Knee injuries are common among athletes, particularly dancers and runners. Most people will experience some knee pain at least once in their lives. There are several different causes for knee pain, including arthritis, injury to the ligaments or cartilage, tendonitis, bursitis, an infection, and a tumour.
Exercise can work like medicine for chronic and transient knee pain, but in some cases, it works better than medicine. According to experts at the New York Hospital – Cornell Medical Center, “Strengthening the muscles around the joint reduces the pressure on the knee, thus reducing the chances of injury.”
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Common Causes of Knee Pain
A variety of factors can cause knee pain. The three most common causes are PFPS, injury to the ligaments or cartilage, and tendonitis.
- PFPS is due to overuse or misuse of the knee. The pain is usually described as an ache deep in the joint, which worsens when participating in physical activity. The pain can also be increased when the knee is bent and repeatedly straightened, such as when getting up from a chair.
- An injury to the ligaments or cartilage in the knee results in immediate pain and swelling. A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or medial collateral ligament (MCL) is an example of a knee injury.
- Tendonitis occurs when the tendons around the knee become inflamed due to overuse and irritation. The pain begins gradually and gets worse as physical activity continues.
Exercise: Why it Matters
Knee exercises help reduce pain and strengthen muscles, which helps prevent future injuries. Stretching, weight training, and cardiovascular exercises are beneficial for treating knee pain.
- Stretching helps reduce tightness in the muscles around the knee, increasing pressure on the kneecap if it is misaligned or not properly supported by other muscles.
- Weight training increases muscle strength, which supports the knee and helps prevent future injury.
- Cardiovascular exercise, such as running or cycling, strengthens the heart and other muscles in the legs. This increases overall strength and improves balance and coordination, which can reduce injuries to other parts of the body.
Best Exercises for Knee Pain
- Calf stretches- (for PFPS) Stretch the muscles in your lower leg-the calves-by standing with one leg on a step and bending the other knee, keeping your heel on the ground. Bend forward at the waist until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
- Leg extensions – This type of weight training exercise works the quadriceps and hamstrings, the muscles in the front and back of the thighs. Set up two chairs about one stride apart or about one leg’s length away from each other. Stand on only one leg and place your hands on the chairs for support. Lower your body as far as you comfortably can, keeping your other leg outstretched. Press through the heel of the down leg until it is fully extended. Repeat 10-15 times for two sets with each leg.
- Scissor kicks – This exercise works many of the muscles in the legs, particularly those around the hips and thighs. Lie on your back on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you. Keep one leg straight and bend the other knee, placing that foot near your hip. Tighten the stomach muscles and lift the straight leg about 6 inches off the floor while simultaneously lifting the bent knee 6 inches off the ground. Cross the lifted leg over to tap or lightly touch the other bent knee. Keep your head and shoulders on the floor while you perform this exercise. Repeat ten times for two sets with each leg.
- Side leg raises- This is a great way to build strength in the hips and thighs and core stability. Lie on your left side, propping yourself up with your left elbow. Rest your head on your left hand. Keep your legs straight and together, and then raise the right leg about 12 inches off the floor. Lower the leg under control to start position if just performed one rep, or lower it down if performing full reps. Perform 10-15 reps with each leg for two sets, resting for 30 seconds before switching sides.
Best Exercises for Knee Pain Knee exercises do not have to be difficult or painful. Try these simple stretches and weight training exercises twice a week. Stretching before exercise helps muscles move through their full range of motion, preventing injury and increasing strength and endurance. Warm-up for at least five minutes to get your blood flowing and your joints ready to move through their full range of motion.
Worst Exercises for Knee Pain
- Squats- This is a great exercise that works the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, supporting the knee. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart to squats, and your toes turned slightly outward. Slowly lower your body as if you are sitting back into a chair until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause at the bottom of the movement for one second, then slowly raise yourself back up to the starting position. When you are lowering your body, keep your back straight and focus your gaze slightly in front of you. Keep the movement controlled but not too slow. Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets with each leg.
- Knee Extension -This exercise works the quadriceps, which run along both sides of the thigh and help support the knee. You can do this exercise in a seated or standing position, whichever is most comfortable for you. Use a resistance band and anchor it to a secure spot on the floor at ankle level. Place your right hand against your chest and grasp the top of the band in your left hand. Keep both legs straight without locking your knees, and slowly pull the band toward you until both arms are fully extended. Slowly resist the band back to starting position. Repeat 10-15 times for two sets with each leg.
- Calf Raises – This exercise works the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, which run along the backs of your lower calves and help support your knees. Stand about two feet in front of a sturdy chair or bench, and face away from it. Slowly lean forward to place your hands on the top of the chair with just one foot between them behind you. Keep that leg straight while keeping both heels pressed into the floor. Lift your body onto your toes, hold for two seconds, then slowly lower down so that your heels are resting on the floor again. Repeat 10-15 times for two sets with each leg.
- Side lunges – This exercise works the quads, glutes and hamstring muscles, all of which help support your knees. You are standing upright while holding the resistance band just below shoulder height to your right side to do this exercise. Step out to the right side about three feet with your right foot. Keep both knees straight but not locked, and slowly lower your body until you feel a stretch in the front of the left leg. Hold for two seconds, then push through your heel to raise yourself back up to a standing position. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg for two sets.
- Balance/Coordination Exercises These exercises improve balance and coordination, which can help prevent falls and knee injuries. To do these exercises, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and focus on a specific point in front of you at eye level for 30 seconds to one minute. Repeat three times and switch sides.
The worst exercises put repeated pressure on the knee, such as deep squats or running.