How implementing corrective exercise into my warm-up routine has been helping me with knee pain
In short, I would describe corrective exercise as ‘changing or altering a malfunctional movement pattern’. Whenever we are executing everyday functional tasks or working out in a gym with abnormal movement patterns, it can result in chronic musculoskeletal pain. In this blog entry I’m going to share my personal experience of how doing corrective exercise allows me to train more consistently than ever before, despite being diagnosed with chondromalacia patellae (“runner’s knee”) and a double knee surgery. I hope that by sharing my own story, it will encourage others to start doing corrective exercise and enjoy the benefits of training safer and longer.
If we have back, knee or shoulder pain, we go and see a specialist such a physiotherapist or a chiropractor who will diagnose our condition and help us to alleviate the pain. In severe cases however, we can end up with even more serious injuries such as an ACL tear that requires surgery and hospitalisation.
After recovery and clearance from the doctor we expect to be healthy and ready to exercise again, and although we’re more careful than before, the previous symptoms often return.
That’s because the underlying causes that led us to those painful joints are still there and reinforcing them over and over again will lead to the same injuries. Hence the vicious circle called ‘cumulative injury cycle’ begins.
My story started when I was 16 and visited a doctor because I couldn’t sit in Japanese sitting position (‘seiza’) during judo class as my knees were a bit painful. The doctor said that I had a bony projection at my knees, and I needed surgery to ‘trim them down’ a little bit. That was all the information I received and during my summer break I had a double knee surgery. The full ‘recovery’ took well over 6 months, but what I never understood was that after my surgery, I still couldn’t sit in ‘seiza’, my knees were still painful, and even worse than before.
During my 20’s I was struggling with knee pain during different sport activities like Muay Thai, running, hiking or doing squats at the gym. I always tried to push through the pain, reminding myself: ‘no pain, no gain,’ but I was wrong. The older I got the longer it took to recover, and I often had to skip weeks or even months of training. When I became a personal trainer and came across corrective exercise, I started to understand that I had a lot of muscular imbalances, poor posture and compensation patterns that I had been reinforcing for many years, which probably led to my painful joints. I started to focus on correcting these issues and instead of doing my general warm-up routine, I started to use corrective exercise techniques as part of my integrated movement preparation before work-out. I started to stretch and activate muscle groups based on assessments only, rather than randomly picking different stretching techniques. Slowly I started to gain back the optimal range of motion at my joints. This way instead of grinding them into faulty arthrokinematics (movement of joint surfaces) by doing the usual ‘3 light sets before the heavy sets’ warm up, my joints felt prepared better for heavy loads. One of my best personal experience of changing my warm-up routine is that, after lifting heavy loads nowadays I feel less sore than before.
And I’m not saying that since I’ve been doing corrective exercise my knees are perfect, but at the age of 35 I can feel a big difference. I’m aware that the lost cartilage on the joint surface will never grow back again but instead of ‘pushing through pain’ I’m doing exercises that align my knees better and improve my stabilisation. Therefore, most of the time I don’t even have pain during my workout. I’ve been injury free for a while and I’m still managing to achieve gradual progressions within my fitness routine.
This new type of exercise has also led to new fitness goals and now I’m working for longevity and measure success not only in number of reps, but in painless sessions as well. Every morning I wake up without feeling sore and I can enjoy running in many of my favourite parks here in Kuala Lumpur, or just playing basketball outdoors in the afternoon. I’m also encouraging all my friends and personal training clients to implement these techniques so that they don’t need to quit the sports and activities that they love and make them happy. From a fitness point of view, corrective exercise can help you to optimise the efficiency of your movement so you will perform better and reduce the risk of injury. I hope you’ll give it a try!