What exercise can I do with an injured knee?
January 9, 2013 4:01 PM   Subscribe

[Fitness Filter] Help me find a way to get fit that won't make my injured knee explode!

Background: I did judo regularly for several years until I injured my knee during a routine class. I stupidly left it for six months before finally going to see my doctor, who recommended me to a specialist, who operated on the knee to fix what I believe was a cartilage injury right at the back of my kneecap. (It's been a while, but I remember him showing me pictures from the arthtroscopy that involved a flap of some knee material that had come unattached.) All was well for about a year until I stepped off a bus funny and hurt it all over again. After a second bout of surgery (same thing again) and physiotherapy I can walk just fine but get intermittent pain most days and have to be careful going up long flights of stairs or kneeling down.

So, what kind of physical activities can I do without screwing up my knee again? The surgeon recommended a cross trainer or an exercise bike 'with very low resistance', both of which I'll be able to use once I get access to a gym in a few months' time. Is there anything else I should be looking into? I've tried googling for something, but they all seem to assume you've got a short term injury that will go away within a few months. I'd like to think exercise will help the lingering problems with the bad knee, but at this point I'm not hopeful about it recovering completely.

If it makes any difference, my goals are general fitness. Weight loss would be a nice side effect, but it's not what I'm primarily interested in.
posted by anaximander to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When I injured my knee my ortho recommended swimming as a low/no impact way to exercise. Cycling was also on his list, but swimming was number one.

You want to reduce the impact on the joint while strengthening your quads and the muscles surrounding your knee.
posted by blurker at 4:09 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oof, sorry to hear about that.

There's plenty of upper body work you can do that won't involve your knee at all. For example:

- Pull ups
- "Horizontal pull ups": You can hang your judo belt over a pull-up bar, lie on the floor, grab the belt, then pull yourself off the floor, maintaining a plank-like position with your body if possible. These are great if you cannot yet do normal pull-ups.
- Push ups
- Handstand push ups against a wall
- Bench presses
- Dips

You can string these together into circuits, e.g. {3 pull ups, 25 push ups, 5 wall push ups} repeat for 10 minutes to give it an endurance aspect. This isn't as rewarding as judo, but there's at least progress you can measure.

And then there's also yoga, but you'll have to skip certain poses. The instructor can usually provide you with alternate poses. They are very accommodating about that, so it's worth a shot.
posted by ignignokt at 4:19 PM on January 9, 2013

Swimming is my go-to. Cycling actually gave me knee problems. YMMV.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:30 PM on January 9, 2013

A really great yoga class from a qualified teacher can be just the thing -- but you might have to search around to find something. You don't want just the generic "this is a gym and now we do poses and we call it YOGA! and we'll do a million chatturangas just to get your heart racing!!!" style of thing that some gyms present. Ask friends, take a few Level 1 classes, stick towards teachers who are very verbal with regards to alignment and positioning.

At any reputable yoga studio/class the teacher will start off by asking if anyone has any issues, injuries, etc that they want to discuss. He/she will then take that into consideration as the class progresses, and may offer you specific corrections or alternatives to ensure that it's safe for you to do. For this reason, now is the time to avoid the super-popular classes filled with jillions of people. You want as much one-on-one attention as you can get from the teacher.

Bonus points if you can find an Iyengar or Iyengar-inspired class, which will use accessories such as straps, blocks and bolsters to compensate for any weakness or lack of flexibility you might have.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Swimming might be okay, depending on your injury and your choice of strokes. But Deep Water Running is beyond compare. It was developed by a track coach from the University of Oregon specifically for runners with injured knees. I've never run more than a block in my life, but deep water running is so amazing for so many reasons; it allows freedom of movement -- with no impact -- it allows very hard work and/or gentle, soothing movement. My acupuncturist says the movement in the water is excellent for improving lymph circulation and general immune strengthening.

You need water over your head and a flotation belt to put around your waist. You can hook the belt to the side of the pool and run fast. You can go back and forth, or work your knees up and down, or kick back and forth. You can put tiny belts on your ankles to increase resistance, or use styrofoam barbells to work your arms and cardio. The aquatic center is my small town has designated times for deep water running, and belts to borrow. But I soon bought my own online, and go whenever I can, even during "family time."

I don't know what access to pools you have, but if you can find somewhere, give it a try. Good luck!
posted by kestralwing at 5:14 PM on January 9, 2013

Clubbells. Kettlebells. Sledgehammering. Battling ropes. Punchbag/speedbag/shadow boxing. Bodyweight routine (pullups, pushups, planks, handstands, etc.) possibly complemented by paralettes and/or TRX/gymnastic rings.

FYI any strongman/crossfit-oriented gym is likely to have most if not all of this equipment if you don't want to purchase your own.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:21 PM on January 9, 2013

As someone whose had knee problems, I'd recommend seeing a good Physical Therapist (PT) and asking them what they recommend, and what they'd suggest to strength the knee. In my experience PT's know a lot a more about repair, conditioning, and exercise that a doctor or surgeon.
posted by zaphod at 6:39 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I had an in injury like that, I did aqua jogging. You have a floaty belt and churn your way up and down the pool. I hate swimming in chlorinated pools but didn't mind the aqua jogging because I my head wasn't down in the water. The pools I've been to had a variety of belts and some offered additional classes like "pool-ates" or aqua aerobics.

Talk to your physical therapist, they will point you in the right direction!

In LA, there's a therapy pool at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center that is great. It is heated to 90 degrees year round.
posted by dottiechang at 7:04 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, shadow boxing and bagwork will stress your knees, as will most kettlebell exercises and sledgehammering. They're usually intense, full-body exercises.

If you have trouble walking up stairs, wait a good while before getting into those. (The speedbag you can work safely, but it's not much of a workout - it's a coordination exercise.)
posted by ignignokt at 8:01 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

^ True. Depends on OP's exact condition. My list is all partial-ROM stuff, which can often be beneficial to most knee problems (if improved VMO activation is required, which it almost always is) and should all be doable if the joint is functional enough to walk on.

Above all guidance from a sports PT would be ideal.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:16 PM on January 9, 2013

After re-injuring an ACL tear twice a year after surgery, the best solutions for me seemed initially counter-intuitive. I always assumed that you were meant to stay off injuries, and instead actually made me leg muscles really weak.

Strengthening the muscles around your knee is one of the best ways to avoid re-injury. I found that learning proper squat technique (from Crossfit, in case you're wondering) has helped me to completely avoid even slight twists.

This may be too much for you initially though, especially combined with the sometimes punishing Crossfit regime, with the state/feeling your knee seems to be in at the moment.

I admit I also combined this with some balance/strength exercises my physio recommended for my issue. They included one-legged quarter squats held for 30 seconds. I had issues with ROM (still do) and this helped to gain nearly 15% ROM within 2 months of these exercises. This helped wonderfully, and I'd started this regime before I started Crossfit. I took up Bikram yoga afterwards to continue my flexibility and balance.

I think cycling on a stationary bike (particularly a recumbent) was excellent initial therapy while the knee was still sore.

TL;DR: Focus on strengthening the muscles around your knee. Strength, strength, strength! Whatever your knee can handle, and do it with a trained professional watching your technique.
posted by chronic sublime at 11:17 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also: my injured knee will never have the full ROM the other one does, but my goal was to have functional fitness with it - ie. that I could run across a busy street, or after a runaway kid... or the zombie apocalypse. The surgeon's advice of "Use it or lose it" has really stuck with me. Running - the one activity that is meant to be horrific for knees - has been no problem. (Except for the asthma I've now discovered I've got!)
posted by chronic sublime at 11:20 PM on January 10, 2013

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