While knee pain can affect people of all ages, many people start to experience this type of joint pain in middle age and beyond. (One reason: Knee injuries and diseases like knee osteoarthritis — a form of "wear-and-tear" arthritis — can become more common with age.)
While it may sound counterintuitive, one of the best things you can do for knee pain is to exercise. That's because weak muscles are a major cause of knee injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic, and strengthening the muscles around your knees can help the joint work more effectively.
Always talk to your doctor before starting a new workout — especially if you've had prior injuries or have a current medical condition, like arthritis. After you get the green light from your practitioner, consider adding these three knee exercises, from Cris Dobrosielski, CSCS, a consultant for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and owner of Monumental Results in San Diego, California, to add to your weekly fitness routine.
Ideally, you should start your workout with 5 to 10 minutes of cardio — either walking on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike, says Dobrosielski. For each exercise, try to do 1 set of 10 reps.
Step-ups work the muscles in your inner thighs, which tend to be weak in most people, but are very important for knee health, says Dobrosielski.
What you'll need: A plyometric box
Step 1: Choose a plyometric box that's about 6 inches tall and position it on the ground in front of you.
Step 2: Step on the box with your right foot using your heel and mid-foot and pause at the top of the lift.
Step 3: Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly lower your left foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side for 1 rep.
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Hip extensions work your hips, glutes, and abdominal muscles, according to ACE.
What you'll need: A yoga mat
Step 1: Start in a modified push-up position, with your arms directly under your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
Step 2: Keeping a strong core, lift your right leg toward the ceiling, maintaining your bent-knee position. (The sole of your foot should be parallel with the ceiling.)
Step 3: Slowly lower your right leg to the starting position. Do another 9 reps, then repeat on your left side.
Hip hinges work the glutes and hamstrings, two muscle groups that help the knee work properly, says Dobrosielski.
Step 1: Standing with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent, push your hips backward while bringing your torso forward. (Your body should "hinge" forward, much like a bridge, says Dobrosielski.)
Step 2: Slowly push your hips forward to return to the starting position. That's 1 rep.
After a workout, you can also do these stretches:
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Standing upright, bend your right knee and lift your right leg toward your buttock. Then, grab your shin (not your ankle) with your hand and continue lifting your leg so that it's perpendicular to the ground (or as far as you can). Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat with the left leg. If you need extra support, Dobrosielski recommends holding on to bar at the gym or to the side of your bed at home.
Lying Hamstring Stretch
What you'll need: A yoga mat and towel
Lie on your back with your left leg bent at the knee and the right leg straight up in the air. Loop a yoga strap or towel around your right foot. Keeping your right foot flexed, gently pull on the strap with your arms to stretch your hamstring muscles. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat with the left leg.
Dobrosielski also recommends using a Styrofoam roller to iron out the muscles on the front of the thigh — especially the IT band, or the lateral part of the thigh. "Use it gently, like a rolling pin, to massage those muscles," he says. "This will help stretch and release the tension that gets stored in that tissue."
Looking for more suggestions? Here are 16 gentle exercises for people with arthritis.
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