Medical: Looking after your knees

Our knees can take a battering when adventure motorcycling, so it’s key to make sure you look after them as best as you can. Suzie Bostock explains the best way to do this.

Knees, knees, knees… We often forget about them and don’t give them much thought, but we rely on them so much. Every time you walk, sit down, stop your bike, stand up on your pegs and so on, you need your knees, and you need them to work well. 

The most common injuries in motorcycling, particularly off-road motorcycling, are injuries to the anterioir cruciate ligament (ACL) (slap bang in the middle of your knee joint and crucial for stability), medial collateral ligament (MCL) (a thick ligament on the inside of your knee) and menisci (two shock-absorbing cartilage disks inside your knee). Of these, injury to the ACL tends to be the most debilitating. 

So, why are the knees so vulnerable? It’s often a combination of things, including the angle of the leg and knee, plus the force going through it when the foot plants on the floor, the surface you land on, poor knee strength/control, and bad luck, amongst other things. 

Of course, there are certain measures we can take to help prevent damage to our knees when riding. It’s well worth keeping these in mind when you’re preparing for your next adventure as, let’s face it, it’d be no fun to get a few days into a two-week tour only to start getting pains.

Knee braces 

These are a worthwhile consideration and can help prevent a lot of lower-force injuries. Prophylactic bracing appears to have a beneficial effect in prevention of ACL, MCL and menisci injuries, however to date there is no sound conclusion. 

Knee pads 

Decent knee pads should also be considered to protect your knees against direct trauma, e.g. hitting your knee on a rock or the floor. Your motorcycle trousers should come with knee pads in them already. 

Good boots 

Make sure the boots you wear are suitable for the terrain you will be riding. If you’re riding off-road, wear boots with good support and a sole which doesn’t flex too easily. Planting your foot on uneven ground with the weight of a bike on it can cause issues, so sturdy boots are essential.

Regular exercise 

Above all, regular exercise will help prevent knee injuries, and there are a few key movements that you should be doing. Here are some good exercises that can be done almost anywhere on a regular basis in preparation for riding and to keep your knees strong and in top form. They should not be painful. If you’ve had a knee injury already and it’s causing you pain or other issues, get a physiotherapy assessment before starting a new exercise programme. 

Squat 

Have your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointing forwards. Move your bottom backwards (as if to sit down) as far as comfortable. Hold onto something if needed. Do not let your knees drift over your toes. Keep your back straight, head up, looking forwards. Repeat 8-12 reps. Do up to two-three sets. 

Lunge and walking lunge 

Stand straight and place one foot forwards (about one large step length). Drop your back knee down, lift back up again. Your front knee should not drift inwards. Stay in this position for 8-12 lunges, return to an upright position between each lunge. Repeat up to three sets each side. 

Bulgarian split squat 

Place one foot back onto a chair. Let yourself dip down, the front knee bending in a controlled up and down movement. Repeat 8-12 reps. Repeat up to three sets. 

Step down 

Stand facing down a step (six inches high-ish). Let one leg come forwards over the edge of the step. Slowly lower the foot down towards the floor. Keep your hips level during this exercise. Stop before the foot touches the floor and return. Do not rotate. Repeat 8-12 reps. Repeat up to three sets. 

Heel raises (double or single) 

Stand upright, feet hip-width apart. Push up on toes (one or two legs). Lower back down. Repeat 12 reps each leg, up to four sets. 

Hamstring curls 

Stand up straight. Bend one knee (heel towards your bottom) and lower. Repeat 12 reps each side, up to four sets. 

Bridge 

Lay on your back, knees bent up, feet flat on the floor. Lift your bottom up until your body is in a straight line. Repeat 8-12 times, up to three sets. To make it harder do the bridge on a wobbly surface e.g. feet on a pillow, or on one leg. 

Single leg stand 

Stand on one leg. Keep your balance. That is it! Hold on if needed. Practice on both legs for as long as able. More challenge needed? Try closing your eyes, or passing an object around your waist, use one foot to touch the floor all around (i.e. like a clock face), or reach down to touch the floor or pick up an object. Keep your hips level throughout this exercise. 

Quad stretch 

Stand up straight. Bring one heel towards your bottom. Use your hand to pull it towards your bottom (or use a belt etc. around your ankle). Feel a stretch in the front of your hip/thigh. Do not let your knee drift forwards. Hold 20-30 seconds. Repeat three-four times each side. 

Hamstring stretch 

Sit on the edge of a chair. Keep one leg bent, have the other out straight, heel resting on the floor. Lean forwards from the hips until you get a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold 20-30 seconds. Repeat three-four times each side. 

Calf stretches 

Stand facing a wall. Place one leg straight back behind you with your heel firmly on the floor and lean on your hands. Let the front knee bend until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold 20- 30 seconds. Repeat three-four times each side. 

Perform these exercises in the lead up to your big bike trip and you’ll help prepare your knees for what’s to come. Please e-mail me at cyril@avvida.co.uk for a full reference list.