Knee Therapy: Sports’ Best Kept Secret

One of the most common questions that I’m asked is:  “With a sports-related injury, when do I use ice and when should I apply heat?”

ICE THERAPY the best kept secret in sports medicine, period!

All the fancy machines and cool rehab techniques may get all the hype.  But if you ask the elite athletes with a knee injury what helps them maintain their body and assist their recovery the most, they will tell you that some form of ice therapy is vital.

Personally, my best training partners when it comes to athletic injuries is ice therapy.  I often use ice to help me control soft tissue pain and supercharge my recovery.

Knee Surgery Recovery is Enhanced With Ice

Recovering from any type of knee surgery is not easy.  Unless you have the unique skill of a gymnast, you won’t be able to walk around on your hands all day.  With the painful and lengthy rehab work that needs to be done with most knee injuries, you’re creating additional swelling and pain in the joint on a daily basis.  Knee surgery recovery starts with pain control to allow you to increase your range of motion (ROM), increase your strength and to restore your function.  Ice therapy is the trick to making that happen as soon as you wake up from your surgery.

It’s not a coincidence most successful knee orthopedic surgeons apply a cold therapy device to their patient’s knees before they even leave the operating room!  What does that tell you?

Injury prevention is an important motivator for me as the founder of this website and I’m sure it is the same for you.  Ice therapy should become a part of your injury prevention plan.

There are many myths and questions in the battle of ice versus heat…so today I am going to shed some light on the truth about ice.  I’ll discuss the benefits of heat therapy in upcoming blog writings.

How to Use Ice in Knee Therapy

Three Benefits of Ice

  1. It’s a lot easier to keep a joint from swelling than it is to reduce the swelling of an inflamed injury.
  2. Icing will quickly relieve knee pain by blocking pain receptors’ feedback to the brain.
  3. Ice will significantly minimize the likelihood that the injury will swell which can actually reduce your recovery time by 50%!

How Does Your Knee Respond to Ice?

  • It decreases inflammation.
  • It moderately reduces circulation to an area which will drastically decrease the rate of tissue swelling. (In contrast, applying heat to an acute injury is like turning on a drippy faucet.  It speeds up blood flow which can quickly INCREASE tissue swelling.)
  • It slows down the metabolism of the injury site which will reduce the body’s normal inflammatory process.
  • It decreases pain.

How Should I Include Ice in my Knee Therapy?

  • Ice the injury and the surrounding tissue, not just at the site of the injury.  For example, if your injury is on the right side of your knee, ice all the way around the knee instead of just on the injured side.
  • Try to ice the knee injury while elevating the body part.
  • Ideally ice with compression.

Methods of icing:

  • Submerge in ice water – the most aggressive and effective way to ice.
  • Ice Bags
  • Ice Massage
  • Frozen Vegetables

How Long Should I Ice My Knee?

  • Ice Massage – 10 minutes
  • Ice Bath, Ice Bag/Veggies – 15 minutes

Ice Massage Made Easy:

Fill a paper cup almost to the top with water and place in the freezer.  Once frozen, peel away most of the cup and massage with the exposed ice.

Common myths about icing

  • “Ice hurts.” Toughen up!  It’s not going to kill you.  Besides, you’ll get used to it.  To minimize your pain when icing the entire leg, keep the distal extremity being iced warm.  One way to do this is to put a rubber glove or bag over the toes when submerging the body part in ice.
  • “I might get frostbite.” The likelihood of frostbite is pretty rare–especially when you are only icing for 15 minutes or less.  However, if you have a circulatory pathology like diabetes or are being medically treated for chronically swollen extremities, consult your doctor before implementing this type of ice therapy.
  • “It’s been more than 72 hours since my injury, so it’s time to switch to heat?” If the injured area feels warm, it needs ice, regardless of the time frame.  So if the injury site feels warm and inflamed, apply ice, even if it’s been more than 72 hours.

