Foam rolling for Hip and knee pain

From Lisa Bullock

We received a question from Carla requesting a little more information about foam rolling for sore knees and asking how she could strengthen her legs to relieve knee pain.  If you missed my email about training with knee pain, check it out HERE.

I’m going to make a generalisation here.  In the absence of diagnosed injury or trauma – the majority of knee pain is actually a result of tight hips and inadequate release techniques for the quads.  And here’s another big call – the majority of people with very tight quads and hip flexors also suffer lower back pain! Dealing with stiffness in the hips then becomes incredibly important for overall wellbeing!  While this blog deals with basic techniques, if you want to take it further then Eric Wong is the man to show you how to deal definitively with hip mobility!

But for now let’s look at how we can improve that situation.  The good news being, it’s just not that hard!

Let’s address the foam rolling and stretching part of Carla’s question first.  Go slowly, because if the muscles in the front of your thighs (quads) are very tight or sore, rolling them will be a little uncomfortable at first – it may take a few reps for that initial sensitivity to ease off.  The technical description is “it stings Mum!!!!!”.

You might like to start with as little as 30 seconds  and then work your way up as it becomes easier.  Hold yourself on your elbows in a plank position (and please don’t let your back sag!) with the foam roller positioned under your thighs just above your kneecaps and gently roll to and fro on the roller massaging up the thigh and back down again.  Make sure you’re rolling the thigh and not putting any pressure on the kneecaps themselves.  You can then re-position the roller underneath your hips and roll the hip flexors too.   Ideally you’ll be aiming to foam roll and stretch your quads every day till that knee pain starts to ease.

Quad stretches are done every day, somewhere in the world, in every gym, and on the whole, done very badly!  Here’s what a typical quad stretch looks like – and please note this is INCORRECT and a waste of time!  In this position, the hip flexors aren’t  on a stretch and the quads aren’t even actually targeted.

incorrect quad pic for blog


Let’s look at what a CORRECT quad stretch should look like.

correct hip flexor stretch for blog


The whole posture is different for a start.  Lift your chest and lengthen through your spine.  Pull your ankle – NOT foot – back towards your bottom.  Gently tuck the pelvis under while pulling the knee back in line with the knee on the supporting leg, you could even aim to get your knee back further with time.  At the same time as you tuck the hip under, clench your glutes (bottom muscles) strongly and gently push forward through the hip.

And voila!  A totally different stretch right there.  And it’s completely effective.  For those of you who suffer low back pain as a result of tight hips, even reaching down and grabbing that foot might cause your back to spasm so use the option of the bench as pictured.

Simple techniques that earn lots of reward. Mega-bang for buck – my favourite kind of technique.

Dealing with hip tightness and mobility is a huge issue – especially as we spend more time sitting than any other generation in the history of mankind!  Eric Wong has an impressively researched and demonstrated program for dealing with hip mobility which may benefit you if you have these ongoing issues.  You can check that out HERE.

eric wong hip mobility