Even the fittest of us can experience knee pain during activity and exercise. If you’re feeling discouraged about getting back into shape because of knee pain, you’re not alone: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly half of all Americans will suffer from knee arthritis at some point. That includes two out of three obese Americans.
But don’t let a little discomfort push you off track. Sometimes targeting the area, gently and safely, with some basic exercises for knee pain is the best recourse—as long as you check with a doctor first.
Why Do Your Knees Hurt to Begin With?
Many factors can contribute to knee pain—bad posture, certain shoes, and excess pressure on the joints are all possible culprits. But there are also a number of diseases and conditions of which knee pain may be a symptom. According to chiropractor Josh Axe, D.N.M., these include—but are not limited to—chronic knee pain including rheumatic arthritis, Lyme disease, lupus, and even psoriasis. Because of this, we recommend seeing a doctor or physical therapist instead of guessing at the cause of your pain—and potentially exacerbating it.
How to Exercise When You Have Knee Pain
Once you’ve met with a doctor and have been cleared to exercise, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following three strategies that may help alleviate and prevent future knee pain.
- Strengthen the muscles around your aching joints to help brace them for the load.
- Maintain strength in your bones. One of the reasons why you’re in pain may be because the joints aren’t used to being exercised.
- Lose excess body weight, removing one potential source of stress from your joints with consistent exercise that’s safe for your knees.
Assuming you get the go-ahead from your doctor, here are some basic exercises for knee pain you can most likely do without causing discomfort or further injury.
Stretches for knee pain
Stretching, warming up and cooling down are particularly important when training through discomfort like knee pain. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has an insightful guide to stretching out the knees before a workout, including:
STANDING QUAD STRETCH
You’ve probably done this a zillion times without knowing the benefits.
- Standing with your feet hip-width apart, bend your right knee so that your heel nears your right butt cheek, and grab the top of your foot.
- Keep knees close together, press your hip forward, and stretch the front of your hip and knee for 30-60 seconds.
- Reverse the stretch and switch sides.
These will get you ready for a more strength-oriented knee rehabilitation program too.
- Stand with your right foot extended about a foot in front of you, heel flexed upward.
- Hinge at the hip and bend your torso toward the right thigh. Square your hips and straighten the right leg, flexing the toes up.
- Aim for 30-60 seconds of stretching around the back of the knee, then switch sides.
Leg-strengthening exercises for knee pain
You might find that the mere act of daily stretching goes a long way toward soothing your achy knees. Weekly strength training will also help you to go an extra mile toward stabilizing the muscles and joints around those precious patellas.
For those experiencing knee pain, the half squat—going halfway down and holding the squat for five seconds—can be the best place to start.
• Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart
• Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body to a comfortable depth.
• Pause for five seconds, and then push yourself back up to the starting position. Do 10-15 reps.
If it gets too easy, hold five- to 10-pound dumbbells. Three sets of 10-15 perfect squats ought to do the trick.
• Lie down and hook your right foot in the band like a stirrup, with the left foot extended on the floor.
• Slowly bring your right knee to your chest, fighting the resistance of the band and keeping your pelvis square, until it’s bent at 90 degrees.
• After a beat, slowly push out to full leg extension. Do 10-15 reps and switch sides for three sets.
Performing these gentle moves and soothing stretches under a doctor’s care may potentially help rehab any minor knee problems without surgery, while allowing you all the benefits of healthy exercise and continued weight loss. Once your health practitioner gives the OK, don’t quit some of your favorite workouts because they can actually help stabilize and protect your knee from pain.