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By Wina Sturgeon, Adventure Sports Weekly (TNS)

The human knee is a complicated joint, and as too many athletes find out, it’s very prone to injury. Strains, sprains and tears of the connecting ligaments all provide good income for orthopedic surgeons.

There are a couple ways to help prevent down time or surgery from a damaged knee. One is to have excellent form in your sport; though because sports are unpredictable, even good form is no guarantee. But the surest way to prevent damage is to make sure all the connective tissues that attach the major bones of the knee together are strong.

The juicy, blood-filled muscles are easy to strengthen with a good workout routine. But connective tissue doesn’t have anywhere near as much blood as muscle. That’s why it’s white rather than the red. But a proper program of resistance and recovery will gradually make the white tissues stronger as you build muscle with your conditioning program. It just takes longer to strengthen connective tissue, so you can’t slack off.

Here are a few exercises that can help build strength in the ligaments that hold the bones of the knee together, while also working the surrounding muscles.

— Every gym has both an abductor and an adductor machine. You can always remember the difference between these two muscles, because the abductor is on the outside of the leg, so just remember the term ‘abduct,’ as in ‘take away,’ since this muscle moves the leg away from the body. The adductor moves the leg back under the body’s mass. Working both these muscles also works the side ligaments of the knee; the medial collateral (inner) and lateral collateral (outer).

— You can add additional strength to prevent those painful and hard-to-heal groin pulls by working with a weighted ankle cable instead of a gym machine. Attach the cable to a cuff around your ankle. Stand up straight with the ankle placed a few feet away from your body. Starting with light resistance, pull the ankle with its attached cuff close to the leg that’s under your body. You should feel the resistance in your knee, but it should never be painful. Do between eight and 12 reps, then do the same with the other leg. This works the medial collateral ligament.

Next, turn around so that both legs are together with no resistance. Move the cuffed ankle away from the cable, so you feel it on the outside of the knee. This works the lateral collateral ligament. Both these cable resistance exercises are terrific for athletes who do a lot of cutting, with quick changes in direction.

— The third exercise to protect your knee cohesion is the leg extension. Here’s where the athlete’s workout mantra comes in: ‘Just because you can use a heavy weight doesn’t mean you should.’ While the leg extension in all its various forms can help strengthen the cruciate ligaments (anterior and posterior), your thigh muscles may be a lot stronger than your knee ligaments. Your quads may be easily able to handle a weight that can put a strain on your knee ligaments.

Keep a notebook where you record the frequency and resistance of all exercises you do to increase the stabilization of your knee ligaments. Carefully note how your knee is reacting to these exercises. If either knee is sore the next day, or becomes unusually sore after a game or practice, lighten both the resistance and the reps. Refer to this record often to see exactly when your knee reacted badly after a workout. You may have to decrease the frequency of these exercises. Your notebook will tell the tale.

But your workouts to strengthen the connective tissues of your knees will tell another tale, a very positive one. It will be of a season where you may have taken risks that once could have hurt your knee ligaments. But because your knees were strong, you finished your season without ever even feeling even a twinge of pain.
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Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly, which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.

Photo: Rail Gunners via Flickr

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