Yes, you heard that right! You knees need to move in order to improve.
It is true that the effects of chronic knee pain can radiate beyond the joint. This type of pain can limit a person’s ability to do basic tasks thereby affecting their quality of life. However, despite this apparent threat to one’s full range of movement, exercise is introduced as an apparent relief.
Some people with knee pain may be aware of the benefits of exercise to joint pain relief, and yet they still avoid it. Obviously, the pain is a deterrent, but there is good reason why movement is a necessary aid.
The Joint and the Pain
The knee joint is where your thigh bone, shinbone and kneecap are connected. On top of that are the cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and the menisci which are structures that allow you to move freely, without any pain.
Chronic knee pain results when there is a problem in any of the structures. It can stem from several causes which includes the following:
- Ligament Tear
- Meniscus Tear
- Degenerative tissue disorders (e.g. osteoporosis, osteoarthritis)
- Autoimmune disorders (e.g. Rheumatoid arthritis)
- Bacterial joint infection (e.g. cellulitis)
Learn More: A Quick Primer on Knee Injuries and Replacement
Why Exercise with Knee Pain?
It can be difficult for someone who is dealing with knee pain to consider an activity that may seem to add to their struggle. It’s easy to settle into the idea that your physical limitation is a valid excuse to shun exercise. So, why bother, right?
However, allowing your muscles to get too much rest can worsen joint pain and may even hasten the progression of towards physical disability in chronic degenerative diseases. Sparing your knees from exercise can weaken and stiffen the joints. Eventually, you could end up losing joint function while losing muscle strength at the same time. This results in a limited range of motion and mobility.
Research has shown that exercise is a necessary part in joint pain management. Physical function improves especially when it is done regularly. This also helps affected individuals feel more confident in themselves when performing daily tasks.
Exercise should not only be considered an option, but rather it is a necessary activity. With improved physical function you also improve your quality of life.
The Right Exercises for Knee Pain
These exercises can help improve the mobility and function of your knees.
We start off with something that’s simple and free. Walking helps ease knee pain by rebuilding your joints. The compression and decompression of your body weight which happens while you walk improves fluid flow and nutrient diffusion to your spongy cartilage – your knee’s shock absorber. This is particularly helpful in patients dealing with knee pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Regular walks can also help you strengthen the muscles around your knees. By doing so, you strengthen the way your body supports the joints. As a result, you take some pressure off your joints minimizing any painful sensation. Adding to that, the pounds you shed through this exercise also offers the same benefit. By losing weight, there is less pressure introduced to your knees.
Swimming is also a good option for those struggling with knee pain. The buoyancy of the water supports your weight, reducing the impact on the joints. Water also provides 12 times the resistance than air, making it beneficial for strengthening and muscle building.
Range of Motion Exercises
Diseases like arthritis or an injury may cause you to lose the full range of motion on your knees. To counter this, range of motion exercises can help relieve muscle stiffness and pain which impairs knee movement.
These exercises may be done through therapy, while some can be done at home. It is advisable that you do it every day to get the most benefit out of it. Make sure that you execute these exercises slowly and deliberately to avoid further damage to your knees. But before anything else, be sure that you get your doctor’s advice first before diving right into a new set of exercises.
These exercises improve and maintain muscle strength. As mentioned, strong muscles can support and protect the joints. Simple knee-strengthening exercises you can do at home include, heel raises, glute bridges, and straight leg raises.
Exercise, But Take Note of These First
Warm Up. Stretching before exercise can help reduce tension in your tendons.
Start Slow. The CDC suggests that you start slow especially if you suffer from arthritis. Start with a 5-minute walk before your routine and gradually increase your activity level.
Mind the Pain. Any pain should remain at a level that is tolerable. Stretch only to the point of mild tension. The pain that was already there from the start should not increase every day. Therefore, be sure to assess it daily so you will know when to tap out or seek medical help.
Use Gentle Movements. You should always start with gentle movements to warm up, instead of straining your joints with sudden movements.
Low-Impact Exercise. Choose low impact exercises to minimize joint stress while you move. Activities like running should be avoided as they can place undue stress on the knee structures. In this case, elliptical machines or Pilates exercises are good alternatives. The Arthritis Foundation even suggest cycling for arthritic knees. These types of activities provide the appropriate amount of workout to strengthen the muscles and lubricate the joints.
Warm and Cold. Apply warm compress at the beginning. Heat can help relax your muscles and joints relieving any pain you have at the beginning. A cold compress after exercise will also provide the same benefit to the knees.
Do It Often. You optimize results when you exercise your knees regularly.
Get into a Class. Enrolling in a class is a good way to ensure proper execution. It allows you to perform these exercises safely and prevent further damage to your knees. Most exercises can be done at home, but learning the basics from a professional will help you reap the optimal benefits down the road
Seek Medical Advice. This should precede anything else because medical advice will help you know what exercise to do and how much of it is good for your knee injury or condition.
There is a good amount of evidence that exercise is an effective lifestyle intervention for individuals suffering from knee pain. When done consistently, it results in modest, yet meaningful improvements in pain symptoms, physical function, and quality of life.