Knee problems can stem from loads of factors, and if you have ruled out any significant trauma or degeneration, this post will make some strong assumptions as to why surfing could be trashing your knees.
If you surf and you do have a knee problem, the first strong assumption is that your trailing leg is the one suffering. So if you’re natural footed, it’s probably your right knee, and if you’re goofy, it’s probably your left knee. If I am wrong, stop reading this post because I have no idea what I’m talking about.
When we get into a surfing (or skateboarding) stance, the back knee caves inward (medically termed valgus collapse). This is a deliberate technique required for good surfing and not something we want to change, but it does create stress on the inside of the knee since there is less muscular support and greater expectation on the ligaments to take on the job of stabilising your knee. This can lead to knee pain or injury since knee tissue gets more and more degenerated.
When you stand on the board, your hips rotate toward the back foot (i.e natural footers have hips rotated to the right) while the torso rotates toward the front foot. Over time this creates imbalanced loading through the spine, hips, knees, ankles.These factors are significant and the effects accumulate slowly.
Picture to the left: Valgus collapse occurring in this surfer’s knees. The knee and ankle of the back leg fall inward, placing stress on inner knee and ankle support structures.
There are other factors, apart from the obvious wipe-out or impact forces, which can cause strain on the inside of the knee and therefore pain. These include; lack of lateral hip stability (a weak ass), lack of hip mobility (you’re a yoga hater), lack of ankle stability (feet rolling inward = knee falling inward) and lack of ankle mobility (you can’t squat to save your ass). Restricted mobility above the knee (hip) and below the knee (ankle), means the knee has to compensate to get into your funky surf positions. Soft tissue work to free up tight tissue, mobility work to get more range, stability work to get foundations of strength and strength/power work to become superhuman is all you need to do really!
For a more in depth post on knee issues and DIY rehab techniques, click on Knee Problems in Sport and Exercise.
For surf-specific strength training and tips, check out WORLDSURF.COM and give the workouts on there a go, and if you’re after surf-specific flexibility and mobility, take a look at my book FLUID SURFER.