Knees are the most commonly injured joints in the body, and almost 50 million Americans could attest to this. Simple, everyday things like walking to the mailbox, climbing stairs and even getting into your car can really hurt your mobility. Don’t let this set you back and discourage you, it’s not too late. With some TLC and the right exercises, you can bring your knees back to life. The right exercises and stretches can help prevent your joints from stiffening and will help in reducing pain, which in turn will make moving around easier for you, thus improving your quality of life. By exercising the muscles surrounding the knees – Quadriceps (front of the thigh), Hamstrings (back of the thigh), Adductors (inner thighs), and Abductors (outer thigh) – you can help keep your knees strong, while possibly preventing any further injury. To make moving around easier, you want to make sure you exercise these muscles a couple times a week. It’ll help provide the support you need and keep your joints from stiffening up on you.
Below is a list you can try to both strengthen and stretch the areas around your knees:
- Knee Flexion: Sitting in a chair, loop a long towel under your right foot (resting on the floor). Gently pull on the towel with both hands to bend the knee, raising your foot 4 – 5 inches off the floor. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds, then release. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
- Chair Knee Extension: Sitting in a chair, rest your foot on another chair so the knee is slightly raised. Gently push the raised knee toward the floor using only leg muscles. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds and release. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
- Hamstring Stretch: Standing, put one foot in front of you, toes up. With your hands on the small of your back (or one hand holding a chair for balance), bend the opposite knee and hip (not your lower back), until you feel the hamstrings stretch. The upper body comes forward at the hip. Hold for 5 -10 seconds, then release. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
- Heel Slide Knee Extension: Lie on your back, with your left knee bent and your left foot flat on the floor. Slowly slide the left heel away from your body so both legs are parallel. Hold for 5-10 seconds, return to starting position. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
- Wall Slide (Quadriceps): Leaning with your back against a wall, bend your knees 30°, sliding down the wall, then straighten up again. Move slowly and smoothly, using your hands on the wall for balance. Keep your feet and legs parallel, and do not let your knees to go out over your toes. Repeat 5 -10 times.
- Bent – Leg Raises (Quadriceps): Sitting in a chair, straighten one leg in the air (without locking the knee). Hold for about one minute. Bend your knee to lower the leg about halfway to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to starting position. Work up to 4 reps on each leg.
- Straight – Leg Raises (Quadriceps): Sitting in a chair, rest your foot on another chair. Lift the foot a few inches off the chair while keeping your leg straight. Hold for 5 -10 seconds. Return to resting position. Repeat 5 -10 times. (Also work on increasing the time, up to 2-3 minutes if possible.)
- Abductor Raise (outer thigh): Lie on your side, propped on one elbow. The leg on the floor needs to be bent, the other straight. Slowly lift the top leg, holding for about for 5 -10 seconds, then lower. (Ankle weights are optional and will increase the intensity). Do 1-3 sets with 12-15 repetitions each. Remember to always rest in between sets.
- Hamstring Curl: Stand with the front of your thighs against a surface (a table or wall). Flex one knee up as far as is comfortable. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds, then lower slowly. If possible, do not touch the floor between repetitions. (Ankle weights are optional and will increase the intensity.) Do 1-3 sets with 12-15 repetitions each. Remember to always rest in between sets.
- Step-Ups (Quadriceps): Stand in front of a sturdy bench or a flight of stairs, about two feet high (or lower if you’re more comfortable). Step up onto the support with your right foot, straighten your knees fully (without locking them), tap the bench with your left foot and step down. Maintain a controlled steady pace. Start with 1 minute, slowly building your time up. Repeat with your left foot.
Stationary biking is also a great way to increase strength around your knee area and increase your range of motion. It is important to make sure you have the right positioning of the legs before starting. The bike seat, when you’re standing next to it, should come up to your upper thigh to hip area. Start with 10 minutes on a light resistance, slowly increasing your time and resistance as you get more comfortable.
Depending on your level of discomfort and current activity level, three strengthening and three stretches are a good starting point – three to four times a week. Stretches should be done daily to loosen up your achy joints and loosen up any stiffness you might have. Some people have even found Yoga to be very beneficial to aching joint pain.
Just keep this in mind: The more support your joints have, the less stress you’ll put on them. Muscles are what support your joints and bodily movement, so without exercise, they’ll keep working harder and harder and causing more and more pain. The more you weigh, the more stress you’re putting on them too… so do yourself and your joints a favor by starting to exercise now – you may even be able to throw those pain medications away!
Leave me a comment below if you suffer from joint pain – I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and what has or has not worked for you.