Millions of people in the US suffer from knee pain and it is big business. From cortisone shots to knee braces to knee replacements, knee pain costs American’s millions of dollars a year. But did you know exercise can be helpful for knee pain? This study by NIH showed that ” In between-group comparisons, the maximum isometric quadriceps strength, reduction in pain intensity, and improvement in function in the isometric exercise group at the end of the 5th week were significantly greater than those of the control group” Or in regular terms, the people that did 3 simple exercises 5 days a week for 5 weeks had better strength and less pain than those who did not. This is good news! This study was done with subjects with osteoarthritis and not all knee pain is created equal, so if you are having knee pain see your doctor to diagnose your problem.
Here are 5 easy exercises to strengthen your lower extremity. The first 3 are the exercises from the NIH study. The second 2 are exercises I feel are beneficial for general leg strengthening. But first, don’t judge my photography skills, this is definitely no photo blog! My model is pretty awesome though and the inspiration behind my fitness journey. (but that’s another blog post) Second, I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice. I am simply sharing an awesome study giving us hope that surgery is not the only answer to knee pain and some great easy exercises for leg strength that have been shown to decrease knee pain. If you have knee pain see your doctor and consider physical therapy to get you started.
1. Straight leg raise
Start laying on your back with one knee bent and the leg your are exercising straight out.
Keeping your leg straight (this is important) lift it off the ground about 6 inches, hold for 5 seconds then lower it back down to the ground controlling the movement perform 10 times and repeat with the other leg.
2. Quad sets (isometric quadriceps contraction)
Leg out straight, I like to put a small towel under the knee for feedback. Push the back of your knee into the towel and hold for 5 seconds then relax, repeat 10 times, perform with the opposite leg.
3. Isometric hip adduction (pillow squeeze)
Bend both legs and place a pillow between your knees. Squeeze the pillow for 5 seconds then relax, repeat 10 times.
Start laying on your back with your knees bent
lift your bottom off the ground and hold for 5 second then return to start position, perform 10 times.
5. Sidelying hip abduction
Start laying on your side
lift top leg up hold for 5 sec and lower. Perform 10 times and repeat on opposite leg.
Perform each exercise 10 times 5 days a week. After about 2 weeks I would increase to 2 sets of 10 and after 2 more weeks 3 sets of 10.
On a personal note about joint pain and exercise, when I started back into working out it was tough. Due to various injuries over the years I had regular shoulder pain, hip pain and knee pain. I had to modify some of the activities I was doing, starting a little slower or with smaller range of motion, but as long as I didn’t have more pain I kept going. The good news is after working out regularly with a routine including strength training, high intensity interval training, and cardio my pain improved. Now my shoulder pain is basically gone, it twinges every now and then to remind me to be careful but its not daily part of my life. I still get knee and hip pain at times but it is significantly decreased in intensity and frequency and I no longer have to modify any of my activities. I did let my pains guide my exercise program but I did not let them keep me from participating.
Exercise done right can lead to increased strength and joint mobility and better quality of life.
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