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Top 3 Exercises for Knee Pain Relief

Has your mild knee soreness worsened to more significant pain, aching, or stiffness?  Has your knee pain restricted your ability to squat, train, or do the things that you used to love doing?  Maybe, you have already quit working out or running because you have “bad knees”?

Knee pain can be both debilitating and annoying, as well as really frustrating because a lot of typical exercises aimed at relieving your knee pain actually result in worse symptoms!

While there can be many causes of knee pain, we are going to focus our efforts here on managing and treating mechanical causes of knee pain, and provide you a knee pain relief strategy which may relief pain and associated symptoms.  This refers to your knee symptoms that you may have been told are a result of arthritis, meniscus and ligament damage, “bone on bone”, strains or sprains, or “wear and tear” but can ALL be effectively managed using the following strategies.

Now before getting into the more active exercise principles, let me show you a couple methods to quickly reduce your knee symptoms:

  1. Passive Knee Extension Stretch
    • Begin from a seated (or sitting tall) position, with your leg outstretched in front of you, with the heel on the ground
    • Place both your hands around the distal part of your thigh (above the knee) and press firmly downwards (towards the floor), effectively straightening the entire lower extremity by stretching the knee into an extended position
    • Remember to keep all the muscles in your thigh, knee, and leg RELAXED
    • Think of the stretch as a slow, firm “pumping” of the knee joint “into” and “out of” the stretched position
  1. Active Knee Pain Relief Extension Mobilization
    • Same exact setup as found above in the “Passive Knee Extension Stretch”
    • Rather than using your hands to “stretch” your knee into a straightened position, you will now consciously, actively use your thigh and knee muscles to straighten and extend your knee
    • This contraction of the leg muscles into knee straightening MUST be held for a minimum of five seconds per rep, otherwise the mobilization is useless

The general recommendation would be to perform 1 set of 10-15 reps of either of these knee stretches three to four times throughout your day…the more significant and constant your symptoms are, the more frequent you should attempt the stretches.

Now that you have significantly reduced your knee pain symptoms, let’s discuss a few key exercise principles that will allow you to train and strengthen your knee in safer, more effective ways.   Surprisingly, it is actually rare that the true, fundamental cause of your mechanical knee pain is your knee!  Now I’m not saying that the current source of your pain is not your knee, but rather, that abnormal ways of moving, posturing, and stabilizing your ENTIRE lower quarter (pelvis, hip, knee, ankle, foot) are what most likely led to your current knee pain…and this is primarily driven by weaknesses at the hip or foot.

Therefore, if you do not treat and fix the mechanics of your entire lower quarter, then just simply strengthening local knee muscles with basic exercises is usually not sufficient, and may, in fact, WORSEN your symptoms.  Basically, you need to think about “knee” exercises in terms of “whole body” movements, rather than isolated knee muscle strengthening.

Since most knee problems are a result of ineffective stabilization and control over your hip and foot, rather than problems when your leg is up and off the ground, most of your “whole body” exercises require at least one aspect of your affected lower extremity to be on the ground.  Therefore, you will focus on exercises where you are stabilizing the entire lower quarter, where your foot or knee is on the ground the entire time.

Finally, there are some characteristics of lower quarter posture that you need to be aware of that will help to prevent overload, pain, and injury:

  • The majority of your weight should be spread out over your ENTIRE foot…do not shift weight totally to either the inside or outside, or front or back, of your foot
  • When viewed from the front, as you bend your knee, it should never collapse inwards towards the midline, rather it should track over your foot in the same direction that the second toe is pointing
  • When viewed from the side, as you bend your knee, it should never track far in front of your toes…try to keep your knees over your toes, rather than “in front of” your toes
  • When bending, squatting, or supporting through your pelvis and hips, you should feel like you are sitting “backwards” through your hips, making sure to not slump or hyperextend your pelvis or low back

Ok, now that you understand the principles that you can use to guide your lower quarter training, let’s discuss how to apply them to a specific exercise:

  1. Bodyweight Squats
    • Begin with feet spread slightly wider than shoulder-width apart…with your feet turned just slightly outward
    • Ensure that you feel equal amounts of weight distributed throughout your entire foot
    • Begin to lower your body towards the floor by sitting backwards through your hips, making sure to keep your low back relatively straight and neutral
    • As you continue to lower, continue sitting “down and back” through the hips by bending at your knees until your thighs are just about parallel with the floor, then come back up
    • Throughout the squat, your chest and upper body are shifting forward to act as a counterweight to the hips and pelvis that are sitting backwards
    • Your head, neck, and shoulders should remain relatively relaxed throughout the entire squat, while your arms can reach towards the floor in front of you

 A final piece of advice: if after attempting these knee pain relief exercises your symptoms actually WORSEN, then these specific stretches may not be for you, so take a break and allow your symptoms to calm down. If they persist, you can try either ice or heat for relief.

If you have been experiencing significant knee pain, and would like a professional evaluation and expert treatment that comes directly to your home or place of business, then schedule your house call appointment now with Dr. Bill: