Nearly 25% of adults are affected by frequent knee pain. That’s a staggering number, right?? As one of the strongest and most used joints in the body, the knee joint supports almost all major movement while supporting most of our entire body weight. The origin of knee pain can vary by person, but there are three common triggers: osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis where the cartilage in your knees breaks down, obesity, which places additional wear and tear on the knees, and muscle atrophy of the hips and legs, which makes the knee more vulnerable to injury. If you want your knees to last and help reduce any discomfort or pain you might be experiencing, then you MUST take proper care of them! Here are some tips to help improve your knee strength and keep you moving.
1. Be Informed
The knee is made up ligaments, tendons, cartilage and bones, each with their own functions. The primary mover muscles are the hamstring and quadriceps, which we will be working with later to build knee strength. It is also important to learn about common injuries that can happen to your knees like hyper-extension and torn ligaments so you know what to watch out for.
Hyper-extension of the knee happens when your joint is bent the opposite direction. This injury occurs from putting too much strain on the ligaments and joints, kicking with a forceful flicking motion or landing wrong from a jump. Torn ligaments can occur from changing directions too quickly and agility movements; this is also a common injury for athletes.
2. Take Action
As you now know how much of your body weight is supported by your knees, remember that any additional weight only adds to the stress. A great first step will always be to work towards your ideal body weight. You’ll want to also be consistent with an exercise and weight training routine to strengthen the muscles that support your knees. Start with the exercises below by utilizing just your body weight while focusing on proper form. Once you feel strong and confident with the moves, move up to weighted exercises to build additional strength. This will help reduce knee pain caused by Osteoarthritis and muscle atrophy. Here are some of my favorite strength training moves:
This exercise can be performed using a small step, a secured riser or even a stair step. Starting from a standing position. Place one foot on the raised surface, focusing your weight into the heel and lift your other foot onto the surface. Then step down one foot at a time starting with the same foot you began with. Repeat this exercise slowly 10 times on each leg.
Step ups improve stability in the knee, as well as strengthening the hamstring on the step up and the quadriceps on the step down.
Start with your feet hip width-distance apart and take a step back with your right leg. Your right heel will be lifted with your toes pointing forward. Your left foot will be completely on the floor with your toes pointing forward. Your weight is centered between the left heel and the right toes. Focus on bending your right knee towards the floor slowly keeping your shoulders in line with your hips. Repeat this exercise slowly 10 times on each leg.
Lunges work the entire lower body with emphasis on the quadriceps muscle. Strengthening the quadriceps will aid in mobility and stability of the knee.
A low impact way to work the quadriceps is to use a seated stationary bike. This will allow you to increase range of motion of the knee and strengthen the quadriceps without having to put weight on it.
This exercise can be done standing or lying down on your stomach. You can also use a cable machine to increase intensity. Starting with your feet hip width distance apart, lift your heel towards your glutes slowly while flexing your foot and squeeze at the top then release slowly. Repeat 10 times slowly on each leg.
Hamstring curls strengthen the back of the leg while giving the ligaments in the front of the knee a stretch. A strong hamstring aids in the retraction of the knee muscle and ability to take pressure off the knees when sitting down and standing up.
A low impact way to work the hamstring muscle is to lie on your back and perform a bridge lift. Putting the weight into your heels and lifting your glutes and hips off the ground.
Starting with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your toes turned out towards the corners of the room, bend your knees slowly putting the weight into your heels and glutes. Be sure to keep your chest lifted and staring straight ahead. On the way up from the squat, emphasize a glute squeeze. Repeat 10 times.
Sumo squats are known to be knee friendly exercises that work the inner thighs as well, creating more overall support for your knee joint. Even shallow squats can be helpful in increasing movement.
Seated Knee Extensions:
Starting seated in a chair with your feet right underneath your knees, slowly lift one leg off the ground until it is parallel with your thigh. Hold at the top for 5 seconds then slowly return it to the floor. Repeat this exercise 10 times on each leg.
Seated knee extensions help to strengthen the ligaments and tendons in the knee by holding the leg off the ground and working against gravity. You are also working your quadriceps with this move and allowing a full extension in your joint with zero impact.
3. Focus on Your Form
Focusing on your form during your workouts is a way to make sure your knees are getting stronger and staying protected. No matter the type of workout you are doing, whether it’s a high impact cardio class or a weight training session, you can perform every exercise safely and efficiently if you keep these next things in mind. This short checklist is something to keep in mind during your workouts that will have you looking and feeling great.
- Always keep your knees behind your toes in any squat or lunge position.
- Choose a weight that is challenging for your body but something that you can safely handle.
- Land with soft, slightly bent knees during running or jumping activities.
- Keep an eye out for the direction your toes are pointing, always making sure your toes and knees are going in the same direction.
4. Give Your Knees TLC
The best thing you can do for your knees is to give them the attention they deserve. Make sure you properly warm them up, stretch after vigorous activities and rest when needed. Here are some stretches that can relieve knee pain and increase mobility.
Start with your feet hip width distance apart, reach back with your left arm for your left foot. Extend your other arm out for balance. Bring your left heel close to your glute, squeezing your knees together and pressing your hips forward slightly. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds repeat on the other leg.
Start with your feet wider than your hips. with soft knees, bend at the waist and reach your hands towards the floor. Once you are as low as you can go, straighten your legs as much as possible without locking out the joints. Hold for at least 20 seconds, and repeat three times. To modify the straddle stretch, you can rest your hands on a stool or yoga block.
Standing with your feet wider than your hips, carefully kick out your right leg and reach for you toe with your left hand. Repeat 10 times on each side.
5. Your Must-have Knee Nutrition
Be sure to get these essential nutrients in your diet to aid in knee care and repair. Since it can be hard or undesirable eat some foods on the daily, taking these in supplement form every day will ensure your knees are getting the nutrition they need.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Widely recognized for preventing and managing heart disease, Omega-3 fish oil also decrease joint stiffness, inflammation, and the progression of osteoarthritis. Adding Omega-3 fatty acids into your diet can also increase blood flow during exercise. You can take Omega 3’s as a supplement or find them in foods like tofu, salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seed, olive oil, and avocado.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Great for strengthening your bones and teeth, calcium also reduces inflammation and can ease joint pain. You can find calcium in milk products, almonds, broccoli and leafy greens like Kale. You can also take calcium in supplement form. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption so if you know you are not getting enough sunlight make sure you are using a supplement.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate
These supplements are components of joint cartilage. When taken together, they have been shown to ease osteoarthritis pain, reduce inflammation, and even slow progression of osteoarthritis! You can find these supplements in most nutrition stores.
The body uses the amino acids gelatin’s to rebuild collagen, cartilage, and connective tissues in joints. Research shows that athletes who take gelatin experience less pain in their joints. Hydrolyzed gelatin can be added to food in powder form without changing the consistency of the liquid like standard Gelatin would. Mix it with coffee, smoothies, protein shakes, juice and Shakeology. As an added bonus, all those collagen boosting amino acids can help keep your skin smooth and nails strong!
This powerful antioxidant has been shown to reduce osteoarthritis inflammation by protecting cells from damaging oxidative effects of free radicals. The best source of Vitamin E is wheat germ oil. Wheat germ is also packed with other important nutrients including fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B. You can also get Vitamin E from other foods in your diet like sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, broccoli, peanuts and mango.
Following these five tips can help improve your knee strength and stability, but as always, listen to your body and be patient with the changes. If there’s ever any discomfort or actual pain, the first thing you should do is consult your family doctor or orthopedic. Here’s to the health of our knees!
Keeping it real,