During daily and sporting activities, we see knees getting fully straight all the time. Walking, jumping, running. Full knee extension is essential to activity.
After knee surgery or injury, however, many people lose their ability to fully straighten their knees. Unfortunately, this often leads to a host of challenges, including:
- Increased risk for developing arthritis
- Changes the way we walk
- Increased strain in other areas, like the hip, back, and even different parts of the knee
- Decreased muscle function (specifically the quadriceps)
So what to do about this? There are thoughts that tight hamstrings cause this lack of knee extension; this has not been our observation in the clinic. Rather, loss of extension is due to a variety of other factors. Swelling impairs the knee's ability to fully move throughout its range of motion--including extension. Inability to fully activate the quadriceps muscle is another cause of knee extension loss. Pain limits the ability of people to fully straighten their knee. And oftentimes, the knee "scars" on the inside due to increased production of connective tissues.
So what to do about this? It is essential to remove any swelling after the first few days of an injury or following surgery. Ice and compression are excellent choices to accomplish this.
Improving quadriceps function is most effectively done with exercise that isolates that muscle group; think quadriceps sets, leg extensions, and even wall sits.
Pain relief may be achieved with ice and gradual increase of stress to the area.
When scar tissue forms inside the knee, prolonged stretch of the area is one technique that works well. This can be achieved by using gravity to assist or a device can be used to accomplish this.
Knee extension is essential following surgery and injury. All efforts to regain this motion should be undertaken to improve function and allow successful return to sport and daily activities.