How do You Know if Pain in Your Knee is From Your Knee?

Have you ever been to the doctor for pain or injury in one area, and come to find out it was caused by a weakness from another body part you had no idea was weak?  Pain radiating in your knees could be caused by a dysfunction in your hips or ankles.  All you know is that your knee hurts when you step a certain way, for example.  The term explaining this phenomenon is called regional interdependence.  What it basically means is the body relies on the surrounding areas of a joint to make that joint functional and stable.  A more scientific explanation when referring to your hips is, the body is an interconnected chain and compensation or dysfunction in the LPHC (Lumbar-Pelvic-Hip Complex) region can lead to dysfunctions in other areas of the body (Cheatham & Kreiswirth, 2014).

Poor posture causes pain throughout the body

Relax, regional interdependence doesn’t mean you’re a hot mess because your knee hurts.  By understanding the signs your body gives that something isn’t right allows you to make a more informed decision on what may be the cause.  Let’s continue on with the example of your knees experiencing pain.  The knees play a critical role connecting your ankles to your hips.  They show compensations from tight muscles, weak muscles, and any injury you have or had above and below them.  In previous blogs I discussed a few specific knee injuries, their causes, and ways to prevent future recurrences.  Please read them if you haven’t to get a better understanding of a problem you are experiencing.

When I work with clients as a Corrective Exercise Specialist, this regional interdependence is what I first assess to determine where is the cause of their pain or muscle dysfunction.  Most people don’t understand how much their daily sedentary patterns play on their joints.  The typical response of “I’m just old,” is not the answer to why you have troubles bending down to tie your shoes.  Let’s examine overall the lower body response to sitting for 6-8 hours daily:

Tight hip flexors, groin muscles and quadriceps

Weak hamstrings, glutes, and hip rotators

Tight calf muscles if your feet are in high heels or don’t touch flat on the floor

Weak shin muscles (anterior tibialis)

The results of these general muscle imbalances are overall fatigue, inability to use proper lifting form per OSHA (bending at the knees not hips to lift heavy objects), and higher injury potential if you’re physically active (gym, pickleball, tennis, golf).  Your “new normal” is not normal at all.  Your brain has adapted its neural pathways to align with your muscle imbalances to make you feel like this the way your body should move.  Does this start to make sense and ring a bell for why you have that nagging pain or discomfort?

With work culture changing to working from home, more device connectivity, and less overall physical activity, these movement problems will continue at an alarming rate.  I haven’t even mentioned what happens to your back and neck!  Muscles work in tandem.  If one side of your joint is tight, say quadriceps, the other is week, say your hamstrings.  Another way to think is your muscles push and pull.  If either is tight, the corresponding is weak.  The NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist textbook says, when a situation of overactivity-underactivity exists between muscles on two sides of a joint (e.g., the agonist is overactive/shortened and the antagonist is underactive/lengthened), a muscle imbalance is said to exist.

The goal of what I do with clients and what you need to think about, is bringing your muscles more into balance first, then work on improving the areas that are important for your hobbies and lifestyle.  Nobody is every perfectly aligned, and that’s ok, you always have something to work on!  Remember, regional interdependence affects how your body responds to pain from what you do the majority of your day.  Take a few minutes every hour and at least stretch the overly tight muscles.  I promise you will thank me now and down the road! To learn more about preventing injuries, increasing mobility, reducing joint pain, and getting more out of life, please go to my website, mattpeale.com.  I offer group and personal instruction via Zoom weekly sessions to help your tennis, golf, workouts, and lifestyle hobbies.  Download my free report, 3 Tips to Reduce Back Pain Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.  Guaranteed to open your eyes and give you a new direction on staying healthy and active you didn’t know possible!

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