Help me fix my old lady knees.
May 1, 2012 6:26 PM   Subscribe

How can I strengthen my knees?

I'm in my mid-thirties, female, 5'7, and 200lbs. My knees often hurt (especially when I wake up). It's not unbearable and usually goes away pretty soon after I stretch out my legs. I attribute this to:

- Having extra weight on. I gained about 70lbs in the last few years (I have lost 20 in the last few months by eating good food and being active).

- Sitting crosslegged. A lot.

- Possibly genetics. My paternal grandmother had bad knees.

I know that losing weight is going to help, but what else can I do to improve things? Any suggestions of exercises or yoga poses that would strengthen my knees would be greatly appreciated.

And yes, I just switched GPs but I will be seeing a doctor about this in the next week or so.
posted by futureisunwritten to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Self-assess for basic postural misalignments and joint mobility/stability imbalances - or if you don't have the time to read up, hire a trained professional to do it for you. The overwhelming majority of knee problems are rooted in simple weakness and/or inflexibility at the adjoining joints of the ankles and hips.

MobilityWOD: Improving ankle range
Ankle mobility drill
MDA: How to improve hip mobility
FMS Joint-by-Joint Approach (esp. the overhead squat test)
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:38 PM on May 1, 2012 [16 favorites]

Best answer: You need to strengthen the muscles around then knees. There are tons of specific exercises for the various muscles that any decent PT can give you so ask your doctor for a referral. Having said that riding a bike and walking up a lot of steep hills or stairs will strengthen your legs much more thoroughly than doing PT a few times a week so once you've got a diagnosis/ reassurance you aren't dealing with anything major start doing those two things as much as you can. Also chair sits against a wall.
posted by fshgrl at 6:38 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Walk. It's what humans are for.
posted by cmoj at 7:02 PM on May 1, 2012

Swimming is good exercise for joints that might hurt during weight bearing exercise.
posted by chiquitita at 7:06 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with fshgrl, or at least can vouch for the advise to strengthen the muscles around the knee. I have a bad knee due to damage from my psoriatic arthritis. I generally doesn't hurt me much, but if I try to run on a treadmill, it will swell up (it's something to do with the meniscus). My rheumatologist advised that do exercises that strengthen my quads will help support my knee. I'd say it's worth asking a physical therapist or trainer if this approach would work for you, and if so to recommend specific exercises and show you proper technique.
posted by kaybdc at 7:07 PM on May 1, 2012

Stretch your legs out straight. Then kind of shrug the muscles that move the kneecap itself towards your torso. Repeat.

(If you're going to ride a bike (yay bikes!), adjust the seat high enough so that your legs fully extend each time you pedal. Otherwise you'll run into more of the problem you're already having.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:22 PM on May 1, 2012

I also have bad knees, and have seen an orthopedist for knee pain. His recommendations to me for reducing my knee pain were:

Lose weight
Take glucosamine, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid daily
Take Aleve as needed

The thing that has helped the most was losing weight, but the other suggestions have helped as well. Strengthening the muscles around the knees is very important, and doing so in a low-impact way is critical.
posted by blurker at 7:31 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Every time I go to the doctor for my bad knees, I get the same advice:
1) Ride your bike more and up lots of hills for good resistance. Under no circumstances start running/jogging. Elliptical work is okay, but not the best. No treadmill or step machine.
2) Watch how you walk, make sure you do it smoothly and without shock. I find that this means that I walk slightly pigeon toed on really hard surfaces.
3) Don't cross your legs when you sit/lay down or put other side to side stresses on the joint. It is not made to bend that way
4) Listen to your body. If it hurts find a way to do it without your knees hurting.

YMMD, but they have gotten me through several surgeries and I've recuperated very well and quickly from all of them.
posted by Nackt at 7:53 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bicycling and weight management have done wonders for my crappy knees.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:05 PM on May 1, 2012

If you have the time to read up, Bulletproof Knees is suppose to be very good. It's full of exercises to strengthen the knees. The website might look very scammy but Mike Robertson really know his stuffs. The problem is it's not cheap, but I guess it's cheaper than going to the doctor or physical therapist.
posted by Carius at 8:40 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Stop sitting cross-legged. There's no amount of strengthening that's going to make your knees bend any direction but straight back-and-forth.
posted by facetious at 8:46 PM on May 1, 2012

I have a similar problem, and my GP recommended that I exercise my legs like this: when siting, slowly swing your leg up until it is straight and then lower, then the other. He recomended ankle weights - 2 or 5 lb - for extra resistance, but I do this at work without weights and it does relieve my knee pain.
posted by jb at 9:47 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You want to do isometric knee exercises. I saw a physical therapist a few years ago for similar reasons and she prescribed a series of isometric exercises. The purpose is to strengthen the thigh, calf and shin muscles to help support the knees.

You may want to see a physical therapist so they can evaluate you, figure out your specific issues and prescribe the types of exercises that will work best for you. In the meantime these two .pdfs cover most of the exercises that I was prescribed:

If you're having trouble visualizing the exercises (like I did), I found YouTube helpful for demonstrating how to do them. Physical therapist recommended icing afterwards, specifically above and below the knees. Big bags of frozen veggies (corn, peas) stuffed in old socks work really well to match leg contours and they're much more economical than commercial ice packs.
posted by i feel possessed at 11:59 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with others' suggestions re. exercises and such. But specifically re. sitting cross-legged: if you're experiencing knee pain in that position, there's a good chance than your hips aren't sufficiently flexible. Yoga or other stretching activities that focus on opening and releasing your hips will help lessen the knee pain.
posted by skye.dancer at 7:12 AM on May 2, 2012

Best answer: I've been sleeping with a pillow under by knees since I had a knee injury two years ago. It definitely helps.

As suggested above, try some quad and core strengthening exercises. My PT had me do 2-3 sets of 10-15 every other day, among other things. Lift and lower your leg slowly to make sure your muscles are really engaged. I felt both of these more with my foot flexed. Also: go up stairs!

When doing any sort of exercise (stairs, leg lifts) make sure you do it as correctly as possible. If you're stumbling up the stairs because your legs are tired, slow down and take each step deliberately and smoothly. Took me a while to learn, but you'll get more out of your exercise!

Seeing a physical therapist for a few sessions to get some suggestions for exercises is a great idea. Best of luck!
posted by stompadour at 7:22 AM on May 2, 2012

Response by poster: Fantastic responses, each and every one of them. I have already stopped myself from sitting crosslegged about 80 times today.

Nackt has suggested that running and walking are probably not going to do me any favours. These days in a given week, I usually do about two hours of Zumba classes, a couple of hours of yoga, and three to five hours of hooping. What sorts of exercises should I avoid?
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:54 AM on May 2, 2012

Without knowing the exact nature and cause of the pain, the only sound advice would be to simply avoid doing anything that hurts: if that's most exercises, then you have no choice but to limit your exercise. A postural assessment from a physiotherapist or good personal trainer will ascertain which movement patterns are causing ongoing trauma to the joints, and assuming it's a functional problem, a minimal-risk corrective exercise routine of targeted stretching and strengthening will quickly fix it up.

Until then, the absolute best thing you can do would be to reform the eating habits that are keeping you overweight. Making progress with this will put you a country mile ahead of 95% of human beings in terms of controlling your physical fate and limiting musculoskeletal alignment problems.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:42 PM on May 2, 2012

Response by poster: Update for anyone who is finding this thread later on:

I lost 40lbs, completely stopped sitting crosslegged, and started exercising regularly. My exercise regimen includes lots of squats, stretches, and lunges. And I no longer have knee pain. At all. Thanks for all your help folks.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:17 PM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

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