Active Seniors

Looking after the pigeon pair of your knees

Some things just go together like bread and butter. In the body, the quadricep and hamstring muscles are partners that work hand in hand to support the knees and assist you in getting up and down from a chair or from the ground. A healthy relationship between these two muscles is vital to ensure that your knees are strong and resilient. In today’s article we will discuss some important considerations in optimising the health of this pigeon pair.

Measure their strength to make sure that there aren’t large imbalances between the two

As these two muscles work hand in hand, it is best to ensure that there isn’t a large discrepancy in the strength of the two muscles. Most commonly, people are stronger in their quadricep muscles when compared to their hamstring muscles. A minor dominance of the quadricep muscles is not something to be overly concerned with; however, as this gap widens there can be trouble. Click on the link here to view a simple way to test out the muscles to compare.

Some key points when testing are:

  • Make sure that you are in a safe position for your balance
  • Use music to keep the pace of each repetition consistent. Ideally a song with around 1 beat per second is good to use such as “Mustang Sally”
  • Only count the number of full repetitions you can perform while keeping up to the beat

Once you have the results of these tests, you should aim to choose exercises that target any imbalances revealed in the test results. It is still important to ensure that you maintain the strength of any muscles that may be dominant, however you should try to choose more of the exercises that target any weaknesses.

Train the muscles for all situations

Eccentric Strengthening, not just concentric!

While many people are good at training the strength of the muscle when it shortens, more commonly the muscles in the thigh area need to develop good strength in the opposite position, when they are LENGTHENING, to slow down leg movement or change direction. Each time we take a step, or bend down and then return to standing, the maximum amount of tension is on the hamstring and quadricep muscles when they are full stretched and trying to change the direction of swing or momentum. This is what is referred to as “eccentric” loading of the muscles, and is a very important but commonly overlooked area of strength in these muscles.

Flexible muscles are happy muscles

Make sure they have good flexibility. The hamstrings and the quadriceps both act on two joints: the hip and the knee. This not only puts them at a higher risk of injury, but also means that if they are shortened that they can restrict the movement at these joints. We know that healthy knees need healthy hips and ankles that can move to accommodate our needs during day to day activities, like squatting down to sit in a chair and even walking. Compromises in the ability of the hips to move can increase the amount of undesirable movement at the knees that they aren’t designed to perform.

So how do we know if our hamstrings of quadriceps are tight?
Let’s start with the quadriceps:

For most day-to-day activities we need around 115 degrees of knee bend. This allows us to walk up and down stairs, and sit up and down from chairs and of course the toilet, which is slightly lower in most instances. To see if you have this amount of bend available, or if your quadriceps may be restricting you, try the following:

  1. Place a chair next to a wall so that you have balance support available
  2. Bend your knee and try to place your foot on the chair – please do not force this or move into pain as you attempt this or any other parts of the test
  3. Ensure that the thighs are in line with each other and that the knees are side by side
  4. Stack the position of your body so that your shoulders are over your hips, and your hips are over your knees and ankles
  5. You should be able to stand upright in a stacked position without feeling a sharp pulling sensation in the front of your thigh
  6. If you are taller than around 5 foot 8, you may need to place a book or pillow on the chair to ensure that your knee bend is sufficiently tested

Now on to the hamstrings:

  1. Lying on your back, wrap a long towel or dressing gown belt around the bottom of your foot
  2. Keeping one leg straight on the bed or ground, straighten the other knee and pull on the towel/belt to help slowly raise your leg off the bed or ground as high as you can before the knee bends.
  3. As above, please do not force this movement and stop if you experience pain or a strong stretch.
  4. You should be able to raise the leg up so that the foot is above the position of the knee of the opposite leg
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