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Ester Marsh column: Stretches for healthy knees

I received some great feedback from last week’s column on fitness components. One person asked if I could go more in depth on stretches for healthy knees. This person has been struggling with tightness around the knees, which makes it difficult to bend down.

What exactly is flexibility? In last week’s column, I included the definition of flexibility, which is “the quality of bending easily without breaking.” But, it also means a person’s ability to move the joints through a normal, pain-free range of motion (ROM). Your joints should be stretched to restore the balance and function of the tight muscles surrounding that joint. That really is true for all your joints. And, as one other person asked me, “do I have to do this for the rest of my life?” I answered, “Yes, if you want to keep that joint loose.” Actually, the older you get, the more important it is to keep your flexibility. If you don’t, you will get tighter and tighter. It is recommended to generally stretch the major muscle groups two to three times a week. Personally, I have found that when I stretch after each workout (six times a week), I really benefit by preventing excessive muscle soreness and prevent muscle injury. Several times a week, I spend more than 45 minutes on flexibility.

The main muscles that make up the knee joint are the quadriceps (upper front leg muscles), hamstrings (back of the upper leg muscles), the leg adductors (the inside of your upper leg muscles), the IT band (Illio Tibial band on outside of upper leg), calves (back of lower leg muscles) and the Tibialis anterior (front of the lower leg muscles). Again, these are the main muscles that make up the knee joint that we will focus on with our stretch exercises. To restore or work on your balance between the muscles, it is important not to start stretching “cold.” The best time is after a warmup where you feel your core temperature is up. Marching in place, a nice walk or after your cardio or strength workout would all be good times to work on your flexibility/range of motion. When stretching, it is recommended to stretch for 30 seconds. You can break that up into two 15-second stretches or three 10-second stretches.

• Quadriceps stretch: Standing position — (you can hold on with your other arm on the wall or a sturdy chair) bend other leg and hold on to ankle. Both knees are next to each other. Now push your hip forward and feel the stretch on the front of your bent leg. You can do this also lying down on your side and the top leg is bend.

• Hamstring stretch: Seated position with your legs straight in front of you. Make sure you sit on your sit bones (not your lower back). Gently reach towards your toes with your legs straight. On the spot where you feel slight “discomfort” (not pain — this goes for all stretches). Try to keep your back as straight as possible and bend from the hip.

• Adductors: Seated position — legs are wide and toes are pointed upward, same principle as hamstrings — reach forward until discomfort and hold. Legs stay straight.

• IT Band: Standing position —  cross the “stretching leg” behind the front leg. If that is your right, bring your right arm up and reach while pushing into the hip (towards the right). Do the same on the other side, left leg — left arm — push into left side hip.

• Calf stretch: standing with both hands on the wall, bring stretching calf back and push heel on the floor (leaning against the wall). Make sure your heels are behind your toes (parallel) lean towards wall and hold. Switch to other side.

• Tibialis anterior: a hard one to stretch and typically not very tight — seated position, legs straight in front of you shoulder width apart. Point toes down and inward (plantar flexion and inversion)

Make stretches part of your exercise routine. You will feel so much better and many people I have dealt with have joint issues because of the inability to move freely due to tight muscles and tendons (the tendons attaches the muscles to the bones). Once again, yoga classes or Estelatte all focus on healthy range of motion of the joints. We would love for you to join us or any other Yoga or stretch class in this community!

Ester H Marsh Associate Executive Director JF Hurley Family YMCA

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