Body: Stretch and Strengthen Knees & Ankles

10 04 2009

Here is my story, I felt like giving some background info so that you understood more about where I am coming from. I have exercises below the novel. Enjoy!

In high school, I was on cheerleading, gymnastics, volleyball and track and field.  For track, I was specifically a triple jumper but ran sprints and hurdles also. Indoor season was all winter so we trained inside on hard gym floors, which are awful on knees when you are pounding on the floor. By the time outdoor season started, I had stress fractures in both ankles.

I pushed through and sat in ice baths up to my knees everyday after practice. I tried the shin compression sleeves and the trainer taped from my ankles up to my shins nearly every day.  All of those are fantastic for minor issues, however, they are like a bandaid to a bigger problem ( training through injury). My knee started hurting after that due to my improper form on top of the ankle pain! The stress fractures and “shin splints” in my lower legs caused my kneecaps to weaken and tear at the meniscus.

Listen to your body!
Training hard is wonderful and worth the effort, however, overtraining leads to injury and injury begets injury unless you properly recover! Take the time as soon as you feel true pain or injury to recover from it. It will make you stronger!

At that point, the orthopaedic urged me to choose physical therapy before going to surgery in hopes of strengthening to prevent surgery. I just wanted to run ( such a typical runner logic) so therapy seemed great by me. I got a brace to wear that stabilized me knee cap and I had combined therapy for my ankles as well.

During college cheerleading, I was thrown up into a stunt that worked perfect. Unfortunately, for the dismount, they just let go of my foot sending me crashing down on my ankle. This fractured my ankle in three places and I was not aware until 3 months of torture because the trainer thought it was a sprain.

Listen to your body!
I knew it was not right. I had an MRI finally showing it was still fractured in my ankle and foot. After wearing a boot for what seemed forever and going through physical therapy yet again, I dreamed about running all the time but was too worried to start.

I had been what I like to call, an Ellipticizer, mostly since last July. During recovery, it was the least impact-exercise that I could do. After hearing about friends starting to race and giving me encouragement, I randomly decided to run again in July and it felt amazing at first. One month later, I dislocated my kneecap on a short tempo run. I found myself wearing another brace and faced with MRI’s and physical therapy again.

I decided to do it on my own this time because I have learned so much about myself and from physical therapy, Why not put it to use? I felt that instead of going to yet another rehab/over-train/injure/rehab/ cycle, I will learn from my mistakes and get my legs stronger and save the medical bills!

I have been running happily since October and wanted to share with all of you what helps me! 

Simply put: I rested. I strengthened my knees. I stretched. I cross-trained. 

My biggest tool is my motivation. I spent so much time “recovering” and literally unable to run, that it built a motivation monster. When something like heading out of your house for a jog is taken away from you, it made me feel like a victim. I never want to feel like a victim, I run because I can. Find motivation for you, a goal event to be in shape for, a race to run in, whatever it is, there is something you can use to motivate you and focus on that when it gets hard to keep going.

More tools: stretching and strengthening for your knees and ankles!

Here are only a few exercises from my physical therapy stints. I try to do these daily still, if not, 3 times a week. The best part (and I think everyone will enjoy this) you can do them watching TV! 

Straight Leg lift

Start with your legs out in front, the non-lifted leg bent to stabilize.
1 BLOG 018
Lift your straight leg, keeping it straight and hold it just below the knee of your bent leg for 5 seconds. ( notice the lifted knee cap is flattened)
 1 BLOG 027
Return it to the ground. When you return it to the ground, let it settle slowly, meaning you will see your kneecap release.

Repeat on this leg for a set of 10-15. Start out low and increase repetitions as needed. Repeat with other leg.

Heel Drags

Start with either laying down or propped on elbows, with your legs out in front.
 1 BLOG 031
Drag the heel of your leg toward your butt, keeping the other on the ground. 1 BLOG 029
You will feel this exercise more in your hamstring ( notice just below my knee but before my hamstring is flexed, this helps the outer and inner knee ligaments/muscles).
1 BLOG 030
All the way up to your butt ( or as far as you can). Notice my sock coming off- I intentionally kept this photo to emphasize that you keep your heel on the ground the entire time. 

Repeat: Bringing leg back to the starting position, repeat same leg and then the other for sets of 10-15

Tense and Hold

This is fairly “easy”.

Sit with legs, both straight out in front. 1 BLOG 031
Now tense your quad, as hard as you can.
1 BLOG 032
Hold it for at least 5 seconds in that tense position. Look at the kneecaps- They flex and straighten as you do this exercise.

Repeat 10 times.
(Here is a side view up close of one knee)
1 BLOG 033

1 BLOG 034



I write the alphabet with my ankle. Using my toe as a pencil, I lift my leg in the air or just have it out in front of me and I write the imaginary alphabet. Here is a “C “
1 BLOG 037 1 BLOG 038 1 BLOG 039 1 BLOG 040
Toe Scrunching:

You can use a towel under your toes of an object of reference, but scrunch your toes up and hold them there for 5-10 seconds. Repeating ( I do about 20 times).
1 BLOG 035 1 BLOG 036
( the photo wasn’t as clear with my sock so excuses my unmanicured toes!)

This is probably the most important that I do because your IT Band stretches from your hip, across the kneecap, and down towards your shin. Clearly important for running and often causes the most problems due to lack of stretching. 

IT Band Stretches:

You will need some type of structure to hold on to. No worries though, it really could be anything, I use trees outside, benches, a chair, the treadmill arms, a wall.

Stretching Left Side:
1 BLOG 016 

Stretching Left Side: position structure on your right side, holding on to it for support, cross your left foot over your right and stretch left hip out towards the left ( away from the bench).
I guess Jack really wanted to be part of this photo, he ran up and stopped just as the photo snapped! He surprised me, hence my silly face.

Stretching Right Side:
1 BLOG 022
Position the structure on your left (opposite) side. Cross your right leg over your left. Push/Hold onto structure on your left while pushing your right hip out to the right.

You should feel this from your hip, across your knee, down through your shin.

I really hope these become helpful tools for you. Happy exercising, injury-free!





9 responses

10 04 2009

VERY helpful, thank you!! And amen to listening to your body.

10 04 2009

AWESOME!! TYVM! This will be very helpful.

10 04 2009

THANK YOU for these tips!

10 04 2009

hi hun
thanks for sharing your story, im so glad it had a happy ending with you being the fantastic runner you are now 🙂
and thanks for sharing the streches, theyre a great helP!
have a nice friday girlie

10 04 2009

Thanks for all the stretching tips!!

10 04 2009
Lara (Thinspired)

These are great–I haven’t seen these before! Would you reccomend this stuff even if you are injury-free, as a matter of prevention? I appreciate the play-by-play shots so we know we’re doin’ em right!

10 04 2009

Thanks for the stretches!! I don’t stretch nearly enough, but I will definitely try these out. Your dog is really cute 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story and have a good weekend!

10 04 2009

Great message. You’ve been through a lot! So good that you’re really taking care of yourself and listening to your body 🙂

11 04 2009
Lesley Borger

Thanks for sharing your own story, what a great post!

Thanks for the stretches, too, I never know what I should be doing for stretches.

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