If your knees bark at you on a regular basis, you're not alone. But don't despair. Your workout program doesn't have to be limited to weight lifting a wineglass at the bar while your pals are out jogging and playing tennis. There are various exercises you can do to reduce amount of strain on your knees and help alleviate pain as well. Your barking knees just might wind up purring with pleasure.
Cardio workouts are essential for good health and a strong heart. But you don't need to pound the pavement by running, a high-impact exercise that puts a considerable amount of stress on the knees. Instead, consider a variety of low-impact exercises. You can walk, use an elliptical machine instead of a treadmill, ride a bike outdoors or a stationary bike at the gym, take a dance class or jump in the pool. Water exercise is a particularly effective way to exercise without stressing knee or other joints. As Harvard Health Publications explains, the buoyancy of the water supports your body weight, which reduces stress on muscles and joints.
"Strengthening the muscles around the joint protects you from injury by decreasing stress on the knee," says Willibald Nagner, a rehabilitation specialist in New York. This is often known as supplemental conditioning, since it is done in order to strengthen the knee area sufficiently to enable you to continue with your normal athletic activity, whether it's playing soccer or running triathlons. By building up your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes, you help protect and cushion your knees. Recommended exercises include partial squats, stepups, leg lifts, calf raises and hamstring stretches. Don't bend your legs so far that your knees stick out past your toes -- this puts an excessive amount of pressure on the kneecap area.
In addition to running events such as marathons or cross-country, sports that require sudden cutting, stopping and changes of direction, such as basketball or soccer or tennis, are particularly tough on your knees. So are higher-impact plyometric exercises that require explosive jumping. The American Council of Fitness, or ACE, cites research from a 2001 study, published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, indicating that moderate jogging is unlikely to lead to arthritis in the knees unless you have previously injured your knees. In that situation, there is a significant risk of developing arthritis if you continue to run.
Diagnosis and Treatment
"Bad knees" isn't a medical diagnosis. As Harvard Health Publications states, you need to pinpoint your specific knee condition before a doctor or physical therapist can recommend an appropriate exercise routine for you. For example, the best exercise and rehab routine for a person with runner's knee might be significantly different than for someone with arthritis or a previous ACL tear. Once you figure out why your knees hurt, you're on the road to devising an exercise routine that might alleviate, or at least not aggravate, your knee problem.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.