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When your knee hurts, exercise can seem like the hardest thing to do—but it’s also one of the best.
What To Do If You Have A Knee Injury
“Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for knee pain,” says Dr. Lauren Elson, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.
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The right combination of strengthening and stretching exercises can reduce pain by helping to improve the way the joint moves and functions.
“The knee is often an innocent bystander between the hip and the foot. Knee pain is often caused by problems that occur above or below,” says Dr. Elson.
For example, weak hip muscles can put more stress on the knee and increase your pain. Strengthening the muscles around the hip joint can help relieve it, says Dr. Elson.
In addition, knee pain is sometimes caused or aggravated by tight muscles around the knee, a problem that is often successfully treated with stretching. When the muscles aren’t flexible, sometimes the knee joint doesn’t move properly, says Dr. Elson.
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Exercising and stretching your knees can help relieve knee pain caused by many conditions, including these three that commonly affect older women:
Patellofemoral pain. The condition usually causes a dull, aching pain in the front of the knee that worsens with everyday activities such as squatting, climbing stairs, or standing up after sitting for long periods of time. The pain is caused by irritation of the cartilage under the kneecap when it doesn’t slide or fit properly. Exercise can help eliminate the problems that lead to this irritation. Stretching can release tight muscles on the side of the knee, which can pull the patella out of its groove with the movement. Strengthening weak hip muscles or stretching tight muscles in the front or back of the legs can also relieve discomfort.
Chronic degenerative meniscal tears. If one or both of the cartilage pads that cushion each of your knee joints deteriorate or tear, you may experience pain and a feeling of pinching or locking. Although surgery is sometimes necessary, doctors usually recommend physical therapy first to build up the muscles around the knee to relieve the joint and reduce discomfort.
Arthrosis. If you are over 50 and have stiffness, pain or swelling, it may be osteoarthritis. Years of wear and tear can erode the cartilage in the knees and lead to chronic joint inflammation. A previous injury can also lead to arthritis. While nothing can reverse these physical changes, you can reduce pain by building the muscles around your knee, pelvis, and core. Strong muscles act as a framework and relieve the joints. Stretching to increase flexibility can help the joint function properly.
Causes Of Knee Pain And How To Fix Them
While many conditions that cause knee pain can be helped with exercise, in some cases it may not be appropriate, says Dr. Lauren Elson, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. You should stop exercising and see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
To relieve knee pain, you should do exercises that work a number of different muscles, from the hip abductors to the hamstrings and quadriceps, says Dr. Elson.
Two that you can add to your routine are side leg raises and single leg raises. To begin with, do this exercise at least two days a week, ideally every other day.
How many exercises you do in each session is your choice. But remember that rushing through exercise can be counterproductive.
Knee Pain Symptoms And Possible Causes
“It’s more important to have good shape than to have volume,” says Dr. Elson. Start slowly with fewer reps to make sure you have proper form. Then add more as it becomes easier.
Starting position: Lie on your right side with your legs straight. Bend your right forearm and rest your head on your hand.
Movement: Keeping your legs straight, slowly raise your left leg toward the ceiling. Pause and then slowly return to the starting position. Complete all reps and then repeat on the left side.
Make it easier: lift the upper leg slightly shorter or lean your back against the wall.
Oh, My Aching Knees
Starting position: Lie on your back with your legs extended. Extend one leg, bend the foot slightly. Place your hands on the floor at your sides.
Movement: Tighten your hamstrings and slowly lift your leg into the air until your knees are in line. Pause, then slowly lower your leg so that it rests on the floor. Complete all reps and then repeat with the other leg.
Make it harder: At a slow, controlled pace, try tracing the letter T with your foot in the air. Lift one leg 10 cm, move the leg 10 cm to the left, return to the center, move the leg 10 cm to the right, return to the center, then lower the leg to the floor. Complete all reps and then repeat with the other leg.
You should also include daily stretching in your routine. Try using a foam roller to work out knots in your muscles. The roller targets tight, stiff and painful areas in the muscles as well as myofascial tissue (the layer of connective tissue surrounding the muscles). This process, called myofascial release, which can also be done through hand massage, is designed to relax these tissues and reduce pain. It does this by releasing tension in the muscles that abnormally pull on the knee joint, says Dr. Elson.
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Below are two routes to try. Ideally, you should aim to do 3 or 4 reps of each, holding for 10 to 30 seconds each time.
Movement: Grasp the right leg with both hands by the thigh. Extend your leg and lift your right leg toward the ceiling with your leg bent. Without locking your knee, straighten your leg as far as you can to feel a stretch along the back of your right thigh. Stop. Return to the starting position and repeat with the left leg.
Make it easier: don’t lift your leg so high or put a strap on your foot instead of your hands.
Movement: Bend your right knee and pull your heel toward your right buttock. Reach for your right hand and grab your leg. Hold the stretch and then slowly lower your leg to the floor. Repeat the stretch with the left leg.
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Make it easy: Lie on your stomach to do the same stretch. Wrap a yoga strap around your foot and hold both ends as you come to the starting position. Then use a strap to help stretch.
Make it harder: Perform a stretch on your stomach, lifting your knee slightly off the floor without pulling on your leg to strengthen the stretch.
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