Tips for Protecting Your Knees

You already know that exercising regularly can help rev up your metabolism so you lose weight faster, but did you know that it’s also good for protecting your knees? That’s right, studies show that exercise can help reduce knee pain and stiffness, strengthen the surrounding muscles, and improve your flexibility and range of motion. If you’re new to exercise, speak with your doctor about any new fitness regimen and also ask to get a fitness evaluation.

To help keep your knees in shape, follow these fitness tips:

  1. Choose proper athletic footwear. Wearing flat, flexible shoes, such as walking shoes, which minimize inward rolling of the foot, can help reduce stress on your joints and alleviate knee pain as you exercise. Shoes with bendable soles that can be flexed in a range of motions also help reduce the load on the knee. Be sure to also look for shoes with good cushioning and firm midsoles to prevent overpronation, a type of gait common in people with low arches. During overpronation, the lower leg and knee rotate inward each time the foot hits the ground. This inward rotation can cause knee strain and pain.

     

  2. Strengthen 4 muscles at once. It’s important to strengthen the muscles around your knee joints, including the quadriceps (front of thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), abductor (outside thigh), and the adductor (inside thigh). To do so, try this simple exercise at home: Sit on a chair and straighten one leg without locking the knee. Hold this pose for about a minute, then bend your knee to lower your foot halfway to the floor. Hold this position for another 30 seconds, and repeat from the starting position. Do 3 sets of 8 repetitions for each leg or whatever number of reps is comfortable to start.

     

  3. Build abdominal and back muscles. Strengthening your core — the muscles in your abdomen, back, pelvis, and hips — will give you better balance and stability and thus help protect your knees. One good exercise to try is the Superman pose, in which you lie face down on an exercise mat with your arms at your sides, palms up. Raise your head, looking straight ahead and at the same time lift both arms off the ground with your palms facing up. Hold this position for about 30 seconds. You can repeat this exercise for 3 sets of 8 repetitions, or you can do a modified version by lifting one leg and the opposite arm off the ground with the arm in front of you, alternating arms and legs.

     

  4. Use proper mechanics when exercising. When performing certain exercises, such as lunges and squats, make sure your weight is on your heels and not on your toes. By not letting your knees go past your toes when doing a lunge or squat, you reduce the pressure on your knees. Planks can help strengthen your core, so you put less strain on your knees. To do a proper plank, get in the pushup position with your forearms on the mat rather than your hands. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your hands clasped in front of you, so your forearms make an inverted “V.” Press up on your toes so that only your forearms and toes are touching the floor. Your body should be a few inches off the floor and in a straight line from shoulders to feet. Keep your head and neck relaxed as you tighten your abdominal and buttocks muscles. Hold this position for as long as possible, or for at least 10 seconds, before lowering yourself back to the floor. You should aim to hold a plank for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat as many times as you can.

     

  5. Make sure to warm up and cool down. Stretching before and after exercise may help eliminate soreness and keep your muscles flexible. As part of your warm up and cool down, stretch your gluteus maximus (better known as your glutes), the muscles in your butt, to help prevent knee pain. The following move will also help stretch the iliotibial band (ITB or IT band), the ligament that runs down the outside of each thigh from the hip to the shin. Stand near a table or chair in case you need support. Cross your right leg over your left leg at the ankle. Extend your right arm overhead, reaching toward your left side. When you feel a stretch on the outer aspect of your hip and thigh, hold the stretch for a 10- to 20-second count. Repeat on the opposite side. When your glutes are tight, they tug on your IT band, which can also tug on your kneecap, creating inflammation in the joint.

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