If your workouts are being slowed down or completely forgotten due to knee pain, then we have some answers for you! Lunges and squats are great ways to strengthen the lower body and in particular the knee joint, but for many people this exercise causes knee pain or may be too strenuous.
The joint is supported by the quadriceps and hamstring muscles. When they are strong and toned, they keep the lower leg bones and upper leg bone in a happy place--no pain. However, when the body is weakened by extra weight or weak muscles the joint space closes and can lead to arthritis and irritation. If pain and swelling persist more than 7-10 days, consult a physician. Swelling may be relieved with proper rest, ice, compression and elevation.
The first step to increase pain free movement is to establish better range of motion.
Quad Stretch Active
Start standing with knees parallel to each other and draw the heel up towards the glute muscles. Be certain to keep the heel in line with the thigh and not to rotate inward or outward. Squeeze the hamstring on the back of the thigh to feel a stretch in the front. Hold for 10-30 seconds. This is an active stretch because we are activating a muscle, the hamstrings, to contract the reciprocal muscles, the quadriceps.
Quad Stretch Passive
Another stretch that will help increase the range of the joint is a passive stretch. Pull the heel towards the glutes keeping it in line with the hips as in the first stretch, but this time apply a small force to feel the stretching of the muscles in the front of the thigh. On both stretches, keep the body alignment tall and abdominals pulled into the spine as well as stretching thigh slightly behind the standing leg.
After stretching the muscles and signaling them to their full length, try these knee friendly exercises:
SINGLE LEG STAND UP
Start with a seat higher than your knee height. (As you progress you will start to lower the seat height to your knee height) Lift one leg and with assistance if needed, stand up holding the leg in the air. From stand and back to seated again, keep the non-working leg lifted. Perform 15-20 on each side. Progress slowly to strengthen the muscles.
REVERSE HAMSTRING WALK OUTS
Start seated on the floor with legs extended. Flex the foot and dig the heels into the ground. Lift the hips and walk the feet from 90 degrees bent to almost full extension. Repeat walk outs 10 times with the left side leading and 10 with the right side leading the movement. Remember to keep chest lifted, abdominals drawn into the spine and heels dug into the floor while the hips are lifted. This will strengthen the hamstrings muscles in the back of the thigh.
STRAIGHT LEG LIFTS AROUND
Start seated on the floor or a bench or standing. Lift the leg keeping it extended with the toe pointing straight up. Perform 15-20 lifts in this position and then repeat two more sets with the toe out to the side and then inward. Repeat on the other side. This strengthens all parts of the quadriceps including vastus medius the key knee stabilizer.
Exercise is important for everyone. If these exercises are difficult, practice them in the water where the buoyancy will lessen the effects of gravity on the body.