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How to strengthen knees?
June 27, 2008 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Is there any kind of exercise I can do to strengthen my knees?

I sit crosslegged or with one leg folded under me a great deal, including in office chairs - it's always been the most comfortable way for me to sit.

But recently, this had started causing my knees to hurt after a while. I don't know why this pain is beginning - I have not recently gained weight (I have been stable for about 6-7 years), though I am overweight and this may be part of the stress on my knees - I'm not so overweight much that I can't sit cross legged in an office chair, but enough that there is a fair bit of flesh straining against my knees when they are folded. But since the pain has only started recently (in the last two months), I can only imagine that it is age which is catching up to me (I'm 30), and that my knees simply aren't as forgiving as they were.

I can change the way I sit (and I already have), but I really don't want to lose my freedom or strength in my knees - I would like to be able to sit cross legged again. I do sit this way for hours at a time, working - I also sit up on my knees in the chair. (Okay, I know, I probably look like a 6 year old - but it helps me to concentrate to keep moving.)

Has anyone had similar problems, and are there any exercises which could help strengthen my knees? I have a recombant exercise bike which I don't use as I ought to, but will use more if it would help my knees. I can imagine losing weight might help, but I tend to lose from my legs last and have always had large calves, so I really don't want to just try that (it's too pie in the sky).
posted by jb to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you lose weight, your knees will have less weight to carry - I would start there.

If you want specific leg exercises, I would do squats and lunges. These will strengthen the muscles in your legs and help you shoulder the load.

It doesn't sound like you work out a lot, so I would try a (light) exercise program for a month, and see how you feel. Sometimes just getting the blood flowing puts your body in gear.

Of course, the usual, "I am not a doctor, go see a doctor if it really bothers you" stuff applies here.
posted by unexpected at 12:18 PM on June 27, 2008


Basic knee stretching and strengthening.
posted by netbros at 12:18 PM on June 27, 2008


nthing the squats... of course, assuming strict form. They are a complete leg exercise and simply doing things such as leg extensions will lead to more problems through imbalances in your muscle development.
Try not to be scared off by the large amount of information, but here are some videos that may help you.
posted by mcarthey at 12:28 PM on June 27, 2008


My doctor gave me a sheet of paper with some exercises on it for strengthening the muscles around the knee. The one that I found the best success with is one where when you're sitting you chair at the office, you extend your leg out and slowly rotate your leg in small circles for several seconds. You're supposed to do it several times a day. I sometimes will remember to do them, sometimes not.

Losing weight will help too. And lunges and squats done correctly will help. Start doing the squats with no weight at all. When I started working out again my knees hurt like hell the next day after a good leg workout.
posted by birdherder at 12:34 PM on June 27, 2008


What part of your knee is it that hurts? Like inside your knee? If so it's akin to runner's knee and I don't think any quadriceps/hamstring exercises will help. If I'm imagining the position correctly it seems like you're putting a lot of force, for a long amount of time, on the knee joint but bending it sideways -- the way it definitely isn't meant to bend. If this is the case I would chalk it up to getting older and being overweight -- lose weight, try glucosamine, or stop sitting like that :)
posted by wolfkult at 12:34 PM on June 27, 2008


My knees hurt right under the knee cap, at the front of the knee, not the back.

They don't hurt at all walking, even for hours. (My feet hurt then, depending on the shoes).
posted by jb at 12:40 PM on June 27, 2008


Bicycle riding and/or spinning classes are used for knee rehab if you're looking for things to do with your time outside of the office. :) Bonus points are that you will also lose weight doing these things. I think the comments above kind of soft-sell the point, but knee problems are a classic hallmark of the overweight. If you're only recently overweight and having knee problems, then it behooves you not to get any heavier and to lose whatever it is that you do have. I'm not trying to nag, I'm just saying that there are some fat people who are in wheelchairs not because they don't have the strength, but because of the pain.
posted by rhizome at 1:20 PM on June 27, 2008


I can imagine losing weight might help, but I tend to lose from my legs last and have always had large calves, so I really don't want to just try that (it's too pie in the sky).

I'm not clear why losing weight should remove stress from your knees while you are sitting, i.e., not doing a genuine weight-bearing activity.

I think your knee problem has more to do with the way you sit than with your weight. Cross-legged or a leg folded underneath is apparently not the best for a joint that prefers to move only within a limited and narrow range. It sucks -- those are my favorite seating postures too -- but that might be the cause.
posted by bluenausea at 1:32 PM on June 27, 2008


I injured a knee whilst young and found that the stance work in Chinese martial arts cleared it right up - low-impact slow-moving things like Baduanjin and tai chi.
posted by Abiezer at 1:56 PM on June 27, 2008


There is nothing wrong with your knees. You seem to have an issue or worry about your weight. This worry is causing you to have this pain- and/or you may be worried about being too sedentary. This also contributes to the pain.

There is no such thing as "runner's knee". This, too is caused by worry that running damages the knees. Glucosamine will give you a placebo effect (temporary relief) and that's it. When you have pain tell yourself you're not going to give in to your worrying. The pain will eventually disappear. Paqin like this is almost always psychosomatic. It is the brain's way of distracting your attention from stress and worry- or other unresolved issues.

