If your knees are giving you problems, and you feel like the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz" when getting out of bed, rest assure that at least you’re not alone. In fact, nearly 50 million Americans feel the exact same way.|
Knees are the most commonly injured joints in the body. Considering that when you simply walk up stairs, the pressure across your knee joints is four times your body weight, it isn't surprising. Simple, everyday wear and tear can end up hurting your mobility.
But it’s not too late. Like a rusty door hinge, with care and maintenance, your knees can be trouble free. Even if you already experience problems, exercising and strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joints— quadriceps (front of thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), abductor (outer thigh), and adductor (inner thigh)—will help make your knees stronger and less susceptible to injury. Exercise keeps your joints from stiffening and provides needed support, making movement easier and reducing pain.
- Chair knee extension: Sitting in a chair, rest your foot on another chair so the knee is slightly raised. Gently push the raised knee toward the floor using only leg muscles. Hold for five to 10 seconds and release. Repeat five times on each leg.
- Heel slide knee extension: Lie on your back, with left knee bent and left foot flat on floor. Slowly slide the left heel away from your body so both legs are parallel. Hold for five to 10 seconds, return to starting position. Repeat five times on each leg.
- Knee flexion: Sitting in a chair, loop a long towel under your foot (resting on the floor). Gently pull on the towel with both hands to bend the knee, raising your foot four to five inches off the floor. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then release. Repeat five times on each leg.
- Hamstring stretch: Standing, put one foot in front of you, toes up. With hands on the small of your back (or one hand holding a chair for balance), bend the opposite knee and hip (not your lower back), until you feel the hamstrings stretch. The upper body comes forward at the hip. Hold for five to10 seconds, then release. Repeat five times on each leg.
Knee Strengthening Exercises
Depending on your current level of activity and mobility, a good start is three stretching and three strengthening exercises, three to four times a week. Stretching can be (and should be) done every day to prevent stiffness and achy joints. These stretches can even be done a few times a day, if needed.
- Wall slide: Leaning with your back against a wall, bend your knees 30°, sliding down the wall, then straighten up again. Move slowly and smoothly, using your hands on the wall for balance. Keep feet and legs parallel, and do not allow knees to go out over the toes. Repeat 5 -10 times.
- Bent-Leg Raises: Sitting in a chair, straighten one leg in the air (without locking the knee). Hold for about one minute. Bend your knee to lower the leg about halfway to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to starting position. Work up to four reps on each leg.
- Straight-Leg Raises: Sitting in a chair, rest your foot on another chair. Lift the foot a few inches off the chair while keeping your leg straight. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Return to resting position. Repeat five to 10 times. (Also work on increasing the time, up to two to three minutes if possible.)
- Abductor Raise: Lie on your side, propped on one elbow. The leg on the floor bent, the other straight. Slowly lift the top leg, hold for 5 -10 seconds, then lower. (Ankle weights will increase the intensity). Do one to three sets with 12 to 15 repetitions each. Remember to rest in between sets.
- Hamstring Curl: Stand with the front of your thighs against a surface (a table or wall). Flex one knee up as far as is comfortable. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then lower slowly. If possible, do not touch the floor between repetitions. (Ankle weights will increase the intensity.) Do one to three sets with 12 to 15 repetitions each. Remember to rest in between sets.
- Step-Ups: Stand in front of a step, like a sturdy bench or stairs, about two feet high (or less if necessary). Step up onto the support, straighten your knees fully (without locking them) and step down. Maintain a steady pace. If you are comfortable with your balance, pump your arms while doing this exercise. Start with one minute, slowly building your time. This exercise will get your heart pumping, too!
- Stationary Bike: Biking is a good way to increase strength and range of motion. Make sure you have the right positioning of the legs. At the bottom of the pedal stroke, the bend in the knee should be 15 degrees. Start with 10 minutes and slowly increase your time.
Always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. These exercises are designed to help, not hurt. If you experience pain at any time during the exercise, stop. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
If you have increased soreness after doing these exercises, it may help to ice your knee or knees for 10 to 20 minutes. Place a bag of ice (or frozen vegetables) over the joint, with a towel between to protect the skin. Elevate your leg on a chair if ice alone is inadequate.
Remember to include regular cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise as part of a well-rounded routine. Research shows that this type of exercise helps increase pain tolerance.