Ten of the Best Strengthening Exercises for Knee Pain

Ten of the Best Strengthening Exercises for Knee Pain

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Why Exercise Helps Your Knees

The strongest joints in your body are your knees. They must support your entire body weight, keeping you stable while you walk, run, jump, lift, and bend. Knees also allow you to be able to stand and sit. Sad to say, knees are also the joints most vulnerable to injury. Outside of direct damage from an impact, a significant source of pain in the knee is weak ligaments and muscles surrounding the joint, causing instability. It’s important to stabilize and strengthen your knees, reducing pain while growing your range of motion, bolstering the muscle groups that support them. Let’s take a quick look at how your knees are put together:

The Bones

The knee joint forms at the meeting of four bones, the femur (thigh bone), the fibula and tibia (the lower leg), and the patella (kneecap) which, when you bend your knee, slides over the top of the joint.

The Ligaments

Giving support and stability to your knees are the ligaments, tendons, and muscles surrounding them. Ligaments and tendons are like tethers made of fibrous connective tissue, which you can think of as very tough rubberbands. Tendons basically hold your muscles to your bones, while ligaments attach bone to bone and usually serve as a way to hold structures together, keeping them stable. The major ligaments include the cruciate ligaments running across the anterior (front) and posterior (back) of the knee. Along both sides are collateral ligaments. In the news, no doubt you’ve heard stories of athletes who have damaged – “torn” – their anterior cruciate ligament, or the ACL. The ACL joins the thigh bone to the lower leg, running underneath the patella.

The Muscles

Also supporting the knees are multiple large muscle groups. Quadriceps, the large muscles on the front of your thigh, straighten your knee when walking or standing. Around the back, hamstrings run behind the knee and hook up to the tibia and fibula (two bones of the lower leg) and allow you to bend the knee. The muscles that remain, supporting knee movement are the glutes (the muscles of your buttocks), hip abductors and adductors (inner thigh and outer thigh, respectively), and the calf muscles.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Wall Slides

These strengthen the tissues and ligaments above the knee, and the quadriceps.

How to do them: Stand 12-18 inches away from the wall; lean backward until the entire back connects with the wall. Place hands out to the side with palms towards the wall for support. Slowly begin sliding down the wall until you reach a 30-degree angle. Hold that position for 10-15 seconds. Slowly, return to the standing position. Repeat a minimum of 5-10 times.

Caution: Do not slide down to the point where your knees extend out beyond the toes; if they do, STOP. Reposition your feet slightly further from the wall.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Seated Straight-leg Raises

These raises strengthen the hip flexors and quadriceps.

How to do them: Place two chairs facing together. Sit in one and place a foot on the other. Straighten that leg, lifting your foot 4-6 inches off the chair. Hold for a minimum of 5-10 seconds. Then relax. Do this exercise 5-10 times per leg. Try to increase the time you keep your foot off the chair.

Variations: If you can’t use chairs, you can do this exercise flat on the floor, with one leg straight and the other leg bent, with your foot on the floor, flat. As you increase in strength, you can wear ankle weights to make it more difficult.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Seated Bent-leg Raises

Strengthens the ligaments surrounding the joint, and the quadriceps just above the knee.

How to do them: While seated, straighten one leg out in front of you. Stop just short of locking your knee. Hold the raised leg in position for 1 minute. This will also get your hip flexors involved, strengthening them. Without your thigh moving, bend the knee until your leg is at a 45-degree angle. Hold that position for 30 more seconds. Relax. Then repeat with the other leg. Alternate legs until you have completed 4 reps each.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Abductor Raises

Strengthens the muscles that move your leg away (the abductors) from your center line.

How to do them: Lying on your side, keep your legs together, and let your arm bend at the elbow, supporting your head. Flex the lower leg at the knee, supporting your body. While keeping it straight, lift your upper leg slowly up, away from the mat. For 5-10 seconds, hold it at the top, then slowly lower. Repeat for 12-15 repetitions.

Caution: Don’t swing the leg up; avoid momentum. Slowly lift, hold, lower, then repeat. As you become stronger, you can add ankle weights to increase the difficulty.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Standing Hamstring Curls

Strengthens the tissues behind your knee and your hamstrings.

How to do them: Stand against a low wall, or the back of a chair. Bend a knee as you bring the foot up toward the buttocks. Keep the knee pointed toward the floor throughout the movement. Keep the foot raised near the buttocks for 5-10 seconds. Then, slowly lower the foot until it barely touches the floor. Repeat for 12-15 reps; work towards 1 to 3 sets for each leg. As you get stronger, consider adding ankle weights to ramp up the efficacy and difficulty.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Step-ups

Strengthens all of the muscles that support your knees and your entire lower body.

How to do them: Simulating stair climbing is what step-ups do. Standing in front of a sturdy object (such as an exercise step) which is 12-18 inches in height, place one foot on the step. Slowly step up while keeping the knee fixed over your foot. Step up with the opposing foot until you are standing on the step. Then step one foot back down, and then the other one. The sequence should go – up, up, then down, down. As you progress in strength, consider increasing your step height and difficulty. Perform step-ups for at least a minute, and slowly go a little bit longer each workout.

Caution: If you experience pain in your knee or find that you can’t maintain a steady pace for the length of time you’d like, try lowering the step height.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Stationary bike

Strengthens knee ligaments and hamstrings while increasing your motion range, without impact.

How to do them: The bike seat must be set at the appropriate height in order to ride safely and effectively. Too high, and your hips will wobble. Too low, and you may damage your knees, and shorten your muscles, not to mention your range of motion. Make sure when your foot is at the bottom of your pedal stroke, the leg is mostly straight, with the knee maintaining a 15-degree angle. Your starting goal for cycling should be around 10 minutes a day, with a light resistance. Add an extra minute every day until you reach your desired goal.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Quad Clenches

These isometric exercises strengthen the tissues and ligaments surrounding the knee as well as the quadriceps.

How to do them: Quad clenches strengthen the area around the knee, yet without requiring you to actually move the leg or knee. It also helps promote fully straightening the knee. While lying on your back, flat, or sitting upright on the bed or floor, hold your leg and knee straight. As you do, tighten your quadriceps muscle (on the front of the thigh) and push your knee downward as you lock your knee straight. You will notice your kneecap move upward as you clench (tighten) your thigh muscles. Hold for at least 3 seconds and perform 12 to 15 reps for each leg.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Short Arcs

This move strengthens the surrounding ligaments and your quadriceps. This is a terrific knee rehab exercise after surgery or knee injury.

How to do them: Seated on the floor, bed, or lying flat, roll a towel up and put it under your knee. Focus on pulling your toes towards your body. As you tighten your quadriceps, slowly raise your foot off the bed slightly. Keep your knees in contact with your towel as you raise your foot for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 10-15 times per knee. To crank up the difficulty and efficacy, use a thicker towel, and as you get stronger, consider wearing an ankle weight.

10 Of The Best Exercises For Knee Pain

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Seated Knee Marching

These strengthen your quadriceps and increase your knee’s range of motion and flexibility. Like Short Arcs, these are also good rehab exercises after a knee injury. They are also a smart choice for the elderly.

How to do them: Seated in a chair, place your feet flat on the floor ahead of you. Lift a leg up slowly as you angle the knee toward the ceiling. Lower the leg and repeat for the opposing leg. It’s like marching with “high knees” while seated, avoiding pressure and keeping your weight off of them. Continue for at least a minute. Perform this exercise whenever you experience knee stiffness.

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