6 TIPS TO ALLEVIATING KNEE PAIN
6 TIPS TO ALLEVIATING KNEE PAIN by Amy Sprouse
Hello! This is Karen’s daughter Amy, and I’m passionate about exercise and the physical care side of treating our bodies. Eating right is important, but some parts of the body simply REQUIRE particular movement and attention to function properly.
Growing up, physical movement for me looked like lightsaber battles on the grass, playing horse with my little sisters, or pick-up football, frisbee, and kickball games on patch of land next to our house. Since my family conveniently has enough people in it to make up two teams (with the helpful addition of two neighbor boys), mom and dad legendarily spray-painted various sports fields onto the grass next to our house and even installed a huge field goal. They should win an award for that right? We were set for our whole childhood (until the field was ruthlessly turned into a giant vegetable garden).
I imagine like many others, I didn’t start learning about the technicalities of fitness and joint health until I got older. I started participating in competitive sports in my early 20s and studied Public Health for my major, where we track the significant health concerns of a population.
The CDC reports that more than 1 in 5 people in the US deal with chronic pain, and of the 23% of the adult population with arthritis, 1 in 4 experience continual severe joint pain. (1,2) Between that and the popularity of weight lifting, this topic couldn’t be more relevant today.
I’m so excited to share these tips because I have conversations about knee and joint pain with friends and family members frequently and it’s so fun and exciting for both of us to see how fast-acting some of these things are.
The good news is that most of the time, when your knee hurts, you don’t need a new knee. Knee pain is often linked to tight muscles, weakened tendons or ligaments, cartilage and bones, or inflammation of the joints, all of which have great and adaptable natural practices that can help.
So let’s dig into it. 6 actions for better knee health:
1- FOAM ROLLING
Foam rolling is where you place an approximately 6-inch cylinder made of sturdy foam between your body and the ground, and you roll over it back and forth to massage your muscle groups.
Like massage therapy, the purpose of foam rolling is to relieve tension in our fascia and relax muscles. Since knee pain is commonly caused by having too tight of leg muscles pulling on the knee, loosening up those muscles (*from hip to foot, not just around the knee!*) is an essential step in recovering knee health.
Foam rolling is far cheaper than professional massage and is becoming one of the most common methods of self-care in the health world today.
But—before I set your expectations too high—don’t imagine receiving a comfort massage on the beach in the shade of palm trees. My face is often so scrunched up from pain that I wonder if I’ll have foam-rolling-induced wrinkles on my face any time soon.
But it’s worth it because IT IS EFFECTIVE.
According to this clinical study, it increases range of motion and improves ones pain pressure threshold. (3)
Dr. Ben Kim shares his favorite benefits of
- Improved blood circulation throughout your skin, fascia, muscles, and even tendons and ligaments where you can access them with a foam roller.
- Through improved blood circulation, more efficient exchange of nutrients and waste products at a cellular level, leading to better overall cellular function and intercellular communication.
- Lengthening of short (tight) muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Some muscles (like hip flexors) and ligaments (iliotibial band) are prone to shortening, and are difficult to effectively stretch and apply therapeutic pressure to using standard massage and trigger point therapy techniques. But with a foam roller, you can apply deep pressure massage to such areas and lengthen shortened tissues, thereby preventing physical imbalances that can predispose you to injury.
- Promotion of optimal spinal range of motion. (4)
If you don’t have access to a foam roller, you can start with a rolling pin or massage ball. When I was living in Taiwan, biking was my only form of transportation, and my legs got SO knotty within the first couple months from the unusual burst in this kind of exercise. (Biking is overall great for the knees, just make sure your bike seat is high enough and you’re caring for your legs!) Because I didn’t have access to a foam roller yet, I grabbed the rolling pin from the kitchen and some coconut oil and started rolling out my legs just sitting down in the weeks before I finally got my hands on a foam roller. It helped a ton!
Just to add a testimony to this, when I returned home after 18 months and finally saw my chiropractor again, she said she had never worked on a returned missionary as loose and aligned as I was in all her practice. I 100% give the credit to foam rolling and doing yoga twice a week.
