Spring is upon us in Estes Park and almost like clockwork, blue skies and warm days have once again become the norm for our beautiful mountain town. Each morning as I look to the west, I see the stunning east face of Long’s Peak and excitement grows as I imagine the adventures ahead in the coming summer months. These striking vistas inspire me each day to prepare my body for upcoming alpine-escapades. In my case that means building stronger quadriceps, hamstrings, and stability around my right knee which was injured in early autumn last year.
(Tom Wright using his knees to carry a heavy load in Argentine Patagonia)
Of all the joints in our lower body, the knees tend to be the most susceptible to injury. This joint is a major link in our lower body “kinetic-chain,” responsible for absorbing tremendous amounts of force as we move in rocky terrain and propelling us powerfully along trails. It’s important to remember the knee’s place in the chain and consider how the hip and ankle contribute to alignment and force attenuation as well. Weakness, stability issues, or movement dysfunctions from the hip or ankle may lead to poor alignment of the knee, increasing our risk for both traumatic and overuse injuries of the knee. The knee joint is composed of four bones: the femur (thigh-bone), tibia (shin-bone), patella (knee-cap), and fibula (supporting shin-bone). These bones are passively held together by an intricate network of ligaments and shock-absorbing menisci. The quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles serve as active stabilizers to move and protect the joint as we move through the world. When these muscles are strong and well-adapted to their stabilizing role, the likelihood of knee injury plummets.
While the anatomy of the knee is not nearly as complicated as that of the shoulder joint discussed in my last article, there are still many ways that the knee can be injured. Active individuals (especially runners and hikers) tend to suffer from overuse injuries. Traumatic injuries such as ACL or meniscus tears affect skiers, climbers, mountain bikers and more. Both of these injury types can be prevented by participating in a specific strength-training routine to address your weaknesses and dysfunctional movement patterns during the off-season.
As the days grow longer and summer approaches, now is the perfect time to get your knees ready for the coming months of hiking and adventure. If you’re not sure where to start, the physical therapists at Alpenstrong would love to help! We utilize slow-motion gait analysis and special movement tests to evaluate movement patterns, find weaknesses, and build specific treatment plans for each patient that we work with.
See you on the trails!
Dr. Robert Scrivner, PT, DPT