As a San Diego orthopedic surgeon, I field a lot of questions about how to minimize joint pain from repetitive and everyday activities. One of the most common: “How can I minimize knee pain when I’m going down the stairs?”
The short answer is a healthy dose of stretching and exercise.
But a more detailed answer has recently surfaced in the New York Times’ Well column, which outlined a simple prescription:
This discomfort is magnified if you have weak quadriceps or thigh muscles, [Dr Bozic] added, since the force that might otherwise be absorbed by those large muscles moves through the knee instead. So to strengthen your quadriceps, try straight leg raises, [he] said. Simply lie on your back with one leg bent. Lift the other leg, straightened, at least six inches off the ground; tighten the thigh muscles and hold for a few seconds. Lower and repeat several times. Then do the same exercise with the other leg. Your physician or an athletic trainer can suggest other safe exercises that target those muscles.
Dr Bozik’s approach is a fairly simple answer. The more complex answer lies in the practice of yoga and pilates. Yogi and pilates practitioners learn to engage the ‘core’. Strengthening the thigh muscles (one of which is the quads) and strengthening the ‘core’ takes you a tremendous way. But the holy grail is a concept called ‘muscular co-contraction’; this activity entails teaching your core muscles to activate with the use of the thigh muscles. This is what all exercises aimed at protecting athletes from ACL tears and preventing the resurgence of anterior knee pain is all about. There, the genie is out of the bottle! Further recommendations included stay in motion, avoid sitting in a chair all day, take a stretch break from computer work (say 5 min every hour) when you can.…if all else fails call it a bathroom break.