6 Imbalances That Cause Pain—and How to Fix Them
Hurting when you exercise? Something could be uneven (and it's probably not what you think)
Knee pain when you run? Could be your hips.
"The knee has two bad neighbors—the hip and the ankle," Jones says. The pain you feel in your knee could very well be tightness or immobility in those bad neighbors. "They sweep all their leaves into the knee's yard. Everyone blames the knee, but it's the neighbors."
To see if your hips have a proper level of mobility, lay on your back in a doorway so that the middle of your kneecap is right on the threshold. Relax your arms at your sides, palms up. Bring your feet together, toes pointed at the ceiling. Pull your toes towards your shins to create a 90-degree angle at the ankle. Keep one leg straight and still as you slowly raise the other leg until either your knee bends on your raising leg, or your bottom foot bends or turns out to the side.
"See if the knobby part of your ankle can make it past the door frame," Jones says. If it does, your hips are plenty mobile—check the ankle test below to see if that's causing some knee issues. If either ankle can't make it, foam roll your hips and glutes, and then work on this stretch using a belt or strap for instant improvement.
Fix it: Lying in the same position as during the test, wrap a strap or belt around one foot and raise it until you just start to feel a stretch—not to the level where it's all the stretch you can take, but just the beginning of the stretch, Jones says. Once here, bring your other leg up to meet it. Return the non-strapped leg to the floor. At this point, you may find that the strapped leg can come up a little higher. When it does, bring the non-strapped leg up to meet it again. Continue until you no longer feel progress in the strapped leg, and switch.
Hips moving OK? Check your ankles.
If your hips are mobile (and even if they're not), ankle mobility can also lead to knee pain, says Mike Perry, owner of Skill of Strength in North Chelmsford, Mass., who is certified in the Functional Movement Screen. To see how mobile your ankles are (or aren't), assume a one-knee position facing a wall. Your knees should both form 90-degree angles, and the toe of your planted foot should be about four inches from the wall. In this position, Perry says, try to glide your knee over the pinky toe to touch the wall without lifting your heel. If you can reach the wall, your ankle is gliding correctly. If your foot comes up before your knee touches the wall, your calves are "incredibly tight," Perry says.
Fix it: To help remedy this issue, foam roll your calves and try this variation on that ankle test from Brett Jones. Assume the same half-kneeling position, and place the point of a broomstick on the pinky toe of your planted foot. Hold the stick so it's touching the outside of your knee. With the stick in this position, keeping your knee from flaring out to the side, glide the knee forward slowly, stopping when your heel leaves the ground. If you perform this as a drill, Jones says, you can see as much as half an inch of improvement in the first session. If you feel pain during the drill, stop and consult a physician.