If you're an active person, your knees are going to take a beating! It's just the way your body is designed: almost all of your weight rests on the two leg joints.
Your spinal column, hips, and ankles all help to bear the brunt of your high impact workouts, but your knees are what get hit hardest when training hard. Even the most experienced athletes suffer from knee problems. It's important to know what to do to deal with that knee pain WHEN (not if) it sets in…
What's Causing the Pain?
To know how to deal with your knee pain, you have to know what's causing it. Here are some of the problems most likely to be responsible for the twinges and aches in your knees:
- Trauma -- Say you're in the middle of a difficult set, and you accidentally drop a weight disc on your leg. Trauma is a cause of acute knee pain, but it can lead to a form of post-traumatic arthritis that can cause swelling, stiffness, and pain in the knees.
- Improper Running Form -- If your running form isn't correct, your risk of a knee strain and repetitive use injury is much higher. The way you step and run can play a huge role in the health of your knee joint.
- Improper Training Form -- Squatting, Lunging, or jumping incorrectly can place additional strain on certain parts of your knees (posterior, anterior, lateral ligaments, tendons, etc.). This can either lead to an acute ligament or tendon damage or may wear out the cartilage between the joints--leading to arthritis.
- Lack of Warm-Up -- If you don't warm up properly, you seriously increase your risk of knee injuries! Quick lateral movements (jumping side to side) can cause injuries in stiff and "cold" joints, and lower body training with heavy weights can strain the joints as well.
- Excessive Use -- There is such a thing as "too much" exercise! Your body needs time to recover and repair itself between workouts, so people who train too often and too hard will often develop chronic pains in their muscles and joints. If you're noticing pain in your joints, it may be time to give your knees a break and take a few days off to let your body heal itself.
Improper, unsafe exercise can lead to damaged ligaments, tendons, and cartilage in your knees, preventing healthy joint function. It's vital that you protect your knees by strengthening your leg muscles, correcting your form, and stretching before training!
Natural Pain Relief
If you're dealing with knee pain, here are a few simple remedies to alleviate the discomfort:
PRICE -- The PRICE pain relief treatment is: Pressure, to reduce swelling; Rest, to speed up the healing process; Ice, to reduce heat and swelling, which slows down healing; Compression, to prevent re-injury; and Elevation, which reduces the risk of post-injury swelling and allows the body to heal itself. This is one of the most effective ways to treat any acute injury!
Epsom Salt -- Fill a bathtub with warm/hot water, pour in some Epsom salts, and give your knee a good soaking! The Epsom salt can reduce swelling and enhance circulation to the injured area, leading to faster pain relief.
Vicks Vapo-Rub -- While not a truly "natural" remedy, this is one of the simplest ways to reduce joint and muscular pain. Apply a bit of the hot-cold cream to your knee, wrap in a bandage, and elevate it for a few hours. You should feel the pain diminish in no time.
Cayenne Pepper -- Mix a bit of cayenne pepper with olive oil or in your Vapo-Rub, and apply it to the injured area. The capsaicin in the cayenne pepper will bring blood rushing to the injured location, speeding up healing drastically.
Ginger Oil -- Ginger is one of the best anti-inflammatory foods around, and you'll find that a couple of drops of ginger oil makes for a wonderful pain-relieving massage oil. Gently massage the oil into the skin around your aching joint, and you'll feel the pain dissipate quickly.
Simple remedies they may be, but they work like a charm!
The Best Exercises for Knee Pain
If you are suffering from knee pain, exercise is your best option!
You may think that doing exercise on an injured knee is silly. After all, if something's hurting, the last thing you should do is anything that could increase the risk of injury, right?
Well, think about what's causing the knee pain. It may be an injury, inflammation, or improper wear on the cartilage. Whatever the cause, it's most likely due to incorrect posture or movement during your training. Doesn't it make sense, then, that more training to correct your posture and movement would be the key to solving your joint pain?
Exercise will not only improve your form and the way you move, but it will also strengthen the muscles around the knees. By adding muscle mass, you are essentially adding another layer of protection for your knees. The stronger your muscles, the less likely that the joint will be strained, meaning the lower your risk of injury.
Below, we've come up with a list of the 8 best exercises for knee pain. These exercises will help to strengthen the muscles, enhance joint mobility, and give you the better overall movement of your legs. The result: a stronger lower body far less likely to develop knee problems.
Note: ALWAYS warm up before working out! This is twice as important for your lower body, which takes most of the brunt of your workout. Spend at least 5-10 minutes loosening up your muscles and joints, getting0 them warm and ready for work. Going straight into a workout without warming up is the fastest way to a knee injury.
1. Hamstring Curls
This is a great exercise to develop your hamstrings, the muscles on the back of your legs. Often, if your hamstrings are weak, your glutes and hips have to bear the strain of the workout. This can lead to improper form, thereby adding extra pressure to parts of your knees. Hence, knee pain!
