When I was 17, I fell down a flight of stairs and tore ligaments in my left ankle, leaving me on crutches for two months. I went on to become a professional dancer and, five years later, I began to experience pain in my right knee. I ignored the pain and kept dancing. After all, “the show must go on!” When I couldn’t ignore my pain any longer I visited a physical therapist and underwent treatment that enabled me to compensate enough to continue. Several months later, however, my knee began to hurt again and this time I couldn’t dance. The end result was a torn meniscus, surgery, and a long recovery.

A year later my left knee began to hurt. Then my right knee began to ache again. Back into surgery I went. The surgery didn’t help, forcing me into early retirement from my dance career. I was young, healthy, and strong, so I didn’t understand why would I have knee pain, especially since my original injury was to my ankle. I continued having sore knees on and off for the next two decades.

My knees stopped hurting when I discovered Clinical Somatic Education and learned how to do Somatic Movements.

Clinical Somatics helped me have pain-free knees so I could squat, bend over, and even sit on my knees without pain when traditional medical practices didn’t by addressing the source of the problem: my brain and how it controlled my muscles and movement. The culprit was the tension that I’d been holding in the center of my body as a result of my original ankle injury. In Clinical Somatic Education, this tension is called Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

This tension, or SMA,  had rippled outward into the leg muscles, putting stress on my knee joints and making them work twice as hard to do their job resulting, ultimately, in persistent knee pain. It was a relief to discover that nothing was structurally wrong (my knees had healed successfully) and that the functional issue of tension in the center was within my power to correct.

This power came in the form of Somatic Movements that I practiced daily to achieve and maintain relaxation in my back, abdominal, chest, and waist muscles and restore comfortable, pain-free movement not just to my knees, but to my whole body.

My persistent knee pain was the symptom. Chronic, habituated muscle tension was the cause.

Many cases of knee pain are not structural in their origin, but functional. This means that how you use your body—reflexive responses to stress, your daily habits, and faulty body mechanics can have more to do with knee pain than genetics or structural problems.

Standard treatments for knee pain include surgery, cortisone injections, prolotherapy, ice/heat therapy, stretching, strengthening, physical therapy, and rest. Some of them can be helpful, but if the root cause of your pain is muscular imbalances and SMA, their benefit will only be short-lived.

Muscle tension in the center of the body contributes to tension and pain in the knee joints.

SMA—the state of unconscious, excess muscle tension in your body—changes the way you move. This excess tension, which accumulates over time due to stress, accidents, injuries, and repetitive activities leads to stiffness, joint pain, imbalances, and movement restrictions and it has a ripple effect out to the periphery (arms, hands, legs, knees, feet).

The injury may heal, but the tension and imbalance in the center will remain until you learn to release your muscles and restore balance from the center of your body to the periphery.

When the center loses its flexibility the rest of the body—the hips, legs, knees, feet, and arms—have to work harder to do any one movement. The effort of walking, running, and moving is no longer distributed evenly; we may begin to feel pain in our knees as our walk becomes more laborious or as we come down heavily on our feet. We may experience knee pain even if we’ve never had an injury to our knee.

Accidents, injuries, falls, and one-sided activities can contribute to knee pain.

A slip or fall, sprained ankle, or broken arm can create a tightening on one side of the waist to reduce discomfort or protect the injured area. This is called the Trauma Reflex. When habituated, one side of our torso becomes tighter than the other and results in an imbalance not only in the center of your body but in the shoulders and pelvis as well as your gait.

Habituation of this reflex can lead to postural imbalances that contribute to knee pain (in addition to hip and foot pain, leg length discrepancy, an uneven gait, and sciatica). This imbalance creates a twist in the center of our body. Now that we are out of balance, our pelvis is twisted or hiked on one side, and our legs move differently from right to left. We walk like a car with one flat tire. The result is one-sided knee pain.

The knee pain will disappear once you learn to restore balance in the center of your body so the legs share the load as you walk. When you learn gentle Somatic Movements, which you can do independently at home, you will begin to release those tight muscles of the waist, restore balance in your pelvis, and discover that your knees no longer hurt.

An imbalance in the center puts pressure on the knee joints.

All of the muscles of the leg attach to the pelvis, so in addition to the twist that occurs in the center of our body two other postural imbalances contribute to knee pain:

  1. The Green Light Reflex. Our back muscles can become excessively contracted due to sports, dancing, standing for long hours, and other activities. Those tight back muscles tip the pelvis forward and may cause us to lock our knees, like a soldier at attention, putting pressure on the knee joint.
  2. The Red Light Reflex. This opposite imbalance causes us to slump inward with shoulders hunched, and face forward. Our pelvis tips backward and under, which creates a subtle bend in our knees. As I will explain below, this can contribute to pain behind the knee. This may also play a role in knee pain when bending over.

Chronic SMA that isn’t addressed may lead to structural issues, the most common of which is the development of arthritis due to joint compression and lack of fluid movement. This could potentially necessitate a knee replacement due to excessive wear and tear on the joint; this might alleviate the pain yet muscle function must still be re-educated if you want to support your knee and prevent pain elsewhere in your body in the future.

Tight leg muscles can contribute to knee pain.

Our knees support the weight of our body and, as we stand up and walk, the knee joint is working constantly. If the muscles that attach to the front or back (quadriceps or hamstrings) of the knee joint are tight they will put excess pressure into the joint, creating pain, stiffness, or the rubbing, grinding, or clicking sound common with “runner’s knee” or chondromalacia.

Or, if the muscles on one side of the thigh are tight—the adductors or the abductors—there may be pain on the inside or outside of the knee joint. If you often slouch or hunch your shoulders (Red Light reflex) you may walk with your knees slightly bent. This can contribute to pain behind the knee and fatigue in walking. Your legs never fully straighten as you walk, which creates additional pressure on the knee joint.

How can I heal and have pain-free knees naturally?

As long as your knee pain is not the result of true structural knee damage, Somatic Movements and pandiculation are a powerful means of relieving knee pain independently (if you have true structural damage, Somatic Movements and pandiculation are excellent ways to keep knee pain at bay after the damage is corrected.)

Knee exercises as prescribed by physical therapists or fitness trainers can be helpful when addressing knee pain, yet the first and most important step is to relax your muscles with Somatic Movements; this gets them ready to strengthen safely and efficiently.

When you learn to reduce excess tension in your back muscles, chest, waist, and abdominals, you will begin to move with more ease and efficiency, and less effort. This takes a load off the knee joint so it can do the job of supporting movement. The result is happier, healthier, pain-free knees, and a happier, healthier YOU.

We’re excited to be opening the doors for our next Move With Ease digital course. Find out more about how you can join this cohort to go from exhausted to empowered and relieve your chronic pain.