You can buy foam rollers online, or at any athletic store. Do whatever you have to do to start loosening up those muscles and relieve tension on the knee.
If you want an expert to lead your way to body happiness through foam rolling, my mom Karen and I both highly recommend expert Hope Zvara’s book on foam rolling.
Dr. Axe also provides some great recommendations.
2- MASSAGE THERAPY
Massage therapy and foam rolling are out to accomplish the same thing: loosen the body up so it can work how its supposed to. But massage therapy’s advantage is the difference between a living intuitive human working on you and a lifeless piece of foam.
Massage therapists (and you can absolutely give yourself your own leg massages) can target pressure points around ligaments, tendons and muscle groups, and really dig in where needed.
My favorite sports massage therapist tells me, where the pain is, the problem isn’t. He explained that most knots around the body are from tension build up in other places. That’s why he said it is so important to massage the full length of the muscle, not just the part that hurts, because the problem isn’t originating from the area of pain. CRAZY RIGHT? When our body has to compensate for tension in another area, there will be pain and a problem forming in an area where the problem isn’t actually coming from.
If I had lower back pain, he would work on my quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. He said a lot of people’s lower back pain (especially when they are athletes) comes from having too tight of leg muscles, which then rotates the pelvic bone either forward or back, causing tension on those lower back muscles. Who knew massaging your quads and glutes could help your back? And it DOES.
Side tip: a not awkward and extremely effective way to massage your friends or family’s rear end is to simply apply pressure through your elbow. Applying pressure to the glutes through the elbow typically has HUGE payoffs for people. You’ll find their soft spots pretty fast just based on their sound expressions. I know it’s not a super common aspect of our culture to massage peoples legs and rear ends but EVERY professional athlete gets their rear end massaged regularly (my sports massage therapist would spend about a third of our time on my pelvic region, working on the hip abductors on the front and glutes in the back) and it makes more of an immediate difference than I can put into words! Every part of my performance would improve after those sessions, especially my speed and energy levels! So I hope we can normalize this practice.
Massage therapy isn’t meant to be a once-a-year comforting treat. It’s meant to be a regular part of keeping our musculoskeletal system healthy, and also plays an effective role in injury recovery. (5)
3- APPLY TOPICAL CREAMS AND TAKE SUPPLEMENTS THAT CAN REDUCE INFLAMMATION, INCREASE CIRCULATION, AND BUILD UP THE CARTILAGE
The following topical creams/oils have been helpful for many in alleviating pain:
-Magnesium lotion (many brands will work magnesium relaxes muscles)
-Wintergreen essential oil (this famous oil is ultra-powerful for this) —make sure to dilute it in an oil first because it’s strong.
-Complete Bone and Tissue by Dr. Christopher (my brother would sneak this into the army to rub on his ankles, and he swore by it!) —both the cream and supplement are great
-Topical ointments made of herbs and such as turmeric, cayenne, and comfrey
-Deep Blue by Doterra
-Thailand’s famous “Tiger balm” (they do use this like crazy over there, my kickboxing trainers would apply it to our knuckles and knees any time we even hinted at discomfort)
Internally, using Dr. Christopher's Complete Tissue and Bone formula is fantastic! Consuming a plant-derived magnesium supplement like Megafood Magnesium may aid in relaxing muscles. Turmeric has been used as a phenomenal anti-inflammatory agent for centuries and studies suggest it plays a role in reducing arthritic symptoms. (6)
Eating a diet high in minerals (ie, a variety of deep colored vegetables and leafy greens) helps supply the body with the minerals it needs to run properly and have healthy bones.
Taking a collagen supplement can be very beneficial in providing the body what it needs to build cartilage. “Collagen is one of the proteins found in most connective tissues, including cartilage, bone, and skin.” (7) Also, the foods on this list assist the body in some way in the production of cartilage. (8)
4 - EXERCISE!