Hamstring curls are beautifully easy, and they involve almost no strain on your knees:
- 1. Stand with your feet together, hands resting on a chair or the wall.
- 2. Wrap a resistance band around your left foot, and step on the band with your right foot.
- 3. Bend your knee and curl your left foot upward, coming as close as possible to touching your buttocks.
- 4. Extend the leg until it's nearly straight.
- 5. Repeat the curl for 10-15 reps.
Do a few sets of this exercise standing, or try them lying down. The result is the same: stronger hamstrings!
2. Wall Squats
This is a static variation of regular squats, and you'll find that it's an amazing way to build quad strength without straining your knees. The fact that you're not moving means that there are less wear and tear on your joints, and you can get a great lower body workout from the surprisingly difficult move.
Here's how to do Wall Squats:
- 1. Stand with your heels roughly 18-24 inches from the wall, with your back leaning against the wall.
- 2. Slide your back down the wall until you are in a "sitting position".
- 3. Use the strength in your legs to hold yourself in that sitting position for 30-60 seconds.
You'll feel your legs quivering and trembling in no time! It's an excellent exercise to strengthen the muscles that will protect your knees as you train.
When it comes to building upper leg strength, nothing can beat Squats! The simple up-and-down movement is generally fairly easy on your knees, though the way you add weight to the movement can affect the strain on your joints.
For many people, Back Squats (weight resting on their shoulders, behind their neck) forces their body forward, adding a strain on their lower back. Front Squats (weight resting on their shoulders, in front of their neck) improves upper body posture but adds strain to the knees.
Goblet Squats are one of the best variations for those who want to reduce knee strain. Goblet Squats involve holding a dumbbell at your chest as you squat. There is a much lighter load, and it's not as high up, meaning it's less likely to throw off your balance. This variation can help you to correct your posture, thereby taking the load off your knees.
Of course, a good ol' bodyweight squat always comes in handy if you're trying to strengthen your quads while recovering from a knee injury. You still get that same up-and-down movement, but with no added weight/strain.
4. Leg Presses
The Leg Press machine is ideal for those who are dealing with knee pain but who still want to build lower body muscle.
The weight runs along a track, meaning there is just one plane of motion. There is no wobble or risk of slipping, and it's easy to adjust the angle of the movement to take the strain off your knees. You can work with as much or as little weight as you can handle, and you'll find that it's one of the easiest lower body workouts for your knees.
5. Leg Extension
Lift too heavy, and you'll find that this exercise is terrible ffqZor your knees! However, drop the weight, and it's a great way to strengthen your legs without the strain of squatting or lunging.
The Leg Extension machine can be hard on your knees, but only if you overload it. Drop the weight until you can easily lift it, and perform sets of 15-25 reps. This will help to build muscular endurance, and will re-accustom your knees to the full range of motion.
Keep tight control of the movement, and don't let your legs swing. Control is the key to more efficient lower body workouts with light weights.
The Deadlift is an exercise that focuses on your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, but it engages your knees as well. There is just enough work for your knees that they grow stronger without the risk of injury.
Here's how to perform your basic Deadlift:
- 1. Stand with your knees spread shoulder width apart.
- 2. Bend and grip the barbell, bend your knees slightly and lift the weight until you are standing upright.
- 3. Bend at the waist, hinge your hips backward and bend your knees slightly as you lower the weight.
- 4. Stop lowering when your back is parallel to the floor, and lift.
- 5. Repeat 10-15 reps per set.
This movement is great for your core, hips, and glutes, and it will help to rehabilitate your knees as well.
The Step-Up is a great one to build serious quad (thigh) strength, but there is a risk that using too much weight will lead to knee pain. Start with light weight (or just your bodyweight), and work up to adding more as you get used to it.
Here's how to perform a step-up:
- 1. Stand in front of a bench or box, with your feet together, dumbbell gripped in each hand.
- 2. Step your right foot up onto the box, and use your left foot to push yourself upward.
- 3. Transfer all your weight to your right leg as you raise your left leg behind you.
- 4. Step back down onto your left foot.
- 5. Repeat 10-12 times per foot.
You'll feel the burn in your hips, glutes, and thighs, and you'll strengthen the muscles that protect your knees!
Lunges are a bit hard on your knees, so they're not the best exercise to do right after an injury. However, once you have built some strength, it's a good idea to add Lunges back into your workout. They help to develop the muscles that keep your knees protected when your legs are bent, and will protect your knees from injury effectively.
Doing these exercises can relieve knee pain or can even heal it completely. Not only that you're doing these exercises for knee pain, it can also help tone your leg muscles. Also, the benefits of these exercises should last for a long time.