How do I trust my knees more?
October 16, 2011 11:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm 31, and not overweight, but I don't trust my knees anymore. Is there anyway to restore that trust?

I'm in pretty good shape, definitely not overweight, still fairly athletic but not active in a regular way. I haven't had any actual knee problems, but I definitely don't trust my knees in the way I used to. Jumping off of picnic tables, changing direction on a football field, etc. - I just feel myself reining it in, and it almost feels like it's putting me at a higher risk of injury. I'd love to feel more confidence in my knees. Are there any exercises or activities or tips that can undo this presumably inevitable consequence of aging and sitting around more?
posted by malhouse to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think there's any particular simple solution other than to "get active in a regular way". As far as what exercises are best, I can't answer that exactly. However, I will say that since I started taking dance classes regularly and working out, the muscles in my legs have gotten much more stronger and defined and small aches I used to have in my knees have basically disappeared.
posted by bearette at 12:04 AM on October 17, 2011

I'm 41 I suffered a back injury when I was 36. I used to hike this trail in my neighborhood, the first part is all vertical, and like a punch in the face.

I took a break from this hike for about 3 years. In between, I was pregnant and my son is now 6 months old.

For the past 1.5 months I've been rockin' up that punch-in-the-face with a friend of mine who used to be a professional athlete. It's not that she's athletic, it's that she loves getting up before dawn like I do to do it that made the difference. I never had a willing partner before. I feel in the best shape, even if my body is not the same as it was 4 years ago. I'm better now.

Pick an activity (walking, yoga, hiking) and do it multiple times a week with someone who is as enthusiastic about the activity and routine as you are.

I can't tell you how much this has informed my strength. My temporary disabled parking pass expired at the end of August and I will not need to renew it. That's what exercising happily at least 4 days per week with a partner has earned me.
posted by jbenben at 12:40 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Though I sometimes feel like the answer to every fitness question in Ask is "do more squats!" you may find that squats really help you.

Bad knees run in my family, and every time I stop squatting at least once a week or so for an extended period of time my knees start to get creaky and weird. As soon as I get back on the squats wagon they start to feel better.

If you've searched the archives at all, you've probably seen Starting Strength recommended a lot as a good introduction to good barbell technique, and I will second that recommendation. Stronglifts has a good primer on squat form also, if you're feeling antsy to get started.

Good luck!
posted by joshuaconner at 12:43 AM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

I too came in here to recommend squats. They are the duct tape of fitness.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:51 AM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Squats would develop muscles around the knee joint, which is exactly what you want.

I blew out my left ACL in college playing rugby. To this day if feels funny if I turn or stutter-step awkwardly or too quickly.

But hey, your ACL's are both still there! So I wouldn't worry too much.
posted by bardic at 12:58 AM on October 17, 2011

I agree with joshuaconner and munchingzombie; correctly done squats are a great idea.

Man, I should do some squats. Even just bodyweight squats for a week will make my knees feel better. When I get distracted and don't do them they get grumpy again..
posted by nat at 1:01 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second (er, third) the 'get active in a regular way' advice. What you're looking to develop is stability of the joint by strengthening the local muscle groups. There's just no substitute for regularly using them.

More specifically, I completely agree with joshuaconner's post above. Jogging and such is all well and good, but it doesn't work the joint through it's full range of motion. Compound exercises like squats and dead lifts are absolutely excellent for that, and they put much more focus on the sudden bursts of power that are essential to avoiding injury. For joint stability, don't worry about doing heavy lifts but rather on smooth, controlled movements through the full range of motion, while maintaining perfect form. Body weight squats (re: no iron) are highly underrated. Try different stances- a 'sumo' (feet wide), feet shoulder width apart, and feet together. Work in some lunges Once you feel up to it start adding a little weight or, even better, try one legged squats. Spend some time with a balance board of some sort if you can.
posted by vohk at 1:01 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, when I went to my doctor's physio with knee joint issues, the answer was body weight squats done to exhaustion. With single leg squats (as deep as you can go without falling over!) thrown in for good measure to strengthen all the little muscles that hold the knee in place laterally.
posted by pharm at 1:35 AM on October 17, 2011

(They worked wonders by the way: No trouble at all since then.)
posted by pharm at 1:37 AM on October 17, 2011

Ditto to squats! My left knee started giving me grief when I was thirteen or so. It kept getting worse, so I quit gymnastics on the advice of my physiotherapist and waited for my knee to feel better. After over a decade of waiting, I was certain my knee would always be sore and "unstable" feeling. My knee even hurt from lying in bed in certain positions. I was beginning to wonder if I would develop arthritis in my knee prematurely, because surely it couldn't be good that my knee had been hurting for so long and from such a young age.

