Knee pain can be an obstacle to getting fit. When our knees hurt, it’s hard to motivate ourselves to exercise, and we often worry about further injuring our workhorse joints. But when we pick the right activity, exercise can help us get fit and reduce pain. Losing weight relieves pressure on the knees and makes movement more accessible, creating a fabulous positive cycle. But sometimes, we need some help to get rolling. If knee pain keeps you sidelined, your orthopaedist is often the best place to start.
What Are Common Knee Problems?
Your knee is the largest joint in your body and takes a lot of wear and tear. It’s an intricate joint connecting the thigh bone, shinbone, and kneecap. Your knee contains cartilage, tendons, and ligaments connecting bone to bone and bone to muscle. When all components work together, it’s a finely tuned machine. However, our knees take the brunt of many of our activities–both day to day and athletic. So they’re susceptible to injury and arthritis. Here’s a look at some common knee problems that can hold us back from exercise.
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. Osteoarthritis is the most common type and happens when the cartilage in the knee starts to wear away (usually in older adults). When your bones rub against each other, it can cause painful bone spurs and mobility problems.
Injury: with all of those bones, tendons, and ligaments, your knee is particularly susceptible to damage. Some of the most common knee injuries include:
- ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries to the ligament that helps move your knee back and forth.
- Tears to the meniscus, the cartilage that serves as a shock absorber between your thigh bone and shinbone.
- Fractured kneecaps.
- Dislocated knee joints.
- Tears of the patellar tendon near the kneecap or the quadriceps tendon just above the knee.
Overuse injury, including:
- Tendonitis: inflammation of the tendons that connect the muscles to the bones
- Bursitis: an inflammation of the bursae, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joint
- Runner’s knee: a range of conditions that cause pain around the knee cap from overuse or strenuous activity.
What Are The Benefits of Exercise for My Knees?
One of the most significant benefits of exercise is the weight loss that supports overall fitness, including cardiac health. For patients with knee pain, the best reward is that losing weight reduces pressure on your knees. It eases pain and makes future activity more accessible and fun. Gentle exercise can also reduce stiffness and swelling and improve range of motion in your joint.
What Exercises Are Good For People With Knee Pain?
When considering an exercise program for knee pain, you want to focus on strengthening the quadriceps (the muscle at the front of the thigh) and hamstrings (three muscles that run down the back of the thigh). Building strength in your thigh muscles helps stabilize and protect your knees. You also want a low-impact activity to protect the joints and tendons. Fortunately, there are several terrific options:
- Walking helps strengthen the muscles around the knee and is an ideal tool for weight loss. Take it slow and try to extend the length of your walks as you move forward.
- Cycling offers an excellent workout for the quadriceps and promotes range of motion in the joint. Start at a leisurely pace, either outside or using a stationary bike.
- Swimming and water aerobics are low-impact activities that allow you to strengthen leg muscles without putting pressure on the knee.
- Strength training with weights or bodyweight, including squats and leg raises, strengthens the essential muscles around the joint and boosts stability.
- Yoga (in an appropriate class) can also be beneficial for folks with knee injuries. Talk with your instructor about which type of class will strengthen and stretch without stressing the joint.
How Can I Start An Exercise Program If I Have Knee Pain?
Don’t let knee pain become an obstacle to fitness. If you have knee pain but want to get active, your orthopaedist is an excellent place to start. Your provider can help identify the problem and recommend treatments to set you up for gentle exercise. Physical therapy is one of the best approaches for treating knee pain. PT allows you to build strength and mobility in a supervised setting with tools including targeted exercises, massage, dry needling, heat and cold therapy, and ultrasound. A structured PT program can help you transition to an independent exercise program. At Countryside Orthopaedics, many of our patients are athletes, while others are looking to become more active. We love helping folks of all ages return to the activities they love or find a new passion for staying fit. Let us help introduce you to the virtuous cycle of fitness and healthy joints.