Using a Lacrosse/Massage Ball to Help Fix Knee Pain
Before getting into this article it’s important to note this is not a replacement for professional medical advice. If you are experiencing severe knee pain you should talk to your doctor.
Additionally, there is likely no one fix for knee pain. implementing several techniques is the best approach to relieving knee pain. And to do that, it’s important to identify what’s causing the knee pain. More than likely the culprit is a weakness in one or more of the hip muscles.
So before we get into how to use the massage ball we need to understand the “what” and the “why”.
To understand how a muscle in the hips can cause knee pain it’s best to think of the body as a chain. The human body is very complex. Every single muscle pulls on a joint that works in conjunction with another muscle. If one muscle in the chain is weak or injured another muscle will have to compensate.
In the case of the hips, more often than not, weak glutes (butt) cause another muscle in the hips to become overactive. The often overworked muscle is the Tensor Fasciae Latae or TFL muscle. This muscle connects the hip to the knee through the Iliotibial Band or IT Band. When the TFL is overactive it pulls on the IT band causing the knee to move through an awkward range of motion. Even the slightest mal-tracking in the knee can cause inflammation resulting in pain.
This is a picture of just a few of the muscles in the hip. On the left, you can see the Tensor Faciae Latae. Below that is a long white strip labeled the Iliotibial tract. This is the IT band and is responsible for helping stabilize the knee.
One of the biggest causes of an overactive TFL is sitting. When sitting the TFL is in a shortened position. If we sit too much the muscle wants to stay shortened and tight even when we’re standing. This is what many refer to as “muscle memory”. Where it becomes a problem is when someone who sits all day decides to start some type of athletic training. This is especially true for runners. Without strengthening the muscles in your hips the TFL ends up doing more than its fair share of the work. This is why strength training for runners is so important. Quick side note, no, strength training will not make you muscle-bound and slow. It will keep you fit and injury-free.
So what is the purpose of the massage ball? Using a massage ball is a way to ease the pain so that you are able to perform an exercise through a full range of motion. This is important to note because, although you may feel immediate relief it is not a permanent fix. You are not releasing myofascia, breaking up adhesions, or remodeling anything. You’re temporarily allowing a muscle to do what it is supposed to do.
Why is this important? One word, application. The key to getting the most out of using the massage ball is to use it at the right time. Spending a painful hour foam rolling is a waste of time. To reap the most benefits you should use the massage ball as part of your warm-up. A little foam rolling and massage between warm-up sets or before a run is a great way reap all the benefits.
The real key to relieving knee pain (and most other pains) is strength training. There are a few key points to note when strength training. You need to make sure there is progressive overload through a full range of motion. I know that sounds complex so to keep it simple it means, lift heavier weights than you did before with good form. Lifting the same 20kg dumbbell day-in day-out will not get you the results you want.
“Your body adapts to a stimulus. Doing the same thing over and over again is not a stimulus.”
Also, it’s important your program emphasizes squats, deadlifts, lunges, pulls, pushes, and rotation. These are the key movements we use every day to function in life. Conveniently enough, these moves also hit every muscle in the body. I should also note that good form is of the utmost importance when doing these exercises. Doing these exercises wrong will not alleviate pain and could make it worse. So, if in doubt, talk with a trained and certified professional.
In the video below I go over the three areas to hit with the massage ball to improve pain-free range of motion in the knee.
- Hip or TFL muscle
- IT band
All three spots can be quite painful so I recommend taking it slow when you’re first starting out. Do your best to relax and breathe.
When rolling the IT-band you don’t want to roll directly on the band itself. Instead, you want to roll the ball a little bit more in the front of the IT-band. This will hit the muscles in the quadriceps that attaches to the IT-band.
Once you’ve completed your rolling, proceed into your regular warm-up. After that start your run or get under that loaded barbell and start lifting!