Knee Pain Part I: Muscles and Structure
Knee pain can affect anyone at any stage of life. Whether you’re an athlete unable to perform your best or feeling like you need to think twice before stepping off a curb, there are many factors that can affect your knee. It is always possible that there can be significant damage to the ligaments or cartilage in the knee, but let’s look at ways we can treat the knee without the potential need for surgery.
The muscles around the knee, like any joint, must be firing properly for the knee to function well. Pain is a clear indication that either one muscle or a group of muscles are not able to stabilize or move the knee properly. Here are the most important muscles above and below the knee:
- Popliteus (right behind the knee)
- Sartorius (starts at the front of the hip and connects at the medial knee)
- Gracilis (groin muscle)
- Gluteus (maximus, medius, minimus)
- Hamstring (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris)
- TFL (tensor fascia lata – forms IT band)
- Quadricep (vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, rectus femorus)
- Calves (gastrocnemius and soleus)
- Anterior tibialis (shin muscle)
Any of these muscles can become dysfunctional due to structural reasons. The most common structural issues arise from acute or chronic injuries that are either in that specific muscle or somewhere else in the body. For instance, if the sartorius muscle is not firing and causing medial knee pain, that muscle may have been injured directly – either through physical trauma, a muscle fiber tear, or spasm. It is also common for an injured muscle somewhere else in the body to lead to dysfunction in that sartorius. An example of this would be an injured shoulder girdle leading to weakness in the opposite hip due to the cross-crawl pattern of how we walk and run.
Injury recall technique (IRT) and trigger point therapy are especially important in restoring muscle function. IRT is a therapy used to neurologically reset a muscle that may be stuck in an injury pattern. Our body remembers every injury, muscle restriction, and fascial trigger point we have ever sustained. If we are under too much stress to deal with these problems, they can add up and lead to injury patterns. Injury patterns put stress on our nervous system and cause our body to compensate by changing our gait, firing the wrong muscles, and completely screwing up our movement. Eventually this can lead to a vicious cycle of pain as these injury patterns and resulting compensations begin to layer on top of each other leading to more and more dysfunction.
Manually realigning and flushing the injured myofascial fibers promotes healing while neurologically resetting the injury takes stress off the nervous system. If enough of these injuries are present, the strain taken off the nervous system can be substantial and reveal a deeper, underlying problem coming from a different muscle or even an organ. Just about every organ in our body has a muscle relationship – meaning that if an organ is not functioning properly, the muscles associated with that organ will not fire well. Even if a sluggish organ is the true cause of your knee pain, the knee has to be structurally restored for healing to occur. In the next two sections we will take a look at the organs that have connections to the muscles in the knee.