No matter how excited you are about a vacation, sitting in cramped quarters for hours upon endless hours can try just about anyone's patience. If you have knee pain, sitting in a car can make it worse, which means you could be stuck beginning a vacation suffering from aching joints. Exercising your knees while you travel can help you loosen up the muscles and prevent muscle cramps, reducing your risk of travel-related pain.
No matter how eager you are to get to your final destination, if you arrive in misery, your trip won't be everything you've envisioned. Taking frequent breaks from the car can help you keep your joints and muscles limber. Aim for a rest stop every hour or two. During stops, try taking a brisk walk around the gas station or rest area to get your knees moving. Then stand up straight and pull your right foot back so that your calf rests against the back of your thigh. Hold for about 30 seconds then repeat with the other leg.
Keeping your ankles stable can help you maintain proper knee alignment, and it's easy to stretch your ankles in the car. Try sitting in the backseat, where you have more room, then extending your legs straight out across the seat. Lift one leg slightly off of the seat, supporting it with your hand if you need to. Then roll your ankle clockwise 10 times and counterclockwise 10 times. For a more challenging stretch, try making each letter of the alphabet with your big toe. Then switch sides and exercise the other ankle following the same routine.
Stretching your quadriceps and hamstrings can help loosen up your knees and reduce pain when you get out of the car. Sitting in the backseat, with your legs extended straight across the seat, slowly lift one leg about 12 inches off of the seat, and hold for five to 10 seconds. Then repeat with the other leg, aiming for five to 10 reps on each side. Next, put a small pillow or rolled-up towel under one knee, with your legs still extended straight. Point and flex your foot, then lift your foot and lower leg off of the seat, keeping your knee against the pillow. Repeat with the other leg.
Your knee itself is a joint, so can't really be stretched, but you can stretch the tendons, ligaments and muscles directly around it, and doing so can help stop your knees from aching. Try moving your seat back as far as it will go or moving to the backseat. With your feet flat on the ground, lift your knee toward your chest, bending as you do so, then hold for 30 seconds. Then, keeping your feet flat, lift your foot off of the ground and extend your leg straight out, and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with each knee. You can also do these exercises sitting on a bench during a rest stop.
- Joshua Hickman, M.D.: Physical Therapy After Your Total Knee Replacement
- Stretching Anatomy; Arnold G. Nelson, et al.
- Boeing: Seated Exercises and Stretches
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.