Whether you're running yourself ragged on the treadmill or just taking the dog for a leisurely stroll, pain in your knees can sideline your workout. Exercise might be the last thing you want to do if you're suffering from the misery of knee pain, but exercise really can be the ticket to feeling better. You don't have to take up marathon running to heal your aching knees. In fact, gentle, non-jarring exercises are the best recipe for getting your exercise groove back.
Squats work your quadriceps and hamstrings and make it easier to move your knees. If you have a knee injury, though, traditional squats might be too painful. Instead, try a pull-up squat. Drape a rope or exercise band over a pull-up bar. Then grab the rope with each hand and squat downward by bending your knees and moving your butt slightly back, as if you're sitting in a chair. Use the rope to support your weight, reducing the impact on your knees, and only squat as far down as you can without feeling pain or burning.
If you don't have any exercise equipment, a bridge can be your best friend. This exercise helps to strengthen your glutes, quadriceps, abs and hamstrings, and can help stabilize your knee. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent. Then lift your hips off of the ground as far as you comfortably can. Repeat five to 10 times. As you gain strength, make this exercise more challenging by raising your hips and lifting your left shoulder off the ground. Turn slightly to the right to lift your shoulder, and balance yourself using your right arm. Then switch sides by lifting your right shoulder.
Your calves don't just make your legs look great in pumps. Weak calves can cause weak knees, and calf raises target your soleus and gastrocnemius muscles while increasing the mobility in your knee joint. Stand in front of a bar or sturdy piece of furniture and place your hands on it to maintain your balance. Then raise your heels off of the ground to stand on the balls of your feet. As you gain strength, do the exercise without holding something for stability, and then work up to holding a weight in each hand with your arms extended out.
Particularly if you have severe knee pain or injuries, stretching should be your first choice for exercise. You can't stretch your knee itself, but you can stretch the muscles that support it. Stretching your hamstrings can help reduce pain in you knee. To do this, stand up straight and put one leg on a step or stool. Lean forward, bending the knee that is on the step, until you feel a stretch. Next, stretch your quadriceps by grasping your heel and bending it backward toward your rear, then pulling slightly up until you feel a stretch. Finally, stretch your iliotibial band by lying on your back with your legs extended straight out. Slowly raise one leg until you feel a stretch, then hold for 10 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Exercises to Avoid
If you're suffering from knee pain, some exercises can leave you gasping in pain. Activities that pack a big impact, such as jumping rope and running, can cause serious problems. If you have trouble with balance or your muscles shake, avoid weight-bearing activities and exercise machines, as the pressure on your muscles can exacerbate knee pain.
- ExRx.net: Knee Articulations
- ExRx.net: What Exercises Are Best to Strengthen My Knees?
- Sports Injury Clinic: Knee Anatomy
- Stretching Anatomy; Arnold G. Nelson et al.
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.