Knee Knowledge & Water Work

by Cheri Kulp

As a group fitness instructor for almost 30 years (wow how time flies), teaching a variety of formats, both land and water, I’ve shared participant’s successes, failures, personal celebrations and tragedies, fitness and weight loss goals, and of course many other questions and concerns.  Undoubtedly, the chart topper has involved fear due to some type of knee pain, injury, upcoming surgery, or post-surgical movement options (of course with medical clearance.)  Pretty much anything that involves living a healthy lifestyle.

This made me wonder…is knee pain as common as my students make it seem?  Recent research shows that approximately 100 million individuals are afflicted with knee pain each year and it is the second most common cause of chronic pain.  Additionally, more women experience this chronic pain compared to men.  Knee issues are most often caused by injury, mechanical or movement problems, lifestyle choices, and diseases or medical conditions (gout, arthritis.)

Knee pain and discomfort are common issues that affect people of all ages, abilities, and stages of life.

Learning this information caused me to take a closer look at some of the other practical facts about the knee, that can be easily shared in an understandable way.

Are there different types of knee pain?

Knee pain is classified as either chronic or acute:

  • Chronic- this type is ongoing and usually lasts longer than six months. It can be considered a diseased state, lasting longer than the normal healing time.
  • Acute-this type happens suddenly as a result of a specific disease or injury and will disappear when there is no longer a cause.

What are the most common types of knee pain?

  • ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) rupture
    • More common in females and may be due to muscular strength in lower extremities, hormonal and pelvis differences, and ligament laxity
  • Strains, sprain, dislocations
  • Meniscus tear
  • Arthritis
  • Patellar tendinitis
  • Impact from obesity

Let’s take a closer look at some these areas for a better understanding.

  • ACL or anterior cruciate ligament rupture is one of four ligaments that connect your shinbone to your thighbone. It is common in people who play basketball, soccer or other sports that require sudden changes in direction.
  • Meniscus is the tough, rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between your shinbone and thighbone. It can be torn if you suddenly twist your knee under load.
  • Patellar Tendinitis or Jumper’s Knee may be caused from irritation & inflammation of one or more tendons. The Patellar tendon runs from the kneecap to the shinbone. Often runners, skiers, cyclists, and those involved in jumping sports often experience this injury or pain
  • Arthritis is inflammation of a joint, causing pain and stiffness. It can be managed but is not curable.
  • Impact from obesity – According to medical research, carrying an extra 10 pounds of weight will cause your knees to support an additional 30-60 pounds of pressure every time you take a step. (When you walk, the pressure on your knees is 3-6 times more than your body weight).

What are the common Signs and Symptoms of knee pain?

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Limited range of motion
  • Pain at or around the knee
  • Weakness or instability

Again, I hear complaints and concerns regarding the knees in every class format I teach, however, It’s my aqua fitness participants that seem to let me know the most.  These members tell me that they are no longer able to perform land-based exercises due to a medical restriction, surgery, or they are simply incapable of dealing with the pain.  A logical question(s) usually follows: Can water-based exercise really reduce my pain? Can I really strengthen the tendons, ligaments, and muscles around my knee by participating in water-based exercises? Can I really get an effective workout in water?

The answer to each of these questions is, of course, YES, YES, and YES!

So, how can water help?

Water offers support

The buoyancy of water lifts the body up reducing stress and strain on muscles and joints lowering impact during movement.  When a person is 70% submerged, there is a general 30-50% reduction of body weight on joints.

Water can help strengthen

Water offers 12x the resistance of air (think of the water environment as a liquid gym.)

Muscular endurance (over time) gains will occur with consistent training and water helps prevent overtraining as compared to land-based exercises.

Due to the cohesive and adhesive nature of water molecules, multi-directional resistance occurs every time you enter this environment.

Water can aid in flexibility and recovery

Many post-surgical centers (rehabilitation) utilize a water environment to help patients regain range of motion and flexibility after surgery. Fear of falling is reduced as the body is held in a vertical and upright position. The cooling nature of water allows some individuals to continue to train longer without becoming overheated or fatigued.

Water tends to help to reduce inflammation of joints and ease arthritis pain temporarily.

Even though there is so much more research available, it is so exciting for me to be able to share this good news with my class participants.  I always remind my students to seek medical advice (I am not a doctor) before beginning any type of new exercise or when something out of the norm occurs, but, assuming all of this has been done, the pros

 definitely outweigh the cons, and with so many benefits, why wait? No one wants to get injured or worse!  Be proactive, take control of your workout, your health, your peace of mind.

Jump in…the water’s fine, and your knees will thank you for thinking of them!


About the Author, Cheri Kulp

Cheri Kulp has been a certified fitness professional for over 3 decades. She holds a degree in Special Education and is the Co-Founder of the successful WATERinMOTION® aqua dumbbell program, WATERinMOTION® Strength. Cheri is the Aquatics Director of New Mexico’s Sport & Wellness, a marathoner, triathlete and winner of two national bodybuilding competitions. Cheri has starred in over 30 FitPro videos and shares her vast experience by presenting at SCW MANIA® conferences nationwide.


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