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8 Exercises to Help Your Knees

Is It Safe for Me to Exercise?

Are you worried that working out could cause more knee damage or pain? As long as your doctor says it’s OK, the best thing you can do is to strengthen the muscles that support your knee and keep them flexible. Start slowly, and build up over time. Talk to your doctor about which specific exercises are good for you.

Warm Up First

You can ride a stationary bike for about 5 minutes, take a brisk 2-minute walk while pumping your arms, or do 15-20 wall push-ups followed by the same number of calf raises. Doing this will help you get more out of your workout, prepare you to stretch, and lower your risk of an injury.

1. Straight Leg Raises

If your knee’s not at its best, start with a simple strengthening exercise for your quadriceps, the muscles in the front of the thigh. This move puts little to no strain on the knee. Lie on your back on the floor or another flat surface. Bend one knee and place your foot flat on the floor. Keeping the other leg straight, raise it to the height of the opposite knee. Repeat 10-15 times for three sets.

2. Hamstring Curls

These are the muscles along the back of your thigh. Lie flat on your stomach. Slowly bring your heels as close to your butt as you can, and hold that position. Do three sets of 15. You can also do this exercise standing while you hold onto a chair and lift one leg at a time. If this becomes easy, you can add ankle weights, slowly increasing the weight from 1 to 3 to 5 pounds.

3. Prone Straight Leg Raises

Lie on your stomach with your legs straight. Tighten the muscles in your bottom and the hamstring of one leg, and lift toward the ceiling. Hold 3-5 seconds, lower, and repeat. Do 10-15 lifts and switch sides. You can add ankle weights as you gain strength. You shouldn’t feel back pain. If you do, limit how high you lift up. If it still hurts, stop and talk to your doctor.

4. Wall Squats

This is a more advanced move. You’ll keep your feet on the floor. Stand with your back against a wall, your feet about shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your knees, and keep your back and pelvis against the wall. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Don’t bend too deeply. If you feel pressure or discomfort in your knees, change your position. Repeat the exercise, and try to hold the sit position a few seconds longer each time.

5. Calf Raises

Stand facing the back of a sturdy chair, other support such as the back of a couch, or a wall bar at the gym. You can also do this on the stairs, holding on to the banister with your heels hanging off the edge of the step. Slowly raise the heels as high as you can, then lower. Do three sets of 10-15. When it becomes easy, lift one foot slightly off the floor, with all your weight on the other foot.

6. Step-Ups

Place one foot on a step bench, platform, or the lowest step on a staircase.  Keeping your pelvis level, bend your knee and slowly lower the opposite foot to the floor. Lightly touch your toe to the floor, then rise back up. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch legs. Too easy? Use a higher step, or touch your heel instead of your toe.

7. Side Leg Raises

Lie on one side with your legs stacked. Bend the bottom leg for support. Straighten the top leg and raise it to 45 degrees. Hold for 5 seconds, lower and relax briefly, then repeat 10-15 times. Switch sides and start over. Want to try a bit of a different spin on the move? Point the toe of your upper leg slightly toward the floor as you raise it.

8. Leg Presses

Sit on a leg-press machine with your back and head against the support and your feet flat on the foot plate. Adjust the seat back so it’s comfortable. Slowly push the plate away from you until your legs are extended. Bend your knees and return to your starting position. Do three sets of 10-15 reps. (Ask a gym staff member for help the first time you do this.)

No-No's for Your Knee

Exercise should never cause pain or make it worse. Remember: Muscle soreness after a hard workout is normal. But sharp, shooting, or sudden pain in the muscles or joints means you should stop and check with your doctor.

Knee-Friendly Cardio

Gentle is good. So skip high-impact activities such as running or intense aerobics. Notice what feels right for you. For example, some people love elliptical machines, but others don’t. Swimming, jogging in water, or water aerobics are often great! Double-check with your doctor about your exercise plan.

Physical Therapy for Chronic Pain: What to Expect

 

Physical therapy is often one of the best choices you can make when you have long-term pain (also called chronic pain) or an injury. It can make you stronger and help you move and feel better. 

Ask your doctor to recommend a physical therapist. You'll probably need a series of visits, and you should practice some of the exercises at home for the best results.

Physical therapists have a lot of training. Still, it’s a good idea to ask them about their experience in working with people who've had conditions like yours. You can also ask them how many sessions you'll need.

How Does Physical Therapy Treat Pain?

Physical therapists are experts not only in treating pain, but also its source. Yours will look for areas of weakness or stiffness that may be adding stress to the places that hurt. And they will treat those areas with certain exercises to ease pain and help you move better.

In a physical therapy session, you may do a mix of:

Low-impact aerobic training. These workouts will rev up your heart rate and still take it easy on your joints. For instance, you might walk fast or use a stationary bike to warm up, instead of running, before you do your strengthening exercises.

Strengthening exercises. You might use machines at your physical therapist’s office, resistance bands, or your own body weight (think lunges, squats, and pushups). You may work on your core muscles (belly, glutes, and back), as well as other parts of your body.

Pain relief exercises. These moves target areas where you have pain, so you're stronger and more flexible -- which should make it easier to live your life.

Stretching. This will be gentle, and your therapist will make sure that you're warmed up and you don’t stretch too far.

Your physical therapist may prescribe exercises for you to do at home.

What Else Might I Do?

During your sessions, your therapist may also use:

Heat and ice packs. Ice calms inflammation. Heat warms up your muscles so they move better. Both can help with pain.

 

Massage. Keep in mind that a massage on areas that are injured, sore, or hurt  may not feel relaxing. But your therapist will take great care to make sure it’s safe and helpful for you. If you get one by someone other than her, tell that professional about your pain before your session starts.

TENS and ultrasound. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, uses a device to send a low-voltage electric current to the skin over the area where you have pain. Ultrasound sends sound waves to the areas that hurt. Both may offer relief by blocking the pain messages that go to your brain.

Will It Hurt?

Physical therapy shouldn’t hurt, and it will be safe. But because you'll use parts of your body that are injured or have chronic pain, physical therapy can be challenging, even hard. For example, you may feel sore after stretching or deep tissue massage.

But there’s a reason for that. Your therapist has a specific plan in mind based on your particular needs. Sometimes to get stronger, you have to do some tough training. It will push you, but it shouldn't be too much.

Each person may respond differently to therapy. Your body type, daily activities, alignment, and habits all affect your plan. Stick with it, and you'll get the benefits.

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