Knee pain? These 5 exercises could help

Expert advice on how to exercise with knee pain.

Knee pain affects millions worldwide, especially as we get older – meaning that as well as daily discomfort, it’s harder to lead a healthy lifestyle. Knee pain is the second most common musculoskeletal issue after back pain, with as many as 47% people over the age of 50 reporting knee concerns in the last 12 months.

As a personal trainer, I understand the impact knee issues have on quality of life, and it’s a common concern among my clients. I suffer from bone-on-bone osteoarthritis in both knees, which led me to make informed decisions about managing knee pain, treatment options and exercise adaptations.

A man sitting on a sofa clutching his kneeCredit: Shutterstock /Dragana Gordic

Knee pain exercise

Dos and don’ts for exercising with knee pain

To improve knee pain and minimise its impact, consider the following tips:

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Some knee pain needs urgent medical attention

If you experience extreme discomfort, pain from a traumatic impact (like a fall or other accident), misshapen or swollen knees, or signs of infection, including a high temperature, redness or heat around the joint, call NHS 111 or see your GP.

It is vital to seek medical advice if your knee pain persists for longer than a few weeks, especially if the cause is unknown. Ignoring it can lead to further damage or a bigger problem.

Advice from a healthcare professional will help determine if the cause of your knee pain is local (isolated to the knee joint), regional (referred pain from the hip or spine), or if a systemic problem or condition is responsible, such as hypermobility syndrome.

Get to the root of your knee pain

More often than not, there will be an explanation of your knee pain – so don’t be afraid to ask your GP for help. Many GP practices will be able to refer you to a physiotherapist, or you may be able to self refer. If you are starting an exercise program, it’s important to have a thorough health assessment to assess your condition, with the person who will be supervising your exercise.

During one of my initial assessments of a client, they mentioned a sensation of their knee “catching” and of feeling unstable. I advised the client to consult with their GP and, as a result, they underwent surgery to rectify a tear that was found.

A physio treating a man with an injured kneeCredit: Shutterstock / Wavebreakmedia

Try to keep moving

Maintaining an active lifestyle is crucial for managing various conditions that result in knee pain – it is important to keep moving. Leading a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to increased inflammation. To prevent the knee joint from stiffening, try to incorporate regular movement breaks, even if this means standing up frequently throughout the day.

Do the right type of exercise

You might be concerned that exercising could potentially worsen your knee pain, but that doesn’t mean complete rest is the better option. The right kind of exercise can be incredibly helpful.

Strengthening exercises and targeted stretches, as demonstrated below, which focus on improving knee stability, can be highly effective in both alleviating and managing pain.

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Can exercise help knee pain?

How exercise can help

Stretching routines that specifically target the hips and leg muscles can effectively relieve tightness in these areas, which could be contributing to knee discomfort. By strengthening the muscles in your legs and around the knees, you can significantly improve knee stability and enhance the overall structural support of the knee joint.

Low-impact cardio activities, such as walking and cycling, can also help with pain management for various knee issues, as well as benefiting your heart health.

Mix up your exercise

To add variety and intensity to your workouts, without placing excessive stress on the knee joints, consider incorporating training tools such as kettlebells, medicine balls and battling ropes. These tools offer the option for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, which can be beneficial for overall fitness without compromising the wellbeing of your knees.

Don’t skip warm-up and cool-down routines

Skipping your warm-up and cool-down may be tempting. However it is important to understand their significance, particularly when dealing with joint issues such as knee pain.

The warm-up plays a vital role in preparing the body for the physical exertion ahead. It helps lubricate the joints, enhances overall performance and reduces the risk of injury. An effective warm-up typically involves raising your heart rate and stretching, to prepare your body for your workout.

By properly warming up, you can reduce knee stiffness, which can make the session more enjoyable and minimise discomfort.

Equally important is the cool-down, which is essential for the recovery process following exercise. The primary goal of the cool-down is to bring the body back to its pre-exercise state. This means lowering your pulse rate and stretching, allowing the body to relax and unwind.

A group of people stretching in a parkCredit: Shutterstock /PeopleImages.com – Yuri A

Be wary of high-impact exercises

High-impact activities tend to worsen knee pain, leading to increased discomfort and inflammation. But that’s not the same for everyone. Some people might find it necessary to decrease or replace high-impact cardiovascular exercises with lower-impact alternatives.

How to keep up your fitness (and look after your heart) with knee pain

Fortunately, there are plenty of effective ways to maintain cardiovascular fitness while minimising the risk of aggravating knee pain. Walking, cycling, using an elliptical trainer and swimming are all excellent options. These exercises provide cardio benefits without subjecting the knees to excessive stress and impact.

By opting for these lower-impact alternatives, you can support your cardiovascular health while reducing the potential for increased knee pain.

Don’t wear heels

Wearing high heels has been found to increase the stress on the patellofemoral joint as well as on the inner part of the knee joint, according to previous studies. Wearing lower-heeled shoes will be more comfortable and reduce your risk of suffering knee pain.

The increase in stress on your knee when wearing heels can be similar to the pressure when walking downhill or downstairs, so if you do wear heels, you may notice more pain.

Exercises for knee pain

Try these exercises for knee pain

These five easy-to-follow exercise videos can help with knee pain. Try to add these exercises into your daily routine. Completing two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, to build strength and promote knee stability.

1. Half squats

2. Seated leg extension

3. Stability ball hamstring curl

4. Side lying hip abduction

5. Straight leg raises

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Jacqueline Hooton

Written by Jacqueline Hooton

Updated:

Jacqueline Hooton is a personal trainer and women’s health coach with over twenty years’ experience in the fitness industry. She works with clients online and face to face in her private studio. With her unique voice, in the online fitness space, she has grown an impressive and loyal female dominated following with over 268K followers on Instagram. A mum of five grown up children, and a grandmother, Jacqueline understands how a woman’s health is important to her at every age.

Jacqueline is known for her positive approach to midlife, and challenges the negative narrative around growing older and ageism. Her viral Instagram reels have attracted the attention of millions of people, helping her promote the health benefits of physical activity to a global audience of women going through menopause and beyond.

As a former fitness tutor for one of the UK’s leading fitness providers, Jacqueline has researched, created, and delivered fitness courses to hundreds of students. An experienced fitness educator, she understands the importance of evidence-based research, when imparting key facts and relevant information.

Jacqueline has presented at numerous fitness events, and gives talks on topics including menopause, healthy ageing, and empowering women in fitness. She is a trainer with Davina McCall’s Own Your Goals, delivering live and pre-recorded fitness workouts for members of the app.

Jacqueline takes her own fitness very seriously, and has taken part in races of all distances, including two London Marathons, and is a former competitive bodybuilder. She enjoys walking, running, and cycling on the West Sussex beach where she lives, and is passionate about strength training.

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