Knee pain makes even everyday activities more difficult, so it’s no wonder that most people who suffer from knee pain prefer to avoid exercise. This is usually in spite of the overwhelming evidence that exercise is one of the best things you can do for your joints and knee pain in particular. So what should you do when you have knee pain? You can learn how to exercise for knee pain in smarter and safer ways to avoid exacerbating your current pain while still reducing pain and improving your overall quality of life.
Why is exercise for knee pain so important?
Knee pain can have a huge impact on your life. In fact, knee pain is so prevalent in the United States that one out of every three doctors’ visits for muscle and bone pain is attributed to it. And exercise (depending on the cause of your pain) is often the magic bullet that can help reduce pain and prevent it in the future. Having strong muscles that are also flexible will really help your overall knee health and increase your resilience to injury. Plus, working out comes with lots of additional benefits, such as:
- Maintaining bone strength
- Improving your balance
- Helping you control your weight
- Boosting your energy levels
- Helping you get a better night’s sleep
That’s what makes understanding the effects of exercise for knee pain so important. Recently researchers have been focusing on how much exercise helps knee pain patients, with some startling results. Plus, most of the exercises they mention (and that we’ll cover further on in this post) can be done at home, are low-impact, and are even fun.
Exercise for osteoarthritis works
Knee pain can make keeping to an exercise program more difficult. Those who have osteoarthritis in the knees will understand that this will be a constant struggle, but older adults who do moderate physical activity at least three times a week can reduce arthritis-related disabilities by 47%.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons even says that knee pain should be treated with exercise regiments and knee strengthening exercises. This has been proven more effective then pharmaceutical-based treatments.
Tai chi can do wonders
New research from Tufts University School of Medicine has determined that patients over 65 years of age with osteoarthritis can improve their physical function and reduce pain by participating in regular Tai chi exercises.
The researchers also noticed that greatly reduced pain wasn’t the only benefit. They also found that self-efficacy and health status improved markedly. The tai chi group also had reduced depression overall.
Aquatic cardio provides a refreshing option
According to scientists at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, low-impact aquatic resistance exercises can improve cartilage health and improve cardiovascular fitness.
This study also states that aquatic exercise has been shown to decrease pain and improve function in people’s knees. The training in this study was quite intense, 400 to 500 repetitions a workout, but the compliance rate was extremely high and most were able to tolerate the training.
Ready to get started with exercise for knee pain?
Here are a few tips and tricks when exercising that will help you in your journey to less knee pain and greater range of motion.
Talk to your doctor, first
It is always a good idea to consult with a physician before you start a new workout routine, especially if you suffer from a chronic pain condition. This is even more important for knee pain. Depending on the cause of your pain, some activities or exercises could actually increase the amount of pain you’re in. It’s always best to get your doctor’s approval before trying any new routine. They can prep you in what to avoid and give you feedback on any questions or concerns you have as you keep exercising.
Always do a warm-up and a cool-down
Stretching is important before exercising as stretching the muscles in the thighs reduces tension in your tendons. This can reduce knee pain and lower the chance of injury while working out.
A cool-down can be equally important. Try going on a brief walk after you exercise to help return your heart and breathing rate to normal. This is critical as your body will also have time to lower its temperature and allow your blood flow to return to normal, preventing dizziness or fainting. Our video shows a quick warm-up sequence of stretches you can try.
Start low and go slow
A good piece of advice even if you do not have knee pain is to go slow when you start working out. For those with pain, however, it can be the difference between succeeding in strengthening your knee and making it worse.
The CDC suggests you start slow, especially if you suffer from arthritis. Try going on a five-minute walk every other day for a few weeks. After you feel comfortable with your new routine, try adding more time in ten-minute blocks to increase your physical activity.
Don’t feel bad if you need to modify your workout routine along the way either. Those who suffer from a chronic pain condition might need to take some time off, but the important thing is that you remain active in some way even if it is just walking around the house.
The first few weeks are by far the most difficult when you get started with exercise for knee pain. Building up your muscles is a slow-going endeavor. It is better to start off with minimal weight, reps, or time and then add more as you feel more comfortable. Pushing too hard at the beginning will only hinder your progress.
Make a plan
Doing some prep work can help prevent issues in the future. Figuring out when you should stretch and what kind of knee exercises to do will go a long way in supporting you to form a good routine. Don’t forget things like the right workout clothes, some tunes, and a positive attitude. All of these little things can push you to maintain your exercise habit.
