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6 Easy Stretches and Strengthening Exercises for Knee Pain
Knees can be fragile joints. From bearing the weight of most of our body to bending, jumping, landing, and sharp movements, we ask a lot of them! From the first sign of knee pain (or even before), you need to consider how to take care of them. Nothing ruins a training plan like cutting out most of your exercises due to pain management.
There are so many reasons your knees are giving you a hard time, but according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, strengthening the muscles that support your knees (like the quads, calves, and hamstrings) can help reduce the pain and improve flexibility.
“You learn to stick with [your recovery]. There are lots of days where you don’t feel like doing it, or you don’t feel like grinding it out, but you’ve got to do it. Those are the highs and lows of being an athlete, and if you want to feel those highs, you’ve got to go through those lows every now and then.” — Connor McDavid
Whether you’re after something preventative or currently experiencing pain in your joints, follow these six easy stretches and exercises to help strengthen your knees and manage pain.
An important note is that you should be warm before you stretch or exercise. Do your muscles a favor and spend five minutes doing some light aerobic activity to ensure you aren’t starting cold. If you have an aggravated, persistent injury involving sharp pain, talk to your physio or doctor, and do not continue the stretch if you are uncomfortable.
1. Figure 4 Stretch
This one you can do sitting down or lying on your back! Keep your spine straight and core engaged. Bring your ankle to rest on the opposite knee. Your legs should make a number 4. If sitting, keep the heel of your other leg firmly planted and gently lean forward into the stretch. If lying down, you can deepen the stretch by gently holding behind the knee of your “planted” foot and drawing it in towards your chest, flexing the foot.
2. Standing Wall Calf Stretch
Facing a wall, place both hands shoulder-width apart against it. Step one leg as far back as you can comfortably. Your toes and knees should be facing forward. Bend your front knee, keeping the back leg straight with your heel on the ground. You should feel a nice stretch into your calf.
3. ITB Stretch
The iliotibial band (ITB) stretch should be felt along the outside of your leg and into your hip. Stand upright and cross one leg behind the other, bringing your toes almost in line with each other. Keep a gentle bend in your knees (don’t lock them). Lean away from the side you’ve crossed (i.e., if you crossed your right leg behind your left leg, lean left). Be careful not to hinge forward or backward at the hips!
Studies have shown that yoga can also be effective in helping athletes both strengthen and stretch their knees. If you want to give it a shot, check out our blog post about yoga for high-performance athletes. We’re pretty confident you’ll be convinced!
1. Half Squats
Like a squat but mini, half squats are a great way to strengthen up the muscles around your knees without overdoing it. Stand with your feet hip-width apart (or wider if needed). Engage your core and squat down about ten inches. Pause and then squeeze your way up. Don’t forget to breathe!
2. Straight Leg Raises
In a chair, straighten and raise one leg to hip height. Press your heel away from you like you’re trying to kick a wall. Keep your knee and quad fully contracted and lift and lower your leg in small pulses. Tip: Ensure your belly is tight to help you out. Once you’re done with the exercise, you can add a bonus hamstring stretch by placing your heel down in front of you and, with your core tight and back straight, lean gently forward over the leg.
3. Calf Raises
Finally, calf raises are excellent for building more support for your knee. Grab a chair for balance if you’d like! Engage your core, squeeze your legs and glutes, and lengthen to the top of your head. With everything contracted (keep breathing, though!), slowly rise up on your toes, squeeze and hold at the top, and then gently lower back down.
These exercises are easy enough to incorporate into your workout schedule or as a tack onto cardio days. Do a few rounds of ten to start out and decrease or increase accordingly. As for the stretches — you already know what we’re going to say. Add them to your cool-down (because we know you follow The Law of Cooling Down, right?)! Your body will thank you.
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