The Bees Knees.
For the while now, my right knees has been feeling tight and achy. I’d love to tell you that my medical school knowledge of anatomy led me immediately to the source of the discomfort. But I have no idea why my knee is so irritated. I’d also love to tell you that I am calm and at peace with the ache in my knee. While I’m not exactly panicky, I’m not chill with it, either.
Knees are sensitive spots. Think about the way we talk about knees idiomatically:
– Weak in the knees… Up to my knees… knee-deep… Cut off at the knees…Fall on the knees … bring to the knees…Knee-high to a grasshopper
The largest joint in the body, knees are a complex hinge joint which are essential for forward movement. Knowing the anatomy of the joint can help in understanding the importance of alignment. For example, when you stand up or squat down, do your knees fall in toward each other? If so, you are straining your Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). If your knee juts out in front of your foot when you lunge forward, you are stressing the ligaments around your patella (knee cap) that connect the muscles from the thigh to the shin bone. If your knees turn in over the in-step of your foot when walking, the medial collateral ligaments are stressed.
Mechanically, muscles, ligaments, tendons, connective tissue and bones weave together to support the structure of your knee. Like elbows, knees are not designed to support extreme weight but to transfer energy from one set of bones to another. Sturdy, strong legs require flexible, pliable knees to maintain leg strength. If you lock the knees, it compresses the cartilaginous elements and cuts offthe energy flow that supports your legs. When you lock your knees, or press them back, you use the bones rather than the muscles for support. You stand on your bones. This creates a weakening in the legs that results in muscle and energy atrophy and a loss of strength due to the lack of energy flow.
There are many good resources for learning about knee health (for example, click here for a good
article about knees and yoga), but we can learn particular things from the practice of Nia. Both on the dance floor and in life, there are ways we can protect our knees:
Knee-Ahhh! Tip #1: Walk like a cat
This is the A-number one, most important focus when it comes to happy knees. First, step softly and silently, like a cat. Stomping and walking heavily strains the feet, ankles, knees and hips and dulls awareness (see Knee-Ahh Tip #4). And step cleanly, without dragging, shuffling, or twisting your feet on the floor. Imagine the floor is slightly sticky so you have to lift and place your feet – every single time. This is particularly important when turning. The Body’s Way is to step rather than pivot on the feet which protects not just the knee but the joints above and below.
Look to see that your toes and knees are pointing in the same direction as you step. Like hinges of a door, your knees function best when they move in a single plane. Ideally, the knee and ankle joints are aligned, and stacked over each other, both facing the same direction. When the foot rotates to the side, your knee should also rotate. When the foot is directed forward, the knee should also point forward.
Knee-Ahhh! Tip #2: For happy knees, look to hips and ankles
Whenever you experience discomfort in the body, look above and below the place of pain. One of the best ways to keep knees healthy is to keep the hips and ankles strong and mobile. The direction of your feet dramatically affects the functioning of your knees and legs. If the inseam of the foot isn’t firmly grounded or you collapse on the arch, your knee and pelvic basin rotates, stressing the ankle, knee, and hip joints. Many people have difficulty with a walking turn in Nia because their hips do not have the range of motion to allow the turn. And commonly, people shuffle or drag their feet because of stiff or weak ankles. Practicing any of the first eight movements of the 52 Moves of Nia will condition the ankle joints while Moves 19 through 29 are all particularly good for the hip joints.
Knee-Ahhh! Tip #3: Listening & Awareness
The more I practice Nia Principle 5, Awareness, the more I learn about what is supporting and what is taxing my knees... or any part of me for that matter. This week, I noticed that I am very precise with my foot placement when I’m in Nia class, but when I’m working in my kitchen, I tend to pivot on my feet, stressing my knees. Use awareness and deep listening to find even the small changes that can make happier knees. Little tweaks go a long way toward feeling better.
When executing cross over motions, be conscious of placing your feet and knees in the same direction. Avoid putting lateral strain on the knees by sensing for comfort from the ground up, comfort in all your joints – the feet, ankles, knees and hips. Over time, as your ankles, knees and hips become more flexible, your leg agility and strength will improve. You’ll be able to step out further, sink deeper, and move laterally more quickly. Every movement will feel effortless when the knee is correctly aligned
May this week leave you knee-deep in knee health! Share your thoughts below!
Adapted from Focus Pocus, Susan McCauley