Yesterday, I went for a hike. Three years ago, you wouldn't have caught me attempting even the slightest incline on uneven terrain, such was my fear of injuring my knee again. And yet here I am at almost 50 years old, despite years of repeated dislocations, a series of micro-fractures along the femur and tibia, an exploded patella, and severe joint depletion! I can still carry my children, run when needed, climb up and down stairs, and yes... hike, for as long as I want! And I did all this without having that complicated knee surgery, without strenuous exercise, physiotherapy or prosthetics. How? Here are my top three tips for better knee health.
The problem with your knee is not your knee.
Your brain organizes everything: posture, movement, internal processes, nervous system, hormonal responses - in the background. When you are in good health, your brain makes constant micro-adjustments to your posture and movement, in response to the environment and aligned to your anatomy. But sometimes, when we go too fast, or we become unaware, our brain loses touch with the different ways it can adjust. The most efficient way of organizing your body at all times is when the force of gravity travels from your head to your feet and then the ground through the bones (which are intended the bear our weight). Yet all of us are used to contracting unnecessary muscles to maintain posture or movement, which is what leads to pain, imbalance and injuries.
Tip 1: Start thinking about your feet.
How does your brain organize movement, from the ground up? If you put your feet down on the floor in a way that doesn't bear the weight properly, you will end up with knee pain, because that's the next place where the weight is distributed. Feet are such an important part of our body, but one that we so often neglect. Consider this: do you have full range of feeling in all areas of your feet? Do both feet feel the same? Can you improve the sensation you receive through your toes, the sole of the feet or your heel? Do you have a flexible, mobile ankle? Is your arch able to respond to the tiny fluctuations of the ground? Sure, you may have great shoes, but do they actually mute the sensation you receive from your feet? Without information, your brain cannot organize a fully functional movement: it will fill in blanks roughly, so that your entire bottom leg is represented as a single, unmovable block. Try this at home:
Walk barefoot on different textures and notice the different sensations through the sole, arch and toes.
Gently tug and twist each toe in the morning before putting socks on.
Explore slow, gentle movements with your ankle in sitting and lying down: circles, flexing, and all the other ways in which your ankle can move. Pay attention to how each feel differently on each side.
Tip 2: Cultivate a mobile spine and chest
Just like your feet, if you don't use your lower back or pelvis when you walk/run, you will generate knee pain, because they will bear all the weight that comes from the top (your head is heavy!). If you have no chest movement when you ski, or when you play sports, you can also create knee pain. Consider yourself as a dynamic entity: when one part moves, all the others have to adjust, otherwise you fall. This is how we maintain balance at all times! A flexible mobile spine and chest are crucial for good health. This is also where the main muscle groups attach, and where our core energy comes from. Many of us walk as though it is the knee or the thigh that propels us, but it should, in fact, be the pelvis and lower back. If you are rigid and using chest muscles to be straight, you are limiting movement everywhere else too. Try this at home to cultivate a mobile spine and chest, and of course there are plenty of NeuroMovement® lessons that will help with this as well:
Lie down on the floor and cross one knee over the other; then slowly let your knees drop to one side, then the next. Feel how doing that tugs on your chest and neck? soften the chest to let the knees drop lower.
Sit at the edge of a chair and place your feet flat on the ground. Slowly round your back and turn as if you were trying to look over your shoulder at the back of the chair. Then try it with your back arched and see how different it is. Do only slow and gentle movements without stretching.
Tip 3: Slow everything down.
If you are recovering from a knee injury, or if you want to just relearn how to move without knee pain, you need to slow things down a lot. Your brain will not learn a new pattern of organization if you rush. You have to take the time to feel more and more subtle differences in your body. Like learning to play an instrument, you will not become a virtuoso by trying to play fast, but by learning each note separately first, until finally they become a melody. So to get rid of knee pain, slow everything down and pay attention. You will not lose time, you will enjoy fullness and richness of time. Try this at home:
Take a step forward slowly and notice which foot comes first (left, right). Notice how the weight shifts in both feet as you walk. Notice how your pelvis moves (or not) as you step forward. Notice how your chest flexes (or not) as you step forward. Notice the contractions in your shoulders, head, jaw, eyes and ask yourself if they are necessary. Slow down the movement as if you were going in natural slow motion. Imagine all the micro-movements and adjustements involved in just taking this one step forward. Become aware of everything that happens, and then you can start exploring something new.
Let me know how these work for you and any changes you feel after applying these three tips, or come explore how the method of NeuroMovement® can help you get rid of knee pain and enjoy freedom of movement. Lessons are available in person and online! Don't wait to get rid of that knee pain!