Did you know that 18 million people each year see a doctor for knee pain? While you may think that most of this is from normal degeneration due to age, there are quite a few causes that have nothing to do with age at all. Runner’s knee (which affects more than just runners), Osgood-Schlatter disease (which is found in children & adolescents), chondromalacia patella (the softening and breakdown of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap), and osteoarthritis (‘wear and tear’ arthritis) are all common causes of knee pain. While each case is unique and there are numerous potential causes, keeping your knee strong, balanced, and healthy can help prevent many conditions and keep pain at bay.
Straight Leg Raise
Putting little to no strain on the knee, this is a simple but effective exercise for the quadriceps (the muscles along the front of the thigh). Lying on your back, bend one knee and place your foot on the floor. Keeping the other leg straight, raise it to the height of the opposite knee. Slowly lower down and repeat 10-15 times on each side.
To even out, you’ll want to work the muscles on the back of the thigh, the hamstrings. You can perform this either lying down on your stomach or standing while using a chair or wall for balance support. Keeping one leg straight and relaxed, bend the opposite knee, bringing your foot as close as you can to your butt and hold for 10 seconds. Slowly release and repeat 10-15 times.
Prone Straight Leg Raises
Muscle imbalances within the hips and legs are a common cause of knee pain. This exercise can help keep all those muscle groups in the hips and legs more balanced. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight. Keeping one leg down on the ground, lift the other leg straight up toward the ceiling, activating the muscles throughout the hip and thigh. Hold for 5 seconds, slowly release, and 10-15 times on each side.
Side Leg Raises
Another great hip and outer thigh exercise, these will help balance out those muscle groups too. Lying on your side with your hips stacked, bend your bottom leg for balance. Keeping
your top leg straight, lift it up toward the ceiling as high as you can comfortably go, hold for 5 seconds, and release. Repeat this 10-15 times on each side.
If these exercises by themselves are easy for you, trying adding ankle weights or using a machine at the gym to intensify the effects. If you regularly work out, the extra weight may be necessary, but if you’re mostly sedentary, doing these even without the additional weight will still help to get your hips and legs stronger, decreasing the stress on your knees.
Don’t forget to also include low-impact aerobic exercises such as walking, walking backwards, swimming, and cycling. These allow the knee to move through its normal range of motion without the stress and pain that can be caused by more intensive, high-impact exercises. A physical therapist or exercise physiologist can also be helpful in building an exercise routine specific to your body’s needs.