Our knees can cause us frustration when they ache and make climbing stairs and getting out of chairs difficult. Problems with knee joints can stem from many sources, but some, like osteoarthritis and poor joint control, can be helped with strengthening exercises. Strong muscles support joints and reduce stress to joint structures.
Weakness or tightness in the feet, ankles and hips can change how the knees behave.
Arthritis is a chronic source of pain, but improper knee alignment can gradually lead to pain and injury, too.
Normal knee alignment is influenced by the muscles surrounding the joint, but also by the feet, ankles and hips. Weakness and tightness in any of these areas can change how the knees behave.
For example, tight calves restrict ankle motion, which drives the knees inward when walking or running. This is a common cause of knee problems in runners. Weakness in muscles at the hip cause the same inward movement by not adequately stabilizing the knees.
Maintaining strength, flexibility and balance in these muscles goes a long way toward keeping your knees working well.
Knee Exercises and Recommendations
There are many exercises that can strengthen the muscles of the hips and lower body, but two that are particularly beneficial are glute bridges and squats.
Bridges are terrific for the gluteals, which are the big muscles on the back and side of the hips. When trying bridge exercises, keep these points about your form in mind:
- Lie on your back with your feet hip width apart, knees bent and arms out at your sides with the palms of your hands facing up.
- Keep your knees in line with your hips and feet.
- Push up until your body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders, emphasizing the push through your heels.
- Guard against arching or rounding your lower back.
Squats mimic the action of getting in and out of a chair, and, when done properly, effectively strengthen the lower body muscles.
If you cannot do a standing squat, chair squats are a good alternative and are safer if you lose your balance. When doing squats, keep these key points in mind:
- Your feet should be shoulder width apart, or slightly wider, and turned out very slightly.
- Keep your knees aligned with the middle of your feet throughout the exercise.
- Do not lean your upper body forward past the angle of your shins.
- If doing the chair version, lower down slowly, touch down on the chair seat and then stand back up.
These strengthening exercises can be performed two to three times per week on non-consecutive days. Start with one set of 10 repetitions and gradually build to three sets of 10 repetitions.
In addition to strength training, regularly engaging in cardiovascular exercise and stretching will help you be more mobile and in better health. It’s also important to maintain a healthy body weight because carrying extra weight puts excess stress on knees and promotes premature wearing down of the joint.