Hack your knees

by Yule Heibel on November 16, 2012

Two weeks after my 17th birthday, in a rush of enthusiasm over finally graduating from high school, I raced home one night through a backyard. Confronted by a fence, I opted to leap over it, and promptly tore cartilage and ligaments in my left knee.

Wow, that hurt.

It laid me up for a while, and sadly my poor knee was never quite the same. By the time I was in my early 20s, it went “out” so often that I finally saw a proper orthopedic doctor and had arthroscopic surgery to remove the “joint mice” (bits of broken cartilage, sometimes called joint rats) that were floating about and getting into the knee-bending operation at inopportune moments, causing significant pain and immobility.

The surgeon, bless him, told me that the inside of my kneecap looked like shredded crab meat.


The knees (both of them, frankly) have never gotten better. I just work around them.

And now, fast-forward several decades – too-too many decades! For those of you also suffering from aging knees and the accompanying aches, here’s a hack I had to remind myself of just yesterday, when I noticed more-than-usual persistent creaks while climbing up and down stairs (especially down: up is easy, down is much harder on the knees): lift your legs as though you’re a freaking prancing pony.

It sounds odd, but it’s a tip I learned last fall from a video on how to run. See the article The Once and Future Way to Run. The technique came in really useful while I lived in a 3-level condo in Portland OR for 5 months. In the NY Times article, running guru Christopher McDougall explains how a 19th century running technique can help overcome injury and – given enough dedication – would let even people like me return to moderate jogging (not that I will).

Read the article, but here’s the video you want to watch to see the prancing pony steps you need to take when climbing stairs (especially going down).

I think it must have something to do with the effort of engaging one’s thigh muscles before letting the knees take the weight. Works for me, at any rate. That, and squats. 😉

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