How do I Choose the Best Knee Exercises?

A. Joseph

Knee exercises can improve strength and flexibility in the knee. They can also rehabilitate the knee after injury or surgery and reduce knee pain. To choose the best knee exercises, it is necessary to understand the condition of your knee and your level of physical activity. A qualified professional, such as a trainer, physician, or physical therapist, can help you choose the best knee exercises.

A close up of the knee, with the ligaments in pink.
A close up of the knee, with the ligaments in pink.

The knee joint is one of the largest, most complex and most used joints in the human body. Even people who are less physically active depend on their knees for common activities such as standing up, sitting down and walking. As a result, knee pain can cause frequent or nearly constant discomfort. Knees also are highly susceptible to injury during physical activities. If you think you have suffered a knee injury or are experiencing knee pain, be sure to consult a doctor.

A diagram of the knee.
A diagram of the knee.

Knee exercises that aim to reduce knee problems and help prevent injuries typically focus on increasing flexibility and strength in the muscles that support the knee, mainly the quadriceps, hamstrings and hip muscles. Inflexible muscles are more likely to be pulled or torn, and weak muscles cannot adequately support the knee or absorb shock. The most common knee injuries are damage to the ligaments that stabilize the knee, such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), or to the cartilage that acts as a cushion between the bones in the knee joint.

A man wearing a brace for knee hyperextension.
A man wearing a brace for knee hyperextension.

After a major injury or surgery, exercises that are less intensive are best and usually should be done in consultation with or with the active help of a physical therapist. These simple exercises generally focus on individual muscles and often do not involve bending or putting weight on the affected knee. One example of the exercises used during the early stages of knee physical therapy is contracting the quadriceps, hamstring or buttocks. Another common post-surgery exercise is lifting the leg while keeping it straight, either from a sitting position or while lying down.

Certain exercises may help to reduce knee pain.
Certain exercises may help to reduce knee pain.

More advanced exercises during knee physiotherapy will focus on stretching the involved muscles and increasing the range of motion in the knee. Gradually, these exercises are done with the knee bearing more and more weight, further strengthening the muscles. Some examples of these more advanced exercises include hamstring stretches, knee bends, riding an exercise bike, walking and eventually running.

Physical therapy can often reduce pain and soreness as well as improving range of motion in the knee.
Physical therapy can often reduce pain and soreness as well as improving range of motion in the knee.

If you are more physically active and want to prevent knee injuries, you will be able to do more intensive exercises. When taking this approach, remember that knee exercises should prevent pain, not cause it. Some fatigue or soreness might occur because of the new motions or greater strain, but if you feel pain, reduce the intensity of the exercise. Similarly, remember not to overdo it. For example, bending the knee more than 90 degrees during intensive exercise can do more harm than good, even if it does not cause pain. Also, remember that although flexibility exercises might seem easier or even too easy, they are an important part of preventing knee injuries.

Some examples of intensive knee exercises include squats, step exercises and wall sits. To increase the intensity, these can be done while holding weights in your hands or wearing ankle weights. Do not attempt exercises that are too extreme for your level of physical fitness, as doing so could cause an injury.

To choose the best knee exercises, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor, trainer or physical therapist. A qualified professional will be able to evaluate the condition of your knees and your level of physical fitness. Armed with that information, he or she should be able to determine which exercises best suit your needs.

It always a good idea to consult a physician before starting a new exercise routine.
It always a good idea to consult a physician before starting a new exercise routine.

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