Simple and Effective Exercise Tips for Knee Pain

After back pain, do you know what is the most commonly complained about body pain?
If you guessed knee pain, you’re right on the money.
Knee pain is that awful searing achy feeling that sits behind the kneecap that I describe as being “inside” the knee itself.

It can get rather debilitating and feel horrendous.

What Causes Knee Pain?

A throbbing knee is hardly ever as simple as just “getting old” and having bad knees. It can usually be linked to at least one of these four causes:

  • Old injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Joint inflammation
  • Tight quadricep and hamstring muscles

It’s often thought that there’s not much else that can be done for the pain after treating it for a long period of time with an ice pack, taking anti-inflammatory drugs, and limiting activity to strictly the low-impact stuff. Thankfully there are more options to explore. Two of which I'm hashing out right here for you today.

How to Ease Knee Pain – With Food

If you have recurring or chronic knee pain it's usually linked to inflammation.
It’s on rare instances that it’s not.
Yes, there is such a thing as positive inflammation (like with exercise) in addition to the negative kind, making the topic one that can get extremely complicated and very contextual. So in this post, I’m going to be referring only to the negative variety of inflammation.

The first step to treating the pain with food is to remove the inflammatory foods from your diet.
An inflammatory eating style includes foods that are high in sugar, have highly processed carbohydrates, are excessive in omega-6 fatty acids, are high in gluten (like wheat), and are high in CAFO (animals raised in concentrated feedlots) meat.

It’s work, but the best thing you can do is start to remove these types of foods from your diet, and replace them with anti-inflammatory foods.

How to Ease Knee Pain – With Exercise

Sitting around will not help your knee pain.
Just like with back pain, if you sit around and don’t use it, the lack of activity will cause the knee to stiffen and become weak.

Your best option is to strengthen the knee using unilateral and bilateral activities that’ll grant movement of that leg + strength of your lower body as a whole.
When you have a gimpy knee, the last thing you want to do is focus all your attention on strengthening solely that knee. Doing that can easily lead to compensation issues causing pain elsewhere.

To start, begin by strengthening the muscles that most directly affect the knees; your hamstrings and quads.
Tight, shortened, and weak hamstrings and quads don’t “fire” when activated. Therefore when you go to workout use this systematic approach to prime them for activity; warm up, mobility work, strengthening exercises.

Step 1: Warm Up
Rule out tight muscles and prep the nervous system and connective tissue for activity with a warm up. There are 4 ligaments connected to muscle that integrate around the knee; the ACL, PCL, LCL, and MCL. 
When surrounding muscles are tight they causes these ligaments to pull the knee out of it’s groove in odd directions delivering the sensation of pain.
Loosening the muscles often relieves this chain effect.

Warming up is easy. Take a brisk walk or hop on a bike for a few minutes to get your blood flowing and start to raise your body heat. You don’t need to be pouring sweat for it to be a good warm-up, so don't push it that far.

Step 2: Mobility work
Follow your warm-up with dynamic movements that take your legs through their full range of motion. I always think of track and field here. Movements like  long walking strides, walking high-knee pulls, slow walking front kicks, butt-kicks, and Romanian deadlifts are all perfect mobility movements.

Step 3: Strength exercises
The strength training doesn’t have to be long or complicated – it just has to be effective. Here are 4 exercises that time and again have helped my private clients strengthen their knees while giving them the power to live life sans the pain.

Exercise 1: Squat Pause

The squat is a workhorse movement and by far one of my favorites to practice. A squat pause is great to get all the lower body and core muscles firing while finding the bottom position of the squat. I love this exercise for teaching what good squat form feels like.

To get this done is very simple.

  • Grab a planted pole, the TRX straps, or other nailed down object out in front of you.
  • Open your stance so that your feet are a hips-width distance apart.
  • With an upright torso, lower into the bottom of the squat. Tush to turf if possible.
  • Hold the pole only for support keeping your chest upright.
  • Sit in the bottom of the squat for 10 slow seconds, then stand up.

It won’t be very comfortable in the beginning but it does become easier. Just breath.

Exercise 2: TRX or Pole Assisted Squats

An assisted squat helps you to get into the squatted position more effortlessly while maintaining good form, and grants the ability to practice the movement in a scaled way so that as you get stronger you can make it harder.

An assisted squat is set up the exact same way as the squat pause you did above.
Remember that as you lower yourself down, push your hips toward to the wall behind you while simultaneously bending your knees like you’re going to sit on a chair.

Grip the pole or TRX straps out in front of your body and use it only as much as you need to lower yourself.
Again, my rule is tush to turf. Go as deep into the squat as you can.
Fix your eyes on a spot on the wall and go through the squat controlled and with intention.
When you get to the bottom of the position, hold it for a 2-second count then explode up to the standing position with force.

Do not let your knees collapse in toward one another. Be sure that they are tracking over your second and third toes the entire time.

Start by doing 3 sets of 5 reps (3x5), working your way up to 10 reps (3x10) as you gain strength over time.

Exercise 2: Banister Assisted Lunges

Lunges are one of those exercises that is known for building great thighs and a solid backside, but they also get their fair share of complaints of pain from people who do them wrong.

Let’s right that wrong now.
The 2 most common form faults when doing the lunge are:

  • narrow foot position when stepping forward
  • not stepping forward far enough

A narrow foot position is when the feet are too close together when stepping forward. For someone not skilled in the movement, when their feet are super close together they tend to contort their body in order to keep balance.
This poor form combined with weak knees are a recipe for pain.

The way to fix this is to visualize standing on railroad tracks instead of on a balance beam, keeping the feet hip-width apart.

A short step puts unnecessary pressure on the kneecap and makes your knee surpass your toes. This isn't to say that your knees jutting out past your toes is a bad thing – because it's not. But when dealing with knee pain it's a good spot to keep in mind to scale back until better strength and mechanics are won.

The way to fix a short step is to step forward far enough so that when descending into the lunge, the shin stays vertical and behind the toes. Think 90 degree angles at the ankle, knee, and hip.

Work toward performing a free-standing lunge by starting next to a banister, using it for support until gaining strength to lunge unassisted.

Start by doing 3 sets of 5 reps on each leg (3x5), working your way up to 10 reps (3x10) as you gain strength over time.

Exercise 3: Heel Tap Downs

It can be noted that if you have a problem at one joint of the body, you can look at the joints above and below it to start figuring out a solution.
That is why I’m suggesting heel tap downs. They help you learn how to isolate and control hip muscle contraction and movement.

Start by standing with the leg of the affected knee on a 45-pound plate or other surface that’s 2-4 inches off the ground.
With a straight leg, arch the non-standing foot up toward your face.

Find your balance and slowly bend the knee of the foot that’s on the elevated surface while simultaneously shooting your hips back to the wall behind you, allowing your torso to gradually lean forward.
Slowly lower yourself until the heel of the arched foot touches the ground, then power yourself back up to the standing position.

Start by doing 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg (3x10), working your way up to 20 reps (3x20) as you gain strength over time.

Try these tips out for about 2 weeks if you’re experiencing knee pain to see if they make a difference for you. Then come on over to my Instagram page to share your what your results!

 

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Jasmine Cabrera

Chisel Training + Health, Charlottesville, VA