If you have knee pain, exercising may be the last thing on your mind. And you’re not alone — in fact, only 13 percent of men and 8 percent of women with osteoarthritis of the knee get the minimum recommended amount of weekly exercise, experts say. But exercising could be the best thing you can do for your knees.
“Exercise is good therapy for knee pain, but it needs to be the right kind of exercise”. Pounding your knees with high-impact exercise or overdoing it during workouts could make your knee pain worse. But it’s easy to avoid problems by following these dos and don’ts for exercising with knee pain.
Do exercise in water. If you’re worried that exercising will be too hard on your knees, try exercising in water first. “Water’s buoyancy will take the load off your knees, allowing you to exercise with less pain and stress on your joints.”
Don’t participate in high-impact activities. Basketball, tennis, racquetball, squash, soccer, and football are hard on the knees because they involve sudden starts, stops, and turns, as well as jumping (and landing). Avoid any type of exercise that involves jumping if you have knee pain.
Do walk. Moderate walking is recommended for people with knee pain because it’s a low-impact activity. If your joints are painful and stiff, start slowly and work up to 20 minutes of walking per day. Plus, daily walking will help with weight loss — another bonus since carrying extra weight puts stress on the knees.
Don’t exercise on hard surfaces. “Walking or running on concrete or asphalt is a bad idea when you suffer from knee pain because these surfaces have no shock absorption”. Grass is another good option because it absorbs shock, but it tends to be bumpy and uneven. If grass and dirt don’t sound appealing, take your walk indoors. “Treadmills have the most consistent surfaces and pretty good shock absorption”.
Do use knee-friendly exercise equipment. Stationary bikes and elliptical machines (a cross between a stair-climber and bicycle) allow you to get a good aerobic workout without stressing your knee joints. “Recumbent stationary bikes are even better because you’re not sitting upright while exercising, which takes more weight off the knee joints.”
Don’t bend the knees excessively. Avoid doing full squats and leg presses. These strength-training routines often require bending the knees beyond 90 degrees, which puts excessive pressure and strain on the knees.
How to avoid knee pain and delay knee replacement in case of arthritis?
Do strengthen muscles. “Like a natural knee brace, stronger muscles will help compensate for weak or injured tendons, ligaments, and joints”. The quadriceps and hamstrings are the two main muscle groups that support the knee. Do straight leg raises to strengthen the quadriceps and walk backward to help strengthen the hamstrings.
Don’t overdo it. When muscles are fatigued, they can’t absorb as much shock, which places extra stress on the knees. Start your exercise program slowly and make sure to switch up your exercises every day to help avoid overuse injuries like tendinitis. Consider alternating walking and swimming, for example.
Do warm up and stretch. “Warm, flexible muscles aren’t injured as easily”. Take a few minutes to stretch the quadriceps and hamstrings before your workout. Then start with five minutes of slow walking before getting into the pool or pedaling on the stationary bike. This will also get your heart rate and breathing revved up slowly, which is beneficial for overall fitness.
Although knee pain may present some exercise barriers, many kinds of exercise are easy on the joints and will make your knees feel better, not worse. “Most people with arthritis and other kinds of knee pain don’t get enough exercise”. “Exercising regularly can help ease knee pain, improve joint function, and improve overall health.” If you aren’t sure what kind of exercising you should do for your specific knee pain, consult your doctor and work with a physical therapist.
Dr. Anshuman Madan
Consultant – Orthopeadics
Apollo Spectra Hospitals, Gurugram