It's a battle. Hopefully your pain isn't as bad as mine was. When I conquered all of my back pain, the pain moved to another part of my body (the middle of my forearm, for some reason) and then disappeared completely.

Of course, you should excercise - but only because it's good for your overall health and well-being.

Google "TMS" and "John Sarno". It's revolutionary.
posted by Zambrano at 2:01 PM on June 27, 2008


I'm not recently overweight - I have been the same weight for 6-7 years, and have been within 30lbs of this weight for 15 years. I am 175lb, and a size 14-16 (because some of it actually is muscle). Nor do I have pain when doing weight bearing activity - walking, going up and down stairs. I am very familiar with weight based knee problems, as my mother suffers from them, and my mother-in-law is an arthritis researcher. I may suffer from these problems in the future, but that doesn't fit my current symptoms. I brought up my weight because I was wondering whether the size of my calves and thighs may be contributing to stress on my joints when folded.

I was walking around today and I realised that I have sharply reduced my walking and other exercise in the last two months due to changes in work, and so the loss of muscle tone may be making my knees weaker.

I will try the leg rotation thing, and some of the other exercises to strengthen the muscles, as well as more walking and cycling.
posted by jb at 2:05 PM on June 27, 2008


If your knee is completely flexed and there's weight on it - like your leg is tucked under you - you're putting a lot of pressure on your kneecap. You must have stronger knees than me, because I only last about five minutes in that kind of position before the pain becomes severe. My recommendation? Don't sit like that! Or at least find some way to reduce the angle of flexion - get a pillow or something to sit up on, so your knee isn't bent quite so far.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:15 PM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have a knee injury (snapped PCL.) Running, climbing, skiing, skateboarding; all exacerbate it. Bicycling noticeably improves any intermittent setbacks, almost immediately and for some time.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:57 PM on June 27, 2008


These exercises have been helpful for me in a similar situation.

Squats, not so much - they put a little too much pressure on the knees.
posted by Jeanne at 5:10 PM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I was dealing with a knee injury, one of the things that irked me most was what doctors call the "theater sign:" some people with achy knees find that sitting for long periods exacerbates it. It wasn't that sitting was damaging my knees, but that the pain increased when I was sitting still. Getting up and stretching your legs a bit and walking around every half hour or so might make you more comfortable.

A good question to start with is why you sit cross-legged so often. I had back pain from childhood on, and as a result, I usually sat cross-legged because I just couldn't get comfortable in a chair. If you work on making your desk setup more comfortable, you may find that you're sitting cross-legged less often, thus taking some pressure off of your knees.

Doing some yoga or Pilates will help strengthen your core, thus helping your back pain and improving your body's alignment, so you'll be less prone to knee injuries.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 6:26 PM on June 27, 2008


Jeanne commented:
Squats, not so much - they put a little too much pressure on the knees.


Source, please?
posted by mcarthey at 5:29 AM on June 28, 2008


It was just my personal experience that they made things worse rather than better.

Now, I had done squats in previous years without any problem - but not when I already had a minor knee injury to deal with.
posted by Jeanne at 7:13 AM on June 28, 2008


There is nothing wrong with your knees. You seem to have an issue or worry about your weight. This worry is causing you to have this pain- and/or you may be worried about being too sedentary. This also contributes to the pain.

There is no such thing as "runner's knee". This, too is caused by worry that running damages the knees. Glucosamine will give you a placebo effect (temporary relief) and that's it. When you have pain tell yourself you're not going to give in to your worrying. The pain will eventually disappear. Paqin like this is almost always psychosomatic. It is the brain's way of distracting your attention from stress and worry- or other unresolved issues.

It's a battle. Hopefully your pain isn't as bad as mine was. When I conquered all of my back pain, the pain moved to another part of my body (the middle of my forearm, for some reason) and then disappeared completely.

Of course, you should excercise - but only because it's good for your overall health and well-being.


This is the most outrageous advice I've heard in a while. I don't know if it's true or not, just a bit...outrageous!
posted by P.o.B. at 5:17 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I sit crosslegged because sitting in a straight chair with your feet hanging down is just unnatural. If there is a God, I don't believe he ever meant us to sit in chairs - squatting or cross-legged is just so much more comfortable (until you let your knees get weak). My back doesn't hurt at all, but sitting straight just feels weird and uncomfortable, like I'm waiting outside of the principal's office or something. Maybe its because, though I'm not short (perfectly medium), but still my legs do not comfortably sit on the ground in the average chair. Perhaps they are all designed for 6' men. I've added a box, and that helps for when I have to sit straight. But I wish my desk were about a foot lower, and my chair too - I would rather work with my knees sticking up a little.

Thank you to all who suggested stretches and exercises. I think that with some recent stresses which kept me from exercising as much, my knees did weaken. I'm doing some more cycling now and working on the stretches, and it's feeling a bit better.

Though I am sitting cross legged right now. (Not going to stop - just going to work on my muscles so I can).
posted by jb at 10:07 PM on June 29, 2008


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