflammation (thanks for your recommendations!) 
  • Consistent daily kneehab exercises – dreary, but must strengthen those muscles around the knee. Squeeze that cushion! BE LIKE THE WILMA.

I feel very conscious of being a knee bore, especially knowing that some work colleagues read this (sorry fellas), but this accountability really helps. Thanks for your tolerance!

25 thoughts on “Friend of the Knee

  1. Hi Shauna, I know a little about knee problems as I’ve had a few myself. Years of playing rugby and judo couldn’t have helped but it was running that finally did it for me.
    A couple of years ago I was running up a steep hill and felt a pain something akin to a knife being drawn across the top of my left knee joint.
    I took some time out from running but it got progressively worse until my knee started locking.
    I had an operation last summer and it’s much better now. I can run, but I don’t tend to. Walking is my friend now. Lots of it! πŸ™‚

  2. I should probably find some kneehab exercises for myself as well. How are you finding yoga with regard to knees? There are (quite) a few tricky knee-twisty poses that I find really hard to resist in class (or even at home) because I _can_ do them even though I have an inkling that maybe I shouldn’t…

  3. @Jack – that is quite a revelation! πŸ™‚

    @David – Crikey that sounded bloody painful you poor bugger…Β  glad it okay now!

    @Tuuli – definitely with lots of modifications! oh man, i hear you… i am always sooo tempted by the knee-twisty poses but ignoring the pain is how i ended up in this situation. the best thing i did was tell the teacher so she can suggest modifications and remind me to pull back at the right moments!

  4. I for one am finding this knee nerdery quite riveting as my own knees have been complaining of knackeredness for quite some time but I am still in the denial stage. Thank you for setting a good example! I may yet reconsider my current lifestyle of enthusiastically twisty yoga interspersed with copious arse sitting.

  5. Hurrah for “Aha!” moments! Aside from crazy accidents, most injuries are related to some kind of mis-treatment we’ve subjected our poor old bodies to. Tight calves, weak glutes, tight hip flexors and a whole lot of other things are the natural result of the enormous amount of time we spend sitting on our enormous butts. They pull our posture out of alignment, force muscles to do things they’re not designed to do and eventually – WHAM! Something gives.

    I spend a big proportion of my time stretching tight parts and strengthening weak parts and guess what? I have less lower back pain and as a bonus, I’m building bigger, badder glutes. Yeah, Baby!

    Keep up the “Be kind to your knees” approach, get the arthritis inflammation under control through nutrition, and you’ll be kicking goals. Probably not literally…. πŸ˜‰

  6. Oh Darl I feel your pain, having trashed my own Big Goofy Dream by neglecting my core and hip strength. From mow until Eternity I will do regular core/strength/stretch workouts even though they are BORING and IT’S NOT FAIR, becuase they will get me what I want. Hang in there darl! (what’s this cushion-squashing bizzo, btw? sounds intriguing…)

  7. Hi Shauna!

    This is Wilma…and boy, am I blushing–thanks for the compliment!

    And yup, I’m still doing knee exercises–though I had to modify them both times I was pregnant because of ligament issues (yup, I now have two beautiful boys, who are 2.5 years and almost 5 months old). Crazy, eh?

    Anyway, thanks for the shout out–you really made my day!

    And I’ve moved to Saskatoon (a tiny city in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada), but if you are ever in the neighbourhood, I’d love to meet up πŸ™‚

  8. Yo! My knees hate me…and those exercises are indeed BORING.

    Would love to know what you’re thinking/learning about anti-infamatory eating etc.

  9. Excellent plan, good on you! And thanks for the reminder that I could be doing more daily stretches and hip exercises to make sure my hip stays strong and pain free. πŸ˜€

  10. P.S. This all sounds so very smart and sensible — no wonder it’s so hard to do it! I love that you are being a friend of the knee, and I love that Wilma stopped by to say hi too.

  11. I’m a “hippy” chick, myself- several weeks of hiphab this summer, still must ride a recumbent bike (oh, the cyclists shame…). I still find myself trying to “keep up” in gym class. Of course, trying to prove something is what caused the hip blowout in the first place… The curse of the double jointed, or “hyper-flexible-Americans” as we prefer to be called now. Stretches feel gooooood– exercises do not…but I agree with the “don’t sit too long”- I used to need my son to help me get out of the car after driving home! Keep kneehabbing!

  12. This is very interesting. Can you (or Wilma) explain what exercises you did for your knee? I do Zumba and Step, but feel knee and back pains from time to time and don’t want them to stop me from continuing. Knowing what knee exercises and stretches to do would be great.

  13. Just wanted to drop you a short message to say how much your blog and book inspired me. I’ve also dropped weight from 127 kg to weighing 60 today and I
    can empathise with every one of your posts! No-one told
    me maintenance would be as hard if not harder than the weight loss though, but you’ve encouraged me it can be done πŸ™‚ xx

  14. Oh man, I clicked on *comments* with such anticipation and YEAH there was a post from Wilma!

    God but Emma nails it….my husband has a desk you can raise right up and stand and work at – I am so jealous. Meanwhile…my butt is ever spreading!

  15. Groan! LOL πŸ™‚ But storking it really does work. Also love me a good IT band stretch for the knee!

  16. I second the request for what knee exercises you do…I’ve found some online and from my doc but would love more to try out!

  17. WILMAAAAAAAAAA! So cool to see you here! And two kids now? Wow… time flies. Congratulations on your family and of course your knee work πŸ˜‰

    Thanks you for your comments everyone. Will put together a post about the knee moves.

  18. I ran across your writing a month or so ago on SparkPeople. Since then I’ve read a bit of your archives and your book. I truly appreciate your candor and writing.

    This post is timely for me, as I’m in the midst of (again) taking healthy living seriously to take more weight off my knees and I am one week post op for removing about half the meniscus in my right knee that got torn in an accident. I am quite interested in more preventative maintenance. My mom has had 3 knee replacements (both knees, plus a revision to one) and I certainly don’t want to go down that path!

  19. I relate to the brilliance of boring shoes! I have a dodgy hip and knee but have no problems at all if I get around in my Asics most of the time. After a couple of weeks in pretty shoes, things start to feel a bit uncomfortable.

    Also, a low-inflammation diet did wonders for me. Actually, check my post here (if it’s ok to link, otherwise, say, and I’ll repost without it). This is the nutrition plan I do these days:

    The big thing for my joints was cutting out nightshades. I read some actual science (as opposed to internet nuttery) that showed nightshade toxins slow the turnover of cartilage – so the breakdown becomes faster than the regrowth. Looking forward to the knee exercises post.

  20. Shauna, I’m coming late to this, but I’m so glad you found the articles helpful! I also recommend the Aligned & Well DVD series, like the Knees & Hips (and the Restorative Exercise Institute class called Save Your Knees, Build a Butt, taught by Katy. Good luck! And please DO keep us updated. It’s so terribly common for people to injure themselves while trying to get healthier, and it’s great that you’re talking about it and working towards true health vs. our strange athletic performance “fitness” model.

    I am not as humourless or earnest as these comments suggest, but very much hope that you get those joints working for you again. (Which, of course, means getting your muscles working properly… which the above links can definitely help with.)

  21. Interesting what you said about shoes. I have back and sometimes knee problems and I’ve been toying with trying a pair of minimalist shoes for walking excercise, those silly ones with the toes separated (vibrams?). I’ve read that half the problem is we don’t use our feet properly.

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