Watch out for pain
Exercising, especially early on, will make you sore. It can be uncomfortable, but nothing you should be worried about. However if you start feeling serious pain, such as the stabbing or shooting variety, you need to stop immediately and talk to your doctor.
Things to avoid when you have knee pain
Even with all the benefits of exercise for knee pain, as you probably know, the knee is still one of the easiest joints on our body to injure. This is especially true if you like playing sports, running, or doing any vigorous exercise. Whatever the reason, after an injury occurs, you have to learn to build up and reinforce the knee muscles again. Not doing so risks repeating the same injury in the future since your knees will be in a weakened state.
There are some things you should avoid when starting any new exercise for knee pain routine. This is doubly true if you suffer from a chronic pain condition, such as osteoarthritis, since protecting your joints should be at the forefront of your mind when doing physical activities.
Don’t overdo it
You will usually feel sore for a couple days after you exercise. This is normal. But if you are in real pain or you are having problems moving or doing every day activities afterwards, you probably overdid it. Next time, watch out for the signals that tell you that you are working out too much. In the meantime, rest for a few days or do some light cardio so you can relieve some of the soreness before you start again.
Don’t skip rest
Rest days are your friend. Your body needs time to recover and rebuild new muscles. Working out every day can be detrimental to your health and can lead to burning out and stopping all together.
Don’t wear improper footwear
Shoes are much more important than most people realize. Worn out footwear can throw off your gait and balance, which can lead to knee pain. The shoes you wear when working out should be comfortable and add much-needed support.
Try these exercises for knee pain
Here are some exercises and stretches you can do to strengthen the knee and its supporting muscle groups. We’ve broken these up between cardio-based activities that focus on low-impact options, and specific strengthening routines.
Consistent cardio exercises not only improve overall health, they can also contribute to reduced knee pain and flexibility. Get going with any of these fun options:
- Walking: This is a simple exercise that you can do pretty much anywhere. It is great for the body and your mood. Try walking around the block or at a local park.
- Yoga: This relaxing hobby can be a great relief from lifting weights at the gym. Not only can it work your whole body, but it also has the added bonus of calming the mind.
- Swimming: You can try laps in the pool or join a water aerobics class. It is a fantastic cardio workout that can help build muscle, and improve breathing and blood pressure.
- Golf: Golf is a fun sport that gets you out in the sunshine and helps work your upper body. If you skip the golf cart, you can also get in a good amount of walking.
2. Wall squats
Begin this exercise for knee pain by standing against a wall with your back and hips touching it. Make sure your feet are hip’s width apart a few feet away from the wall. Then slowly slide down the wall to settle into a sitting position. Hold this for about ten seconds and slowly slide back up the wall. Do this about five times.
Make sure you don’t dip your hips below your knees with this exercise and keep your core tight. Keep your head back and your chin tucked. As you become stronger, try more reps and hold each for 15 seconds, or more.
3. Single leg dip
Grab two identical chairs for this next balance exercise. Place the back of the chairs facing one another. Stand in between the chairs with each hand holding the back of the nearest chair. Lift one leg and slowly lower yourself down, making sure to support your weight on the heel of your foot. Hold this for five seconds and slowly rise back up.
Repeat this exercise on the other foot. Make sure to keep your back straight and avoid slouching forward when you dip. Try increasing your hold time as you get better at this exercise.
4. Standing quad stretch
This is a simple yet very effective exercise for knee pain that focuses on the quadriceps. Stand in front of a wall or chair. Place one hand on the wall to brace yourself and bend your leg back as close as you can to your backside. Reach your non-bracing hand around and grab your foot. Pull your foot until it touches your butt and hold for five seconds. Let go of your foot and slowly return to a standing position.
Repeat this exercise on the other leg. Make sure you keep your legs close together during this stretch. Also, keep your standing knee slightly bent.
5. Leg extension over roller
This exercise for knee pain requires a foam roller, but you can use a soccer ball or a rolled up towel in a pinch. Start by sitting on the ground with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. Place the roller under one knee while keeping your other leg slightly bent off the roller. Tighten your thigh muscles to lift your leg up until your leg is fully extended with your toes pointing up. Hold this for five seconds. Then slowly release and bring your foot back to the ground.
Now switch to the other knee. You should do this about six times for each knee and add more reps and sets as you become stronger.
If you’re ready to learn more about how you can incorporate more exercise into your routine, contact one of our Arizona pain doctors today to learn about safe and effective options for you.