About 8 months ago I started doing squats to put some muscle on my butt and thighs, and to my utter delight my knee started to feel better too. As my uh... squatting muscles kept getting stronger, the soreness continued to abate. Now I can walk around all day without my knee complaining, no matter what crappy shoes I'm wearing. Like vohk said, running hadn't helped, and in fact often aggravated my knee. Since I started doing squats, running no longer bothers it. I started out with body weight squats, then holding dumbbells for added weight. I also like doing forward and side lunges, and high step-ups for added variety.

Please do make sure you learn how to do squats properly. Technique is very, very important for avoiding injury and getting the most out of the exercise. Don't let your knees go out past your toes when you squat. Stick your butt out like you're going to sit down on a chair. Allow your torso to bend forward for balance, but keep your head up and shoulders back. Your thighs should be about parallel with the floor at the bottom of your squat. Push back up through your heels. When my legs are feeling the burn, I find my knees tend to want to come together. To prevent that, make sure you keep your feet planted with your toes pointed slightly outward, and then make sure your knees are tracking toward your toes with each squat.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:53 AM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have a similar problem except my distrust of my knees stems from years of being morbidly obese and when I lost the weight, I also lost quite a bit of muscle mass. I weight-train twice a week with a trainer and she has me doing squats, lunges and step ups of different variaties, some with weights, some without. I hate doing them (only thing I hate worse is cardio), but they seem to work in strengthening my legs (quads, glutes) which gives me greater confidence in my knees.

Off the top of my head, the ones I can think of are (sorry don't know the official terms):
- forward lunges
- forward lunges with a 25 pound weight that I try to touch my forward toe with the weight
- back lunges, typically with 10-15 lbs weights in each hand, attempting to go as deep as I can
- step ups; if at lower height (maybe a foot) then typically with some weights, maybe 10-15 lbs in each hand
- just normal squats; with or without weights
posted by SoulOnIce at 4:00 AM on October 17, 2011

If your lower back has issues and you can't do squats, "squats" without any weight will give you most of the benefits. I regained trust in my knees with normal squats, and I've kept that trust with unweighted squats.
posted by zeek321 at 4:37 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing squats, adding bicycling.
posted by HeroZero at 4:48 AM on October 17, 2011

Squats and strengthening the leg muscles in the area are a good idea. I also think playing sports would help, especially something with a lot of short burst and change of direction activity (for the physical, but especially the mental, aspect of this). E.g., Soccer, frisbee, basketball, tennis.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:32 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

My knees have been better since running in Vibram Bikilas (I'd developed some weird habits in my gait because I hadn't noticed plantar warts on the balls of my feet until I started barefoot-style running). For some reason, once I stopped trying to carry some of my weight on my toes, my kees got better.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:52 AM on October 17, 2011

Massage trigger points in the quadriceps muscles with a lacrosse ball inside a sock and a trigger point workbook.

Focus on one muscle at a time and work until the points are eliminated, then rigorously do the rest. Do the rectus femoris first as it will more likely end the knee sensitivity.
posted by Not Supplied at 7:09 AM on October 17, 2011

O hai, I am here to reinforce your fears. I'm 33 and six months ago I injured my left knee (patellar ligament) doing leg extensions. It still hurts; I'm not supposed to run or climb stairs. It sucks.

So, whatever you do, take it easy with the exercise. Don't use too much weight. Pushing your leg muscles to the limit can push your tendons past theirs.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:10 AM on October 17, 2011

Backpacker magazine did a little feature about strengthening your knee-supporting muscles maybe last year. In addition to the squats everyone is recommending, they had this little jumping routine to help stabilize the knees. Basically you picture a square maybe 3 feet by 3 feet on the ground, then mentally divide it into 4 smaller squares. With your feet together and facing forward, hop from square to square -- left, then forward, then right, then back, repeat. Once you've gone around the square clockwise a few times, reverse and go counter clockwise. You'll still be jumping in each direction, but your body leans a bit differently. (Obviously don't do this if it hurts or if your knees are already actually injured, but you sound like you could handle it.)
posted by vytae at 10:42 AM on October 17, 2011

they had this little jumping routine to help stabilize the knees.

These are agility exercises and are a great exercise. They are more commonly dots at each corner and one dead center. I don't think I would suggest them right off for someone who's unsure about their knees but in the future as an addendum they would be great.

I think it was Dan John who mentioned that sled pulling is a cure all for hurt knees, but I think that would probably come after you worked your way through some squat exercises.

You may also just want to pick up a 16 kilo kettlebell and look into doing some Goblet Squats.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:20 PM on October 17, 2011

I with you. I'm 36 and I have terrible knees. My doctor diagnosed my knees by listening to them. I started doing p90x an exercise program with yoga and lots of squats and lunges.This has helped a lot. My doctor told me that strengthening my thighs would help and the lunges squats and yoga has done that
posted by bananafish at 8:16 AM on October 18, 2011

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