Got knee pain? You are not alone. Nearly 50 million Americans experience knee pain. Knees are the most commonly injured joints in the body due to everyday wear and tear and even more pressure for those who are more active, like runners.
Fortunately, we have the power to protect our knees. Evidence shows that exercising the areas around the knee joints (the quadriceps, hamstrings, abductor, and adductor) can make the knees stronger and less injury-prone, so you can move easier and feel less (or no) pain.
David Halsey, MD, orthopedic surgeon, says: “Having strong, flexible muscles is the best way to keep knees healthy and prevent further injury.”
Here’s what you can do to strengthen your knees — and what exercises to avoid.
Knee Pain Exercises
- Heel slide knee extension: Lie on your back, with left knee bent and left foot flat on 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.
- Knee flexion: Sitting in a chair, loop a long towel under your 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.
- Hamstring stretch: Standing, put one foot in front of you, toes up. With 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.
- Wall slide: 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 feet and legs parallel, and do not allow knees to go out over the toes. Repeat 5 -10 times.
- Abductor Raise: Lie on your side, propped on one elbow. The leg on the floor bent, the other straight. Slowly lift the top leg, hold for 5 -10 seconds, then lower. (Ankle weights will increase the intensity). Do 1-3 sets with 12-15 repetitions each. Remember to 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 will increase the intensity.) Do 1-3 sets with 12-15 repetitions each. Remember to rest in between sets.
Try to do these 3-4 times a week to see an impact on your knee health. Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you experience pain at any time during the exercise, stop. In any exercise you do, never bend your legs to a point where your knees stick out past your toes. That puts a lot of pressure under the kneecap.
Exercises to Avoid
A few of the following exercises can be done safely if you have chronic knee problems; they’re on this list because they’re more likely to be done improperly.
- Full-arc knee extensions
- Deep squats
- Hurdler’s stretches