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5 Exercises for Knee Pain

When it comes to joint pain, the knees are a top contender for most common and most painful. The way the human body is built naturally puts a lot of pressure on the knee joints. If you have arthritis, an injury, or are struggling with extra weight -- the pain can be substantial.

Another big hurdle in overcoming knee pain is that many exercises can be detrimental to the process. High-impact activities -- while great for cardio and gaining strength -- can often be tough on the knee joints and cause more pain.

It can be super challenging to find the balance between exercises that will strengthen leg muscles around the knee joint, but will not add extra pain to sore knee. It is not an impossible task, however, there are plenty of exercises available that will not only be gentle on the knees, they can also help to relieve some of the pain associated with knee pain.

5 Exercises to Help with Knee Pain

Walking. We can’t stress enough just how beneficial incorporating the simple movement of walking into your exercise routine can be. For knee joint pain specifically, walking is a fantastic way to get the healing blood flowing to your joints without heavy impact.

If you suffer from arthritis, studies have shown that walking can ease arthritis joint pain. Even better, studies have proven that walking five to six miles per week can prevent arthritis from forming in joints in the first place. Walking strengthens muscles around the joints and promotes the body’s natural joint lubrication process which can protect the joints, ease pain, and prevent painful injuries.

To minimize the already low impact of walking further, make sure you are fitting with proper footwear. Also, certain materials will be more gentle to walk on than others. For example, a rubber track will be a bit nicer to knees than walking on a cement sidewalk. If you feel like walking is causing more pain, try switching shoes or the area that you walk for a gentler experience until your muscles have strengthened enough. Avoiding uneven terrain can help avoid injury and unnecessary pain as well. 

Resistance Band. The resistance band, a strip of latex material, is the physical therapist’s best friend. This affordable, portable piece of exercise equipment is a great way to gain or regain strength in the muscles around the knee.

The resistance band provides light resistance that will strengthen the leg muscles if utilized properly. It also helps with stretching, flexibility, and mobility exercises. Some common resistance band exercises to try for knee pain include:

  • Terminal Knee Extension
  • Stork Stance
  • Lying Knee Extension
  • Lying Hip Extension
  • Lying Glute Extension

For detailed instructions on how to safely perform those knee exercises, you can read this article or watch this video. If you are already working with a physical therapist, it is a great idea to get their input to exercises before beginning any new routine.

Yoga. Yoga is an excellent way to regain strength and flexibility in the joints with little to no impact. The movements are slow, controlled, and thoughtful -- making it easy to adjust to your strength and pain levels. Most yoga poses are easily modified to your fitness level, abilities, and comfort level. It’s nearly impossible to injury yourself with you are being so thoughtful with your movement in a yoga practice.

Certain yoga poses have proven beneficial to people who suffer from knee pain. The Pain Doctor recommends the following gentle poses for knee pain:

  • Joint Warm-Up Circles
  • Reclined, Hand-to-big-toe
  • Low Lunge
  • Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
  • Bridge Pose
  • Chair Pose
  • Warrior II
  • Reverse Warrior
  • Triangle Pose

If you struggle to get down onto the floor or mat, almost any yoga pose can be modified to a standing position or to a seated position on a chair. Don’t let limitations stop you from trying yoga altogether. It is a highly adaptable exercise.

Additionally, there are a few yoga poses to avoid if you struggle with knee pain. Some yoga poses put pressure on the knee joints and could potentially do more harm that good in a person with knee pain. Please avoid -- or get professional guidance on modifications -- for the following yoga poses:

  • Camel Pose
  • Hero Pose
  • Revolved Triangle

A good general rule while doing yoga in any pose, stop if it is painful. It is normal to feel a stretch or a little bit uncomfortable, but if you have pain - stop.  

Biking. If you are interested in doing cardio, but experience knee pain while running or walking -- biking could be a great alternative. The fluid motion of riding a stationary or traditional bicycle is easier on knee joints than many other exercises.

Getting those joints moving is a critical piece to joint pain recovery. By moving the legs and knee joints, you spark the joint lubrication process and strengthen the surrounding muscles. Having strong muscles around the knee joint is fundamental to reducing pain.

Do be mindful to incorporate other exercises into your routine if you are biking regularly. Too much biking can lead to overdeveloping the quad muscles and you can become unbalanced. Over or under developed muscles can actually contribute to knee pain instead of relieve it.

Tai Chi. The ancient Chinese martial art, Tai Chi, is popular among aging populations and there are lots of reasons why! The slow, steady, gentle movements are great for people of all ages to enjoy physical activity with low impact and mindfulness.

One study of Tai Chi showed that it was as effective as physical therapy for patients that suffered from knee pain. Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the study followed 204 patients over the age of 40 with knee pain or diagnosed osteoarthritis. All participants in the physical therapy group and the Tai Chi showed similar results for pain relief. The added bonus of those in the TAi Chi group was a decrease in depression and a reported boost to overall quality of life.