The bottom line is simple:  If you want to stay active and continue to challenge yourself as an athlete, ICE THERAPY needs be included in your knee therapy plan.  If you’re pondering the eternal question: “To use ice or heat?”  ICE is always the safe selection.

Quad Strengthening to Prevent Knee Injuries

If you want to keep your knees happy, make your quadriceps (quads) a top priority.  The good news is this…the goal of having healthier and stronger quads may not be as difficult as you might think!

Leg strengthening and preventative knee care are of great concern for today’s athletes. Knee injuries represent approximately 51% of NFL injuries.  Similar percentages are found in most sports at every level of athletics.

If your objective is to prevent injuries, safe quad strengthening is a great place to start.

To create a new level of quad appreciation, you should better understand the muscle group. This will require a quick anatomy lesson.

Anatomy 101 – Your Quads

The word quad means “four” and that is based on the fact that you have four muscles that make up this muscle group located on the front of your thigh.

  1. Rectus Femoris
  2. Vastus Lateralis
  3. Vastus Medialis
  4. Vastus Intermedius

The Mighty Four
All four muscles’ distal insertions attach to the upper half of the patella or kneecap. The bottom part of the kneecap is connected to the patella tendon, which attaches to the upper front of the shinbone or tibia. Therefore, when the quads contract, they pull the patella in an upward direction, which extends the knee. This is exactly what happens when you run, jump, or kick a ball.

Injury Prevention and Performance Enhancement

The benefits of strong and lean quads are two-fold. First, they prevent injuries. The quads play a major role in protecting the knees in most athletic events.

Preventative sports medicine will help you stay on the field instead of spending your time at the doctor’s office or on the sidelines watching your friends having all the fun.

Secondly, a well-toned quad enhances your ability to perform. Whether it is in the gym or on a tennis court, stronger quads help you move more effectively with less pain.

There are many myths related to exercise. Your quads and knees are no exception. The exercise options for quad strengthening activities range from squats to free weights to lunges and box jumps, just to name a few. Here are some simple and proven tips that will safely and effectively give you the results you need.

Tips for Safe Quad Strengthening

  1. Leg extensions, presses and squats. Perform leg extensions, presses and squats within the knee range of 20 degrees from full extension to 90 degrees of flexion or bending.  This middle range is extremely effective if avoiding excessive compressive stress on the articular cartilage is your objective.
  2. Always stay in the pain free zone. If you experience pain during any exercise, decrease the motion to a pain-free range.
  3. Slow and controlled. Perform all movements in a slow and controlled manner.  If knee pain is experienced at any time during the exercise, assess the technique and/or the amount of weight being used.
  4. Short and sweet. Keep the rest phases between all sets and all exercises short.  You need to create the “burn” or fatigue of the quads in order to overload the muscles and accomplish muscle strengthening.

In summary, the strongest muscle group in your body is your quads and that is for good reason.

Newton’s Third Law

Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton’s mixed martial arts cage fighting career was cut short because of a quad strain?  Me neither…but if Mr. Newton was as smart as they say he was, I feel certain that he would have been a disciplined athlete who realized how important it is to take care of his quads.

Newton’s Third Law states: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Therefore, when an athlete’s body comes in contact with the ground while running or a soccer ball when kicking, the body has to absorb that force and distribute that energy elsewhere.

When I watch our Jag players run, I am always amazed to see the amount of force and stress being applied to their knees by the reaction to both gravity and the ground. When a 330 lbs football player is running on grass, his foot is experiencing up to 2600 pounds per square inch of force. That’s seven to eight times his body weight!

You may be asking: “What does any of this have to do with injury prevention and my quads?” My answer? Everything.

The #1 shock-absorbing mechanism in your entire lower extremity is controlled lengthening of your quads. By implementing a safe and effective quad strengthening program, you will be well on your way to minimizing the likelihood of a knee injury and enhance your athletic performance.

I hope that you are as excited as I am about Mike Ryan Fitness and the amazing injury prevention and sports medicine tips that we can share to help YOU to stay healthy and happy!