Knee pain may keep you from running and jumping, but don’t let it keep you from staying in shape.
When injury, osteoarthritis, extra weight, and normal aging all take a toll on your joints, the knees are often the hardest hit. Weakness, pain, or hypermobility (joints moving beyond their typical range of motion) can make simple, everyday movements like walking, bending, climbing stairs, and other movements you take for granted difficult.
With knee pain, exercise often becomes low on the list of priorities. But the right kind of cardio exercise and strength training may actually be the best medicine for pain relief. Strengthening the muscles surrounding your knee increases your stability and range of motion.
While high-impact cardio exercises like running, tennis, basketball, and aerobics may be things of the past, there are plenty of low-impact workouts that are gentle and safe for your knees.
The buoyancy of water makes the pool a wonderful environment for joint-friendly exercises. You can move around without the weight of your body placing pressure on your knees and there’s no repetitive impact on hard surfaces.
Water aerobics, swimming laps, treading water, and walking in water are all great workouts to reduce joint stiffness and strengthen leg muscles. As with any exercise, if you feel pain, listen to your body and take a break.
You may be tempted to cancel your gym membership when knee problems begin, but don’t do it just yet. Even though you may not be able to do your normal workout on the treadmill, you can get an effective cardio workout by using one of the other machines. Take the stress off your joints by using the elliptical trainer or stationary bicycle. If available, use a recumbent stationary bicycle (the type where you lean back with your legs in front of you rather than below) so there’s even less pressure on your knees.
For those with limited access to water or the gym, walking is another low-impact cardio option if done the right way. Walking on hard surfaces with no shock absorption like concrete or asphalt can be hard on the joints, though. So if possible, walk on dirt, grass, or a treadmill. Also, walking on level surfaces is easier on the knees compared to going up and down hills.
Flexibility is an important part of healthy joints. Stretching is often an overlooked part of workout routines but it can go a long way to help prevent injury. When muscles are warm and flexible, they’re better able to support joints. After a workout, take extra time to stretch your leg muscles (especially your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves) as well as your glutes.
Don’t underestimate the joint health benefits of exercise. Even a little exercise is better than none. While knee problems may pose a challenge for your workout, it’s not a challenge you can’t overcome. In fact, working out will provide relief from pain and prevent future knee injury. Strong leg muscles are like a natural knee brace—they help support and make up for injured or weak ligaments, tendons, and cartilage.
Take care of your knees by avoiding squats and leg presses. Bending your knees to do these movements places strain and pressure on your joints. You should also refrain from jumping or performing exercises that require repetitive pounding on hard surfaces, as damaged joints can’t handle the shock.