by Kyra Oliver
There is nothing more frustrating than the debilitating effects of bad knees. The knee joints provide much of our support in day-to-day activities, and they give us the ability to perform workouts and stay active. No one likes to experience a nagging twinge in his or her knees, especially right in the middle of a stress-relieving workout! So what causes knee pain? There are a number of reasons, but typically knee pain is the result of injury or arthritis, and can leave you feeling defeated and depressed, and even hinder you from enjoying normal activities with friends.
Unfortunately, joint pain affects one in five Americans and has become one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. In fact, knee pain tops the list of problem areas when compared to the legs, neck, and back. A study reported that a total of 719,000 knee replacement surgeries performed in just one year in the U.S. (Source) A significant number of these could be prevented by taking the right steps to strengthen the knees and joints.
With such high statistics, you may be wondering if you are a candidate for knee joint pain. Many things can contribute to knee pain such as being overweight, having poor posture, avoiding treatment for existing injuries, and an unhealthy diet. It is important that you do not wait until the pain occurs, but rather make it a part of your exercise regime to strengthen your joints, to save yourself from years of pain, discomfort and life-changing limitations. (Source)
What You Can Do To Protect Your Knees From Pain
Maintain An Active Lifestyle
Getting a little bit of exercise each day goes a long way. By taking it slow, over time your knees and the surrounding joints will strengthen, allowing more flexibility. You can perform low impact activities, such as using the elliptical, swimming, walking and cycling at the gym. Keep in mind that while performing high impact activities like running, boot camp or HIIT classes, take it slow. One trick is to alternate walking and running with two minutes of easy running then two minutes of easy walking. If you feel good, add another minute of running. Over time, your joints will continue to get stronger.
Give Thought To Your Diet
Try to consume anti-inflammatory foods. You may want to consult your doctor regarding natural health supplements for the knees. Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like cold water fish, chia seeds, and walnuts can help reduce inflammation in the body. Fruits and vegetables are jam-packed with antioxidants which can help reduce inflammation and fight off those damaging free-radicals. Try to avoid all processed foods, trans fats and added sugars.
Perform Physical Therapy Exercises
You can perform many exercises to combat joint pain at the gym or home. There are some simple moves and stretches that may help to alleviate pain. Because multiple muscles support the knee joint, such as your thigh, hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles, it is important to stretch and strengthen all of these areas. By stretching and performing these exercises around the joints and tissues of the knees on a regular basis, you can eliminate pain.
Try these 8 simple stretches 3-4 times a week or after every workout to help strengthen the knees and eliminate knee pain for good!
1. Foam Roller Hip Abduction
This exercise strengthens the inner thigh muscles and hips as well as the area around the knees. To perform it lay on your back on the floor. Bend both knees while keeping your feet on the floor. Place a foam roller between your knees and squeeze your legs toward the foam roller. Hold the squeeze for 5–10 seconds and release. Repeat 10-15 times.
2. Calf Stretch
Calf muscles play a significant role in knee support but often get neglected during our workouts and stretching routines. Our calves can get extremely tight from various forms of impact, especially if you do lots of running, cycling and high-impact exercises. Stretching can keep your calves loose and relieve any pain that might make its way up the knee.
To do this exercise, find a step or anything that is, at least, several inches off the ground. You may want to hold on to a railing or the wall. Stand on the step so that your heels are off the step an inch or two. Start with one foot at a time, allowing your heel to flex and tilt downward. You will feel the stretch in your calves. Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-15 times. Make sure to stretch both legs. If you do not have a step or are concerned about balance, you can use a wall. With your foot flexed, place your toe up on the wall at an angle so that your heel is touching the ground. Keeping your heel on the ground and a slight bend in the knee, lean toward your front leg, holding the stretch at its deepest point, but not to a point of pain. Lean in for 5-8 seconds, then release. Continue to work on this stretch to try and deepen it. Try to complete 10-12 repetitions on each leg.
3. Calf Loosener With Ball
This move feels great, and it allows you to work out tight muscles in both your calves and your hamstrings. Sit on the ground and bend your left knee so that your heel is close to your butt. Place a spiky ball or tennis ball below your left knee between your calf and hamstring. Using your hands, pull your shin toward you, then rotate your foot in circular motions to help create space in your knee joint and provide deeper massage during this move. Continue until you feel the tightness in your muscles begin to release, then do the same with the other leg. Repeat 4 or 5 times.
This exercise is excellent for strengthening the hamstrings and core muscles. Simply lay on your back on the floor. Bend the knees so that your heels are close to your butt and keep your feet on the floor. Tighten your ab muscles and push off with your heels, lifting your hips toward the ceiling. Hold for 8-12 seconds then release. Repeat 10-20 times. For a more advanced move, place a 5-20 lb weight on your lower abs, then perform the exercise as described.
5. Foam Roller Stretch for Quads
If you have not invested in a foam roller, you should! It provides an excellent way to loosen up sore, tight muscles, especially your quads. The quads are a large muscle group that assists many other functions of our body, so keeping them loose can provide much comfort to the body and knees.
Lying face down, place the foam roller under your leg just beneath your quads. Try to put most of your body weight on your legs, and slowly roll back and forth with the foam roller. Roll up and down as well as side to side, focusing on the tighter spots of your muscles. This gets easier with practice! Make sure to do both legs and continue this process until you feel the muscles loosening up. Roll for 5-8 minutes per leg.
6. Hamstring Stretch With Band
The hamstring muscles provide much support to the knee. Lie face-up with your right leg flat on the ground and foot flexed. Place a resistance band around the foot of your left leg or prop it up on a wall or table if you do not have a resistance band handy. You will feel this stretch down the back of your leg, beginning in your knee area. Extend your leg and flex your foot, holding the stretch for about 5 seconds, then relax. Continue alternating by flexing then relaxing. If you are able, pull your leg towards you to deepen the stretch. Try to do 10 stretches per leg.
7. Straight Leg Raise
This exercise is great because it puts little, if any, strain on the knee but activates the supporting muscles. On a mat or towel, lie face-up with one knee bent and the other leg extended on the floor. Tighten your abs and keep your lower back pressed into the mat, lift your straight leg up approximately 12 inches, rotating the entire leg outward so that your toes are pointing diagonally toward the top of the wall. Hold for 5 seconds and release, do 10-15 reps alternating legs. If you can, do 2 or 3 full sets. You can add ankle weights as your strength increases.
8. Hip and Quad Stretch
This stretch feels great and stretches both the hip and quad muscles. Using a towel or mat, kneel on one knee with your other foot firmly positioned on the floor in front of you. Make sure that you create a 90-degree angle with both of your legs. Leaning toward your front leg, stretch the front of your hips by leaning forward. For a more advanced move, grab the ankle of the leg that is on the floor, and pull it toward your butt for a deep hamstring and hip stretch. You should feel this down the front leg and in your knee area. Slowly release. Continue moving in and out of this stretch for 10-15 reps. If you feel any pain, shorten the stretch. Over time, you will loosen up and be able to perform deeper stretches.