Experts from several fields will warn you not to lock your knees while standing. This includes doctors, fitness trainers, tradespeople, musicians, and even many military veterans. Your mother probably told you to stand with your back straight, and that’s good advice, however she also should have said, “but keeps your knees slightly flexed,” which will allow you to avoid an assortment of ills.
Locking your knees is essentially forcing your legs to remain straight and rigid, keeping your weight on the heels of your feet. We’ve all felt the discomfort from that at one time or another, but it can have some serious ramifications. Here are five problems you might avoid by not locking your knees:
1. By hyperextending your legs and locking your knees you can over stretch the ligaments, putting excessive stress and pressure on the surface of the knee, and also making your quadriceps weaken – that big group of four muscles on the top of your thighs, including the extensor muscle that attaches to your knees. If you stand in that locked position for long periods of time it can tear or strain your ligaments and help to break down your cartilage, especially the meniscus that helps protect and move the knee. It can actually promote arthritis in the patella (the knee cap), or the knee joint.
2. Locking your knees can create too much pressure on your shins, inflaming them and causing painful shin splints. It can also extremely stress your heels, which take the weight of much of your body. Your center of gravity creates many pounds of pressure on your feet, causing your heels to support far too much mass; this can result in constant heel pain. Fitness and Wellness News points out this will also alter your overall stance and your gait, or the way you walk.
3. Locking your knees can impede the flow of blood to your brain. Soldiers sometimes pass out after standing for a long period of time. Many experience fainting after remaining with their knees locked during inspections and standing at attention; they’ll fall down face first without even knowing what hit them. And carpenter Gary Hermann tells of how he was turning a piece of wood on a lathe, standing rigidly with his knees locked. Suddenly he felt faint and had to quit and lay down for a few minutes, allowing the blood to return to his brain. It’s also not uncommon for singers in a chorus to sometimes pass out cold.
4. Many doctors suspect that locking the knees increases pressure on the vascular system throughout the legs, causing varicose and spider veins. Vascular specialists will be the first to suggest not standing with your knees locked to avoid this unsightly problem, which is more prevalent in women. It can also be caused by obesity, heredity, birth control medications, and hormonal changes during menopause, pregnancy and the onset of puberty. But the correlation is extremely strong between varicose veins and people who stand a lot, including factory workers, teachers, hair stylists, nurses, and those in the trades like carpentry.
5. Perhaps one of the most important reasons to avoid locking the knees is pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic warns pregnant women about good posture and how to relieve common back pain. As they gain weight, a woman will tend to compensate for the new forward inertia by pushing her spine back. The doctors at Mayo suggest physical activity and complementary therapy of standing straight, holding the chest high, keeping the shoulders back and relaxed, and especially never locking the knees, so the baby gets the crucial circulation. Most pregnant women tend to naturally adjust for this, but for those who keep working, this can get to be a vexing problem.
Fitness trainer Alfonso Moretti reminds his clients who stand for long periods to always slightly bend the knees, keeping the circulation through the major leg arteries. This is excellent advice for everybody, whether they’re members of a choral group, soldiers standing in line, and especially for pregnant women. It’s important to be aware of your body: Rotate your hips and alter your stance every few minutes, and pay attention to your knees so they aren’t locked to save yourself from pain.