Customarily, when something hurts, we rest it right? Well, that’s often not the best plan of action for knees. Research shows that in most cases, increased movement actually improves joint health, and the best are low impact exercises (such as biking, swimming, yoga, etc.).
“CDC recommends that adults with arthritis be moderately physically active (e.g., walking, swimming, biking) for at least 150 minutes per week. We also recommend strength training. Further, physical activity has been proven to reduce arthritis pain. You can do low impact physical activity—like walking, biking, and swimming—30 minutes a day for 5 days a week to reduce joint pain. This can be done in ten minute sessions throughout the day.” (9)
My mom Karen always says the best thing for an aching knee is biking. (Just make sure the seat is high enough!)
In addition to your preferred method of exercise, there are exercises and active stretches that specifically designed to improve the knee!
Youtube has a FABULOUS array of videos about exercises and stretches that specifically improve knee health. Just type in “exercises for knee pain” and you’ll have dozens of excellent videos to choose from. I tried to grab a couple links I especially like to post in here, but I couldn’t choose. So check it out!
5 - CONSIDER INCORPORATING MODALITIES OF HEALING SUCH AS ACUPUNCTURE AND CHIROPRACTIC CARE
“Studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in relieving certain types of knee pain, especially arthritic conditions of the knee and knee joint. It can ease the discomfort some subjects feel while waiting for knee surgery, and in some cases, it may even be considered an alternative to surgery. “As with any other form of care, however, remember that not all patients will respond to acupuncture. Make sure to discuss the situation thoroughly with your acupuncturist before undergoing treatment for knee/leg pain (or any other condition).” (10)
“A licensed chiropractor can start to address the underlying issues that are likely causing knee pain (when it isn’t from an acute injury), and use a combination of techniques to help alleviate pain.
“A good [chiropractor] will address the issues in and around the knee from the pain, but will also investigate if other alignment issues in other areas of the body may actually be the true cause of knee pain, or at least contributing to it. For example, limited range of motion in the hips or tightness in the lower back can place excessive strain on the knees which can be painful. With the right chiropractic care, issues such as these can be corrected so you can live pain-free.” (11)
6 - ADDRESS ANY MAJOR UNDERLYING CONTRIBUTING FACTORS, SUCH AS:
Excess weight: excess body weight puts excessive strain on the tendons and ligaments of the body. Losing weight can naturally relieve that tension. Having Lymes Disease: This disease can be inherited—yes, passed down from birth. You don’t need to get bit by a tick to have it, and it has been strongly correlated with knee and joint pain. If knee pain is chronic, consider getting bloodwork done to test for it, just to be safe.
There you have it! Please contribute in the comment section below with any of YOUR favorite methods of relieving knee pain.
Good luck in your health journey and I can’t wait to connect again!
Program Developer at I2H2E
Epidemiology Emphasis, Public Health
School of Life Sciences, BYU
BONUS: common dialogue between my bodybuilding friends or brothers and I.
“Seriously, my knees hurt so bad lately, especially after I squat.”
“Dang that stinks, what are you doing for it now?”
“Well I know I should be stretching more and stuff but I think I have a legit knee problem.”
“Do you ever foam roll or get massages?”
“I know I should... but not really.”
“Yeah I’d suggest foam rolling your quads, hamstrings, butt and calf muscles before and after your workout, it’s most likely tight muscles that are causing tension in your tendons and ligaments, which are pulling on your knee and causing that pain. I mean professional athletes get massaged daily so foam rolling is probably the least we can do.”
“Yeah, I know I should probably do more of that.”
3 months later.
“My knees hurt so bad I think I will legit need knee replacement surgery before I’m 30.”
“Have you started foam rolling yet?”
“Dude. Tell me a $40,000 surgery is easier than taking a few minutes to foam roll every day. Just take the time, it’s helped so many people!!”
“Yeah that’s a good point. Ok I’ll do it.”
A couple weeks or months later I get a message.
“Hey I started foam rolling and my knees feel way better! Seriously my knee pain is gone almost!”
“That’s awesome, happy to hear it! Spread the word.”