Just What you Kneed: Exercises You Can Do With Knee Pain


Whether you’re a newbie to the fitness scene or a seasoned gym-goer, knee pain can totally throw off your exercise groove. After all, as one of the body’s primary weight-bearing joints, the knee is pretty darn important when it comes to getting your sweat on. And while aches and pains are a normal part of pretty much any workout regimen, there comes a point when you may need to pull back on the throttle a bit. And if you’re at that point, you might be wondering, “Should I really be exercising at all?”

While the answer to that question depends heavily on the specific cause of your knee pain, generally speaking, there are certain types of exercise (hint: low-impact) that you can safely complete even if the ol’ knee joint isn’t at 100%. (Remember that if your knee pain worsens with any type of exercise, you should stop immediately and contact a medical professional—or better yet, pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood physical therapist.) Here’s a quick dos-and-don’ts reference guide.

Exercises to Avoid if You Have Knee Pain

1. High-Impact Activities

Sorry, but you’ll have to put your pick-up basketball career on hiatus for a while. Steer clear of anything that involves a multitude of starts, stops, leaps, jumps, turns, or any other motions that put a lot of stress on your joints.

2. Exercises Performed on Hard Surfaces

Even if you’re only experiencing slight knee pain, it’s a good idea to avoid exercising on hard surfaces like cement, concrete, or asphalt. Such surfaces provide little to no shock absorption, leaving your joints—specifically, your knees—to bear the brunt of the force. Instead, stick to grass, dirt, or even a treadmill.

3. Weightlifting Requiring Knee-Bending

Strength-training exercises that involve bending the knees past 90 degrees—including full squats and leg presses—put a lot of strain and pressure on the knees.

Exercises to Try if You Have Knee Pain

1. Low-Impact Cross-Training

For a good cardio workout that won’t overburden your aching knees, try a stationary bike or an elliptical machine (which is basically a hybrid between a bike and a stair-climber). If you go the bike route, try a recumbent bike; the angle puts less stress on your lower joints than an upright bike.

2. Water Workouts

The buoyancy of water greatly reduces the gravitational force on all of your body’s joints—knees included. If you’re not in to swimming laps—hey, we can’t all be Michael Phelps—then slip on a flotation belt and give aqua jogging a try.

3. Walking

Good old-fashioned walking is a relatively low-impact exercise option, and you can do it almost anywhere. If you suffer from stiff joints, start out conservatively—maybe five minutes a day—and try to work up to 30 minutes or more.

Knee pain can be a real nuisance, but it doesn’t mean you have to shelve your exercise routine for good. Itching to get back to the courts, track, or trails sooner rather than later? A physical therapist can develop a plan tailored specifically to you, your injury, and your goals. Click here to find the best one for you.

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