In Australia, 70 per cent of all runners will experience an overuse injury within 12 months, with 42 per cent of these being knee-related.
For close to a decade I suffered from a chronic knee injury, which significantly impacted my ability to play the sports I loved so much. I saw every knee specialist there was. The most common answer I got was that I had a weak VMO (inner part of the thigh) and tight ITB (outer part of the thigh).
This seems to be the generic advice most people receive when it comes to knee complaints. But is this really the solution to the problem or is there more to this picture?
The original diagnosis did lead me down the path of personal training as I spent hours in the gym strengthening my quads and foam rolling my ITB. I trained so diligently that my jeans didn’t fit me and my legs looked like tree trunks, yet I continued to injure the same knee.
I saw orthopedic surgeons whose diagnosis was that my patella had a shallow groove to track in which was allowing my knee to partially dislocate. His solution was to cut off part of my hamstring and use it to attach my knee cap to my shin! Luckily my physiotherapist and I decided this was not a great idea considering I was only 16. I did however have to wear a knee brace to help guide my kneecap in the right track. This helped slightly but I still continued to reinjure that same knee.
The frustration of thinking I was fixed only to be back to square one within a few weeks later was overwhelming. It gives me a real empathy for those who face this every day.
A real game changer for me was coming across America physiotherapist Gary Gray. He is known as the ‘Father of Function’, as he was one of the first to introduce the concept of training movements not muscles for rehabilitation. He is the go-to guy for many of the greatest athletes around the globe including Michael Jordan.
His philosophy was centred on a movement-based approach to rehab and training. Instead of looking at muscle strengths and weaknesses, we should focus on movement deficiencies. This lead to a philosophy called ‘The Joint by Joint Approach’. This highlighted the body’s need to be layers of either mobility or stability at each joint. Ankles are designed mainly for mobility, knees stability, hips mobility, lower back stability and upper back mobility. When a joint lacks a particular motion the other joints in the body have to take up the slack. Believe it or not your ankle can be affecting your neck.
I soon discovered that the issues occurring at my knee were a product of a lack of movement at my ankle. By addressing my ankle with ‘mobs’, I felt instant release at my ankle and much stronger at my knee. Today I have been 10 years injury free and my legs resemble matchsticks rather than tree trunks.
This is not to say the approach of targeting muscles doesn’t work, I know of people who have had success from rehabbing this way. However it most certainly didn’t work for me. Over the years I have found a movement approach to rehab has been super effective in treating a range of injuries including knee, hip, back, neck and shoulder pain. The key is to know what to look for and how to replicate those movements so that you move more efficiently and most importantly are pain free.
The same principle applies for many other injuries and generally when we get our ankles, hips and thoracic spine all moving as they are designed to the rest will take care of itself. By ensuring your body is moving efficiently from head to toe and managing your overall training load you will significantly decrease your risk of injury.