Football season is here, and that means soon, the sports news will be full of stories of athletes with “blown” knees. It’s true, football puts a lot of stress and strain on the knees, mostly from running and pivoting. But you don’t need to be a pro athlete to have pain and stiffness in your knees. In fact, even sedentary people can wind up with knee pain. Like a lot of joint pain, sometimes all it takes is getting older to trigger discomfort when you bend or straighten your knees.
Why are my knees so weak?
Your knees may be the largest hinge joint in your body, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re strong. Like any other joint, your knees have to be exercised on a regular basis to stay in good shape. In addition to helping you stay mobile, knee strengthening exercises can decrease your risks of falls and other injuries, too. Even age-related problems are less likely to occur when you do regular knee exercises.
A big cause of weak knees is inactivity. A lot of us work at jobs where we spend hours every day sitting at a desk or table. And when the work day is done, we head to our cars, walk a few feet to our front doors, and then spend our spare time sitting in front of a TV or computer. Just a century ago, things were a lot different. Back then, most people got five times the amount of activity they get today — and most of that was just doing the activities of daily living. It’s no surprise that a decrease in activity — especially one so dramatic — is going to make our muscles, tendons, and ligaments weaken over time.
How can I make my knees stronger? Exercise!
Workouts for bad knees generally focus on several goals:
- To make the joint more flexible
- To stabilize the joint
- To strengthen knee ligaments, muscles, and tendons that control joint movement
- To decrease inflammation and pain
- To reduce the risk of future injuries and falls
If you’ve got weak knees, here are four knee strengthening exercises you can do starting today to keep your knees healthy.
1. Straight leg lifts
Most people with weak knees also have weak quadriceps (the muscles located in the front of your thighs). Straight leg lifts help tone those quads, and the exercise is simple to do. Lying flat on your back, bend one knee and put that foot flat on the floor. Keep the other leg straight. Raise the straight leg to the height of the bent knee and hold it for a few seconds. Then gently lower and repeat 10 times on each side. Aim for three sets.
2. “Backwards” leg lifts
These lifts are similar to the lifts just described, but this time, you lie on your tummy and both legs are straight. To do this exercise, contract the muscles in your butt and one leg and raise that leg toward the ceiling. Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly lower your leg to the floor. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.
3. Calf raises
For this, you need a chair or other surface to hold onto and support yourself. Slowly raise your feet up onto your toes so your heels are off the floor. Raise as high as you can, hold for a few seconds, then lower yourself back to the starting position. Once again, aim for three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
This exercise uses the bottom step of a staircase (or another low platform). Standing on the step, slowly lower one foot to the floor so your other knee is bent. Touch your toe to the floor, then lift back up and repeat with the other foot and knee. Repeat 10 to 15 times for each knee.
Before doing any exercise, it’s important to warm up your muscles. Start by taking a two-minute brisk walk or use a stationary bike for about five minutes to avoid injuring your muscles during your workout.
Exercises for Knee Arthritis
If you have knee arthritis, you might be worried that exercises will make the condition worse. After all, knee arthritis usually is caused by wear and tear on the joints. Doesn’t that mean more wear and tear from exercise will make the condition worse? The answer is, it depends on the exercise. Many knee exercises for arthritis can actually help decrease symptoms and improve joint health by reducing inflammation and stabilizing the joint.
By strengthening the muscles and ligaments, your knee will function better so there’s less force exerted on the joint surfaces. That means your cartilage can be better protected over time. The key is to talk to the doctor before beginning knee exercises so you can make sure you’re doing the right type of activity. If you have knee arthritis, your exercises may be different from a person who has weak knees but no cartilage damage.
Keep your knees pain-free
Knee pain is never a “normal” part of aging. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something’s wrong. If you have any type of knee pain, don’t just start exercising. In some injuries, the wrong type of exercise can make things worse. The first step in preventing or relieving knee pain is to have your knees evaluated by Dr. Van Thiel. As a top-ranked orthopedist in Rockford, Dr. Van Thiel is skilled in diagnosing the cause of knee issues and in prescribing the most appropriate treatment for better knee health — at every age. To schedule your knee evaluation, contact the practice today.
Dr. Van Thiel treats patients from all over Wisconsin and Illinois including Rockford, Elgin, Huntley, Dekalb, Crystal Lake, Barrington, McHenry, and Beloit.