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Do Your Knees Need Help?

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The Problem

When you go for a run, ski down a mountain, or go for a bike ride, do your knees hurt? A lot of people think, “I’m getting old,” or “My knee has never been the same since that injury.” But it could be a simple problem of misalignment. In my experience of seeing hundreds of clients with knee problems, the vast majority of them start as a misalignment.

When they move as they were designed to move, your knees are strong joints. But if the lower leg (tibia) and the upper leg (femur) are not moving parallel to each other, the torque goes to the knee joint, the weak link in the leg. A knee is a “hinge joint,” just like a door hinge. When it doesn’t move straight, the uneven strain gradually produces pain.

A misaligned wheel produces uneven wear on a tire, and a misaligned leg produces uneven wear, usually at the knee. The question is . . .  where is the imbalance? Sometimes, the foot/ankle complex can be out of balance producing strain in the leg. Orthotics for a foot problem can cause a knee problem through misalignment. Many of the runners I have treated complained that their knee problem began when they got their new pair of orthotics. (Of course, the right orthotics help when they’re balanced for the entire body.)

Most frequently though, the main strain is in the upper leg and/or the pelvis (hip). Specifically, the IT band (iliotibial band of fascia on the outside of the upper leg) becomes very tight, shortening as it twists, pulling unevenly on the knee.

Wherever the misalignment is, over time the repetitive motion of the knee joint produces a strain, then pain. Generally, the strain and pain start on the outside of the knee. If the misalignment continues, the meniscus (knee cartilage) can wear.

The Solution

As a Rolfer, I see the bones sitting in a system of soft tissue that has shortened, hardened and twisted. Unevenly pulled strings on a puppet will create a tangled mess, right? Well, imbalances of the 639 skeletal muscles in your body will pull your bones out of place. Before any significant or sustainable improvement can be made, the imbalances need to be aligned. Releasing your knee will not hold if the strain keeps pulling on it.

Once the releasing and re-aligning of the body begins, learning the “Natural Walk” becomes easy. Olympic marathon runners have told me that they expected Rolfing to fix their knee problems to increase their performance; changing their stride, so the problems wouldn’t return, was an unexpected bonus.

With the structure and the movement patterns of your body, it’s a chicken-or-the-egg situation. You need to learn how to have your leg track straight so the knee is not torqued, and your leg swings out of the pelvis the way it was designed to.

There are times I have to tell people that their ligaments or cartilage might be damaged. Rolfing can’t help that, so I send them on to an orthopedic surgeon. If they have a knee that is not tracking correctly, we can treat the underlying cause(s) once the injury is healed.  Fortunately for most clients, the problem has not progressed to needing surgery.

The soft tissue of the body is plastic; releasing it allows it to assume a more relaxed and aligned position. With a little education, the bones can begin to move in their optimal pattern. Inevitably, injuries heal and performance improves from removing the strain.

Owen Marcus, MA Certified Advance Rolfer,, 265.8440.

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