If you are feeling pain and weakness in the knees, one of the best things you can do is exercise. Experiencing joint pain is challenging, and can take a big toll in our daily lives. Joint pain affects one in five individuals and is one of the leading causes of disability. And we’re not getting better: A 2015 study reported a 162% increase in knee replacements over last 20 years.
So, how do you know if you are at risk? And if you are at risk, what are the steps you need to take to minimise the downside?
One of the best things to help prevent knee pain is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We preach it all the time as physiotherapists but just getting the body moving helps lubricate joints and reduce muscle stiffness. It also helps to maintain your bodyweight, which has a huge impact on pain.
Secondly, you should follow up with some exercises that are simple, easy to follow and make a difference.
There are a variety of muscles overlap the knee joint, and thus the exact source of the pain isn’t always obvious. Because most of us sit all day, the muscles in the posterior aspect which is the back of the leg start to shorten and become tight. These then negatively influence the pull on the joint and increases joint pressure, which can lead to pain. Often a tight muscle on one side of the knee is opposed by a weak one on the other side, and we see that with weakness in the quadriceps.
A common issue people face is Iliotibial band (ITB) pain syndrome. The ITB is a band of thick fascia that connects the hip to the knee. It creates knee stability and helps to transmit forces, but due to the muscle attachments can often become tight and irritated. When this occurs, we can feel pain on the outside of the knee.
Check out physiotherapist Chris Jellis discussing what to do for a tight ITB
So we recommend taking this approach – first aim to release and stretch the tight muscles, then work on strengthening the others.
Here are some of the simplest moves that can help you get better and avoid knee pain. We recommend that you try to do these stretches after a workout to keep your knees healthy right now.
Stretches for knee pain relief
Wall Calf Stretch
Calf muscles get neglected in your stretching efforts. For those who run and prefer high impact workouts, your calves are going to be contracting hard as you spend more time on the balls of your feet. Your calves can get tight from impact and need to be stretched to relieve the pain which can travel up to the knees.
A great exercise to do is find a wall to lean against. Face the wall and flex your right foot positioning your heel where the floor meets the vertical surface. Toes should be elevated while keeping your heel on the floor. Repeat with the left foot, feeling the pull up the back of the leg. A big mistake people make is not holding the stretch long enough. Remember you are fighting one of the strongest muscles in the body that can carry all of your body weight, so you need to hold for an extended period. We recommend 3 x 120 second holds per day.
Calf Smash With Cricket Ball
It allows you to work out the tension in both your calf and your hamstring. All you have to do is to sit on the ground and pull your right foot close, so your knee is bent. Wedge a cricket or hockey ball below your knee, sandwiching it between your calf and hamstring. Create a “compression force” by pulling your shin toward you and rotate foot in alternating circular movements.
VMO Power Exercise
Lastly is to attempt to strengthen the quadriceps, particularly the vastus medialis, or VMO. The VMO is not only a powerful knee extensor but it also helps control the knee cap as it moves, and also helps to stabilise the knee.
Sit in long sitting with legs outstretched. Tighten up your quad muscle as hard as you can. Lift the leg and hold for 10 seconds focusing on the tensing. Relax and repeat 10 times each day
These are just three of the many exercises that you can use to alleviate the knee pain. As your muscles grow stronger, you will be able to increase the number of exercise and repetitions for each of them to get your knee strength. For a healthy knee, you might need to do these knee exercises at least four times a week at the start, before you can notice changes in your knee pain.
Obviously, there are many different causes of knee pain. So before any of this, if you are suffering from knee pain we recommend you come and see one of our physios for an assessment and correct diagnosis. Once you have this, we can set you up with the right program to get you moving and healthy again.