By: Dr. Beth Templin
Having the ability to kneel is a very important skill to maintain throughout your life. Often times, people think that it is "normal" to lose this ability as you age, but it it not.
Kneeling is a vital skill to have as most people use it to get up and down from the floor successfully. People usually begin to struggle with kneeling due to pain, weakness, stiffness, or all of the above.
Once something becomes hard or uncomfortable, most people tend to avoid the activity further, which only makes the activity that much harder to perform when needed. It can become a self-fulfilling cycle.
In this example, kneeling becomes uncomfortable. You start to think that kneeling more will cause further damage so you stop doing it. Because you've stopped practicing kneeling, your body becomes weaker and stiffer and this causes more pain the next time you try to kneel.
This in turn makes you want to avoid the activity even further, which leads to more weakness and stiffness in the joint. Again, this will lead to increased pain and the inability to perform the activity when needed.
The good news is, it is absolutely possible to break that cycle and start to turn the process around. To start increasing your strength, flexibility, and ability to tolerate pressure on your knees again. It's not about forcing yourself into painful positions immediately. It will take time and practice and the right strategy.
Think of it this way, if someone wants to run their first marathon, they wouldn't go out and try to run 26.2 miles without training. That would just be foolish and you would expect them to fail. Similarly, if you haven't been able to kneel for a long time, you shouldn't expect to be able to do so again overnight.
Graded Exposure is a technique used in physical therapy to slowly introduce your body to a painful or difficult movement again. This strategy helps your body realize that just because you are fearful of causing pain by performing a certain movement, you are not actually causing harm to your body.
We start the activity by performing it at a level that only brings on minimal discomfort. So for kneeling it would be focused on adding minimal pressure to the knees in a position that is easy for you to get in and out of, to minimize fear and pain. As your body adapts and gets stronger, we increase the challenge to your knees slowly and steadily.
Your body has the amazing ability to adapt to whatever it is exposed to. It is strong and resilient. As you slowly start to reintroduce pressure to your knee joint, the body will respond by becoming stronger. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at first, but that does not mean that you are causing harm. Just the opposite, you are telling your body it needs to become tougher and more durable.
Graded Exposure has been shown to be very effective at decreasing pain and increasing independence and confidence with an activity. As mentioned earlier, kneeling needed for getting up and down from the ground, which is not only important after a fall, but also to participate in so many daily activities. Losing the ability to do so can impact your ability to stay independent long term.
If you're ready to master the ability to kneel again, check out Dr. Kim's exercise of the month by clicking HERE. She will walk you through the progression of Graded Exposure to help you regain the ability to perform this activity again!
❤ Dr. Beth
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Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ maximize their independence and fitness, so they can continue to enjoy a full and active life.