Have you ever experienced pain in your knee? Did you go and get a diagnosis? Was it runner’s knee? Patella Femoral Syndrome or patella tendinitis? Or did you just get a shoulder shrug because they couldn’t explain why, but you walked away with a prescription for painkillers? Would you be surprised to learn that ninety percent of the time the problem, or source of the pain, is not located at the knee? To be honest, the knee joint has to be the dumbest joint of the body. I f we were able to give every joint in your body an I.Q. test the knee would most likely score the lowest, and here is why.
The design of the knee joint is basically like the hinge on a door frame. It is meant to move back and forth with a minimal amount of lateral action and a small amount of rotation. One of the primary functions of the knee is to transfer force between the foot/ankle complex and the hip/pelvis. Provided the joints above and below the knee are in proper alignment and can move through their respective, optimal range of motion the force can be transferred without an issue.
However, what happens if a neighboring joint becomes restricted in its ability to move? The knee may unconsciously begin to increase its movement to compensate. Often it is a movement which the knee was not designed to perform. For instance, a person subtly, over time begins to shift their body weight slightly off to the right. This might cause the arch of the right foot to lift more than it should while the arch of the left foot begins to drop or flatten more than it should. Both foot positions will reduce proper action at the ankle and foot. Meanwhile, the shift of body weight will cause the hips to change their position which will shift mass above the knee to a different area than through its center.
Imagine the potential implications of this seemingly innocuous change in posture. The hips and feet shift into a place that restricts certain ways in which they move. The knee will most likely attempt to compensate and move more like a hip or ankle. Meanwhile, the force of gravity is no longer driving through the knee where it should and therefore applies a greater force in areas not accustomed to dealing with such force. This is a recipe for disaster. It will only be a matter of time before something wicked this way comes. ACL or MCL tear? Meniscus tear? Was the knee already positioned for these injuries to take place and was just waiting for the perfect storm? It may not actually occur at the knee, but Las Vegas bookies would give odds that it would.
Once again we find that they “problem” area is not necessarily where the actual problem lies. It is merely a site of a growing symptom of improper load bearing, compensatory movement, and a not-so-optimal organization of movement. We could put all of our attention on the dumbest joint in the body, or we could look at the entire body and search for the real culprit. If we create a strategy to restore more optimal movement, better posture alignment at all joints, and a balance of muscular tension in all three dimensions we might just find that “knee problem” was just our body’s way of getting attention and all we had to do was listen.