Thursday 13: 13 Exercises for Knee Health

Some of you already know, I have some significant knee problems. In the course of dealing with them, before surgery and after, I’ve had to learn a number of new exercises and habits to keep my knees healthy. They help my ankles too, which is also important because of old sports injuries.

I got to thinking, I’m not the only one with some knee challenges, so I figured I’d share my exercises. Use them in good knee health!

1. Walk, don’t run. If you have osteo-arthritis, walking is a lot better for you as an exercise. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever run, despite what several doctors have said to me, but it does mean you’ll have more work to do if it’s something you want. In the meantime, walk. A lot.

2. Get good shoes. Srsly. I have completely had a revolution in thinking about shoes since my surgery. I spent way too much money and time on my knees to ruin them with crappy – but cute – shoes. Get good shoes, people. New Balance and Nike are my favorite; DSW is a good place to bargain hunt. But initially, I cannot overstress the value of going to a real, live shoe store. One of the best is Waxberg’s.

3. Stretch the hamstrings. Those are the big muscles on the back of the thigh, under your butt. Particularly if you have a sedentary job, like I do, these muscles get very tight and painful. First stretch: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, facing a chair or bench. Set one heel on the bench, and if you need to for balance, hold onto something or use the wall as a support. Bending forward carefully from the hips, bend until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for thirty seconds, then do the other leg.

4. Second stretch: Stand perpendicular to the chair, feet shoulder-width apart. Put the heel of the leg closest to the chair on the chair. Lean toward the chair with the hips, feeling a stretch inside your legs. Hold for thirty seconds and then do the other leg.

5. Third stretch: Stand facing the chair, feet shoulder-width apart. Set one heel on the chair and turn the hips in toward that leg. So, if your right leg is up, turn with your hips to the right. You will probably feel a stretch without even leaning over; hold for thirty seconds.

6. Stretch the thigh by lifting your foot and holding it with the hand – right foot, right hand; left foot, left hand. Push your hips forward and pull your stomach in. You will probably feel a stretch just with that; if not, pull on the foot a bit to tighten. Hold for thirty seconds.

7. Cross one leg over the other. Lean away from the uncrossed leg. To put it another way: cross your right leg in front of the left, and then lean to the left with your hips. You will feel the stretch down the outside of your left leg. Hold for thirty seconds. Then do the other side.

8. Practice squats – very carefully! Stand, feet shoulder-width apart. Without allowing your knee to bend over your foot, squat down – only as much as it takes to feel it; even if it’s only a little. Over time, you can increase this. Then come back up. Do this 12 times, each side, then rest. After a week, increase to two sets; third week, three sets.

9. Side squats: starting in the same position as for #8, step out to the side and squat on that leg, then come back up. Be very careful to not allow the point of the knee to extend past the toes on either side.

10. Back squats: starting in the same position as for #8 and #9, step back and squat on that leg, then come back up.

11. Ball squats: these are done with a ball behind the back. (A small volleyball-sized one is fine, if you have it; otherwise, you can use an exercise ball.) Stand about a foot and a half in front of a wall, and put the ball at your lower back. Back up until you can hold the ball against the wall with your body. Then spread your feet about twice shoulder width. Pushing back against the ball, squat down no farther than ninety degrees, then push back up. Do this twelve times as a set; same incremental increase as for #8.

12. The Roller. I hate this one, but I really, really helps. Using a foam roller, roll along your IT band (the fascia that extends along the outside of the leg from the knee to the hips) up to ten times, back and forth. (If you’ve never done it before, you may only be able to do this once or twice at first, and it hurts a LOT.) Persevere. This is one of the single best things you can do for chronic knee pain; you will hate and love the roller thingie.
Here’s a good You Tube.

13. Good massage. If you can find a massage therapist that knows myofacial release, HIRE THEM. They will do tremendous things for managing knee pain and helping you to get better. Good therapists will also be able to suggest other exercises to help you.

Good luck. Chronic pain is no fun, and managing it – improving it – and moving past it are a long-term investment. It’s worth it. Hang in there.

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