Of all the possible injuries experienced by bowlers, knee injuries are the most common. That is why so many bowlers, regardless of age, wear a supportive brace or kinesiology tape on their knee as their primary tool to reduce pain. But where does it come from? Why do so many bowlers worldwide suffer from knee pain, most of them ending up lying on an operating table? In this article, we will go through the main factors provoking knee pain for bowlers, basic knee injuries in bowling, and how to prevent knee pain.
It is clear why bowlers suffer from knee pain just by observing the biomechanics of bowling sport. Combine the speed a bowler makes while approaching, a slide with a 7-kilogram weight ball, and a sudden stop on a bended knee. You will end up with a force way over your body weight. That force causes a tremendous amount of stress that your knee has to handle. And this is only the case when the bowler performs a technically correct and stable shot (which clearly doesn't happen every time). The repetitive nature of bowling makes things even worse.
The main factors of knee pain in bowling
There can be countless reasons why a bowling athlete suffers from knee pain, like previous knee injuries or being overweight, but some of them are the most common.
Bad slide - as we mentioned before, sliding knee experiences an immense amount of force at the foul line. And a bad slide can increase it even more. Too much slide can cause posterior knee pain, as bowlers tend to lunge and lean back while making a shot. The restricted slide is even worse. Sudden stops with a great force on your knee can end up in severe injuries, like ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament) tear.
Overuse - training and tournaments are great. As long as they are done in moderation. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons of a knee can be easily overused in bowling, causing inflammation. Inflammation itself will lead to pain and swollen knee, forcing you to skip bowling for several weeks.
Speed - an approach with too much speed makes your body make a drastic stop at the foul line, creating an unnecessary force for your knee to handle. Bowling is not a sprint - take your time and try to perform a slower, more controllable approach. Imagine what could happen to a bowler's knee with too much speed and restricted slide at the foul line... Ouch.
Bad release position - bad balance and all harsh movements like turns, twists, internal rotation, and vast pressure will eventually cause knee pain.
Basic knee injuries in bowling
Pain is basically a signal from your body that something is not right. You must pay great attention here, as knee pain can be caused by something far more serious. Here are the most common knee injuries and diseases of bowlers.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (a.k.a. Runner's Knee) - is a fairly broad term used to describe a group of disorders that are commonly experienced by people who do a lot of physical activity. This problem is characterized by a dull, stinging pain on the inside of the knee that gets worse when walking, climbing stairs, running, or standing up and sitting down. Runner's knee is most often caused by overexertion and frequent knee bending. In this way, the knee joint begins to wear out, the muscles overstretch, and the joint becomes vulnerable to injuries. Pain on the inner side of the knee subsides with rest, but often comes back when you return to physical activity.
Patellar Tendinitis - it occurs due to constant overloading of the patellar ligament, causing micro-tears of the ligament and inflammation. After the onset of patellar ligament tendinitis, local pain and swelling at the top of the patella occur. Local swelling and a burning sensation may come about, especially when kneeling and standing up from a squat position.
Meniscal Tear - the meniscus is a plate of fibrocartilage located in the knee joint between the tibia and femur bones. It performs the function of shock absorption, load transmission and increases knee joint stability. Although meniscal tears can be classified as degenerative or acute, degenerative ones are more typical in bowling. Degenerative meniscal tear mainly results from overactivity, weakness and tightness of surrounding muscles, and poor pre-bowling exercise. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for a degenerative meniscal tear because of the reduced blood flow into the area, making healing a slow and gradual process that can take up to 6 months without bowling.
Knee Ligament Tear - another major injury that can happen while bowling. Despite the fact that there are four main ligaments in the knee, two of them - ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament) and PCL (Posterior cruciate ligament) - are injured for the most part. ACL is located in the front of the knee and is responsible for resisting abnormal forward movement of the tibia. Due to the biomechanics of bowling sport and sudden stops at the foul line, ACL receives the lion’s share of all ligament injuries. PCL, on the other hand, is located in the back of the knee, and does the opposite, preventing the tibia from sliding backwards. PCL tear can happen when the bowler's slide is too long, making the athlete lean back to keep his weight centered.
How to prevent knee pain and injuries?
As you already know, knee pain and injuries in bowling are usually caused by a number of factors, not just one acute trauma. That is why you must take into consideration the fact, that prevention is always the best medicine in bowling. Here are some tips we consider as best to keep your knees healthy and painless.
Get your bowling shoes with a good fit. Although many bowlers would rather buy just another bowling ball to pick up more strikes, every bowling coach would recommend getting a good pair of bowling shoes first. Bowling shoes help maintain a steady throw, balance, and prevent injuries. There are several bowling shoe types, but we've picked some of the best affordable bowling shoes to start with.
Get rid of a bowling sock. A bowling sock is just a cheap version of a high-number bowling shoe pad, making you slide more than you should. Every bowler is different and their slide must be adjusted to their needs and technique. On top of that, choosing the right bowling shoe pad and heel is crucial to avoid bad slide and sudden stops at the foul line. No sock can assure that.
Maintain your bowling shoes. While not in use, shoes must be covered with shoe covers. This rule also applies when walking off the lane, during warm-up, etc. Just don't forget to take it off before the throw. During the game, the slide pad covers with dust or lane oil residues, so after each throw, it is worth refreshing it with a brush - this way, the slide pad will last much longer. We've made some other high value tips to maintain your shoes in another article.
Warm-up and stretch before and after bowling. Most athletes don't know the difference between warm-up and stretch. Warm-up is used to bring the body’s temperature up slowly and loosen up the muscles, while the stretch is done in order to improve overall flexibility. Do warm up first and then stretch to decrease tension on your tendons, ultimately relieving pressure on the knees.
Maintain your body weight. Extra weight puts more stress on your knees and increases the chances of knee injuries. That is why beer bellies in the bowling community seem to be coming to an end. Many top-shelf bowlers noticed nutrition's significant part in helping to enjoy bowling longer. We've made some helpful nutrition tips for you too.